For years digital marketers have worked toward the day when advertising was so relevant that it became viable content on its own. And, in many ways, we’re knocking on that door. And right behind this achievement is the same kind of emotional experience that accompanies shopping—satisfaction, deal hunting and, especially this time of year, finding that perfect gift. So, instead of braving crowds at the old brick and mortar outlets, more and more consumers are venturing to e-commerce and m-commerce for their shopping, instinctively perusing websites and making shopping lists.
Advances in technology have helped create greater levels of interactivity, efficiency and control for today’s online shoppers. Still, that experience has to compete with the nostalgia of walking through a local mall, soaking up the overall experience of shopping in stores. The key toward progress in this area depends on identifying the specific emotional appeal to individual consumers and replicating that emotion in the online experience.
The inability to do this was one of the first criticisms online advertising faced when it emerged over 15 years ago. Critics said it lacked “emotion” compared to more traditional advertising models. In many ways they were right. Telling an engaging or compelling story using what amounted to a web link masquerading as a button (and perhaps minimally animated) was a pale pretender when it came to really attracting and engaging consumers.
However, a great deal of this criticism fueled the rise of dynamic rich media advertising models that, today, are able to create engaging and compelling online advertising formats (often using more traditional media, like video) that tell an emotional story and also inspire consumers toward taking specific actions.
Likewise, early websites often bore more of a resemblance to printed brochures than anything one might consider an “engaging experience.” In short, there was often very little emotional appeal for even the top sites of the day because of the lack of real interaction with visitors. This emotional divide was most apparent when it came to shopping online. While online shopping offered consumers a unique and perhaps convenient shopping experience, it often had the raw emotional appeal of filling in a tax form.
Technology has embraced emotion. And for the e-commerce space, it’s happening just in time. In his 1999 bestselling book “Why We Buy,” environmental psychologist Paco Underhill took a long, hard look at what makes people buy and what makes them not buy in retail environments. While the book provides a number of fantastic insights into the science of shopping, two of the major factors that drive sales are product relevancy and easy access. For example, retailers looking to optimize shelving displays often place a limited appeal product on a lower “out of the way” shelf in order to give a better-selling product greater display prominence. On the surface this makes sense. However, in his observations, Underhill discovered that senior citizens, often with physical limitations, were less likely to bend down to look at the content on lower shelves even when those products met their direct needs. On the other hand, a 20-something shopper with good eyesight and physical flexibility wouldn’t think twice about bending down to grab a product from a lower shelf. Likewise, a lower shelf is just about eye level for a small child and is a perfect place to display products for that particular consumer group. What child can resist the sugar filled cereal aisle at the supermarket?
The real answer to optimizing shelf space in this way depends greatly on who your customers are and what they’re looking for.
Now technology has turned the tables. In the modern e-commerce space, the ability to instantly shift the contents of a “shelf,” or rich media ad, to meet the needs of an individual shopper is a trick that traditional retailers can’t match. Starting with a basic understanding of how an individual consumer best perceives the world can enable advertisers to change their dynamically targeted ads to best reflect those needs. For example, a visually dominant person may find an ad with more graphics to be emotionally appealing while a more tactile or kinesthetic shopper may appreciate a version of an ad with more hands-on widgets and interactive tools. And who can resist a specific offer tailored directly to their needs? By simply measuring the dominant forms of perceptive input of a shopper, even in real-time, ads can be perfectly matched to the consumer, therefore, enhancing their experience.
A relevant match between products and consumers is a core component of any successful ad or offline store. Treating all consumers to the same shopping experience makes as much sense as running a restaurant that only offers a single entree. Because we are all different people we all want to have experiences that embrace our uniqueness. This includes being shown products that are personally appealing (and relevant) when we enter our store of choice.
It’s no longer a matter of figuring out if audience targeting technologies can be used to create a more personally emotional experience for online shoppers. We know they can. Now, we need to embrace them to create an even better shopping experience than the one in environmentally controlled, emotionless malls. Instead, this shopper is saying goodbye to early dawn risings and fighting off the crowds for the best deals—tired and frustrated is not my type of shopping. I most definitely prefer the tranquil experience and satisfaction of letting the deals find me while I sip hot cocoa, my dog nestles up in my lap and I browse lazily in front of my cozy fire.