Chat with any marketer at an ecommerce brand and they’ll gripe about how tough it’s become to compete in today’s ecommerce world. Sure there are various factors driving this competition—less barriers to entry, more marketing channels—but there’s one main reason so many brands are dying off each month: Amazon.
After all, Amazon is cheaper, easier, and has more name recognition than any other brand. Over 44% of all product searches originate in Amazon’s search bar, and Amazon accounts for nearly 50% of the US ecommerce market of the US ecommerce market. Yup, you read that right: Amazon owns nearly half of the US’ entire ecommerce market.
This has made it near impossible for digital brands to compete with Amazon on price, efficiency, or scale. When companies like Walmart, Target, and Costco are struggling to compete in an Amazon-dominated world, how can smaller brands stand a chance?
There’s only one way brands can survive in an Amazon world: they need to establish and nurture an emotional connection with customers.
What do we mean by an “emotional connection?”
Think about the last time you bought, say, sunglasses. Perhaps you went straight to your Amazon search bar for the cheapest pair, or perhaps your buying process was more complex. Wearing a high-end brand might be important to you, or you might prefer wearing an up-and-coming brand you perceive as cool.
Warby Parker certainly thought of this when they started selling not only glasses but also sunglasses. Their distinctive branding, attractive product, and their mission—donating a pair of sunglasses for every pair bought—gives them that cool factor that’s lasted almost nine years. Furthermore, their focus on a high-quality product and excellent customer experience makes buyers feel genuinely connected to their brand.
The brand is able to lock down both the cool factor and the high-end perception, even though their price is relatively low. People feel good when they buy Warby Parkers, and they’re excited about wearing them. This is the textbook definition of emotional marketing created by a brand.
So how can brands connect emotionally with customers?
When considering how to create an emotional connection with customers, brands should take a note from the playbooks of digital-native vertical brands (DNVBs). These direct-to-consumer brands—think not only Warby Parker but also Away, Glossier, ThirdLove, and others—are combining lifestyle products with technology to create truly premium, personalized customer experiences that resonate massively with customers. Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics is valued at over $900 million, while Glossier raised a $52 million dollar round in 2018.
In other words, while so many other ecommerce companies are falling to the curse of the Amazon, these DNVBs are thriving, despite the odds.
Here are some key lessons any ecommerce business can learn from digital-native brands:
1. Have a compelling mission that drives your company’s values and resonates with customers.
The brands that make the biggest emotional impact are often brands that have a certain mission, whether it’s donating as many items as they sell or disrupting a traditionally expensive and conservative industry. Think Bombas donating a pair of socks for every pair purchased, or Everlane’s commitment to radical transparency in their supply chain.
Consumers want their brands to stand for something more than just their own bottom line.
Having a compelling mission—and standing by it—makes consumers feel more intimately connected to a brand’s values, which inspires long-term loyalty.
2. Make each customer feel valued with superior customer experience.
As Bonobos CEO and founder Andy Dunn said, “Digital native vertical brands are maniacally focused on the customer experience.”
Since DNVBs originated online, with no in-store experience, they have had to mimic an excellent in-store experience with a superior digital one. This experience should be baked into every facet of a company’s interaction with customers, from an easy-to-navigate website to an attractive return policy. ThirdLove, for example, will take back any bra after sixty days, even it’s been washed, while Casper will let customers try out their mattresses for 100 days—and they’ll even pick up unwanted mattresses for free.
A great customer experience makes each customer feel valued, so the brand feels more intimate and more personal—a brand that customers will stay loyal to over the long term. That’s one edge a brand can have over Amazon: Amazon is anything but intimate and personal.
3. Personalize each customer’s journey.
Personalization is crucial to creating an emotional bond between brand and customer. But it’s difficult to personalize customer interactions online: social media is oversaturated with thousands of messages, email is nearly impossible to truly personalize at scale, and customer service reps are more overloaded than ever.
Instead of devising all the disparate ways to create more personalized customer interactions, brands need to engage customers in a continuous conversation at key points in the customer journey. One excellent way to do this is via chat channels.
Although it might sound counterintuitive, chatbots (read: AI-powered, automated conversations) can help brands feel more human and more personal at scale. Since these conversations are two way, customers can ask questions, and brands can engage them wherever they are in their customer journey. If there’s a coupon that a customer might benefit from, or if that customer abandoned an item in their cart, the bot can message them. That means brands can have an infinite number of personalized conversations with customers. And, since chat relies on first-party data, the more customers interact with the bot, the more personalized the conversation.
Move beyond Amazon
If you’re able to focus on the customer experience and build an emotional connection with your buyers, your brand can thrive in an Amazon-driven world. It’s not impossible to do, but it does take a serious investment in marketing, technology, and messaging. But with Amazon continuing to take over ecommerce, it’s no longer an option not to try. With a little help from the advice in this post, you can start building emotional connections with your customers that last.