Last year, digital marketing strategist, Rohit Bhargava, predicted that the concept of Likeonomics would be the number one marketing trend to watch. A catchy word and a genius concept routed in history and consumer behavior that has nothing (okay, very little) to do with that infamous Facebook Like button. Since then, I’ve been closely following how this agency ace captures concepts and trends applicable to our businesses and personal lives to teach us through the art of storytelling.
In a few short weeks, a truly likeable marketing professor, bestselling author, and one of my favorite business-minded storytellers is coming to the Shop.org Online Merchandising Workshop. He’ll inspire us, dive into some of the big ideas transforming the retail industry, and will share his practical tips related to everything from social personalization to simplicity – tips we can incorporate into how we communicate with our customers and how we design our websites.
To introduce Rohit to our Shop.org community, I took the opportunity to ask about his upcoming presentation, his recent bestselling book, and a couple of his most-likeable and customer-centric retailers for a wide-ranging Q&A. Read on for his insights.
Your keynote presentation is called 10 Big Ideas Transforming the World of Retail Right Now. How about a sneak peak at the first one?
Sure, and I have to say that I’m really excited about this presentation because I’m going to be sharing many of the ideas for the very first time publicly with your group! One of them is something that I have called “social personalization.” The trend describes how making the retail experience social and making it personalized will start to merge so retailers can not only market and deliver products based on personalizing to a person’s interests and purchase history, but also add the social context of what their friends like and have them influence purchase. It is just one of the ways that all of these elements that we often think of as distinct, will start to integrate together.
You’ve written that marketers are now facing a “modern believability crisis.” Explain what you mean by that.
Survey after survey is published these days pointing to the dismally low level of confidence and trust that people have in institutions of all kinds. This is across politics and organizations, but particularly business and retail. When this level of trust is so low, people are more likely to start with a default state of skepticism as they enter any retail situation. This makes it harder to build trust with consumers, and in turn, it makes it harder to sell just about anything. That is the world we’re living in, and it is causing a big challenge for retailers of all sizes.
In your new book, Likeonomics, you describe how likeability can help people and organizations win customers, build relationships, and ultimately make more money. Why do you think we need so much help being likeable?
Well, I think the problem is that we have gotten really good and focusing on many other things INSTEAD of the all important element of how we build real trusted relationships with our customers. Doing that takes a real focus on building a more human company, and it is easy to forget. Yet all the data points to the same idea … that the companies who are able to build this type of relationship fare far better in the long term because they are able to maintain a competitive edge.
What retailers do you think are most likeable? What are they doing right to make us like them?
I think Costco is a great example of a likeable brand for many reasons. Not only do they focus on their employees and have some of the highest retention numbers in the business but they operate in a fair manner, and one that all of their customers love. Ultimately in their case, it comes down to having a principled way of running their business, and I think in the hypercompetitive world today, consumers have the ability to get this sort of information at their fingertips and use it to decide which retailers they choose to spend money with and which they avoid.
As someone who helped to create “the world’s largest team of social media strategists” at Ogilvy, what’s your number one piece of advice for those who lead their own social media teams?
I’d probably say that my number one piece of advice is to forget trying to come up with a “social media strategy.” That probably sounds like odd advice, but the problem that most organizations have is that they are treating social media like its own separate initiative that is divorced from everything else. It is a bit like trying to fix a broken leg by handing someone a pair of crutches. The crutches can help you get from point A to point B, but you have to fix the leg first. Social media works best when it is integrated into your overall strategy for communications AND for customer service. Then you can see real value from using it across multiple areas of your business.
Shop.org’s recent Social and Mobile Commerce study found that consumers follow more retailers on Pinterest than other social networking sites. What opportunities do you see for retailers in the rise of Pinterest?
I think the rise of Pinterest demonstrates a fundamental behavioral aspect of the web that has been around for some time, but that retailers have done a poor job of capitalizing on … that people love to search for images. How much of any retailer’s SEO strategy focuses on optimizing images for Google Image search, for example? Probably not enough, and yet the numbers are rising day after day for the number of people who use image search to find any sort of information. Pinterest has succeeded because it tapped into that behavior, and now lets people bookmark, organize and share all those images that they were already searching for. The lesson, I think, for any retailer is that a core part of your digital strategy MUST include ways to connect with your consumers in more visual and less textual ways.
You’ve written two books on marketing, speak at events across the world, and lead global strategy at Ogilvy. What inspires you and drives you?
I am passionate about marketing, because I think that marketing changes the world. Great ideas that can impact people’s lives succeed or fail based on marketing … and as a consultant, what I love to do is find ways to help organizations and people stand out and communicate the amazing things that they are doing to the world. Marketing (and advertising in particular) gets a bad rap for the many ways that people feel manipulated or misled into feeling worse about themselves or wooed towards buying unhealthy things. I sympathize with people who feel this way … but I also believe in the positive and transformative power of great marketing to inspire us and help the people and companies that could change the world to actually do it.
The Shop.org Online Merchandising Workshop is all about how retailers can create websites with a focus on design, usability, and conversion. What tips do you have for retail marketers and merchandisers looking to take their retail website design, content, and usability to the next level?
The most important single thing that any retailer can do to improve their website usually comes down to finding a way to add simplicity. A lot of simplicity that you will see in websites comes from better design, but often it is based on thinking differently from the “industry standard.” When I signed up for the Uber travel app, for example, they let me take a photo of my credit card so they could capture the number without my having to type it in. That little thing probably saved me about 8 seconds – and maybe even less … yet it was a transformative experience because even that little bit of hassle was something they thought through and that combined with a great experience and product made me highly likely to tell everyone else I know about it.
What retailers and brands do you think have websites that are embracing the focus on customer experience and usability required to convert and, most importantly for many companies – to bring them back again?
I think that Gilt.com does a great job of converting because of their very smart time driven approach. As soon as you put something into your shopping cart, the clock starts ticking to tell you that you only have 10 minutes to complete your purchase. The online experience is very good, but this time sensitive structure was something that I always felt was such a smart choice for their types of products and who typically shops there and wants the best possible deal in a very short time frame.