Reflections and Predictions From the Corner Office

There are some brands that have the ear of marketers and consumers alike. Williams-Sonoma and Nordstrom are two of those brands. And Pat Connolly, CMO of Williams-Sonoma, and Jamie Nordstrom, president, Nordstrom Direct, both had the rapt attention of the audience at the recent Responsys Interact 2013 conference. (OK, I admit it: I was in the front row.)

Here, I summarize a few of their thoughts on marketing and customer experience trends:

Nordstrom: Up until about 10 yrs ago personalized service needed a human. Netflicks was among the companies that changed that. It provides recommendations so customers can make an informed decision they feel good about. That’s great service.

Service now is more about a personalized experience than simply walking a shopping bag around the counter to the customer.

Connolly: Driving considered purchases at scale isn’t easy, so some upscale brands are aiming to bring clienteling to the digital realm. Along with that are considerations like, how do you get a barista’s knowledge to become institutional memory? Customers want a hotel or restaurant to know who they are and that they’re a frequent customer. Customers want a frictionless shopping experience because they get it in other places.

Nordstrom: It’s no longer best parking, location, or clean bathroom that counts in retail; it’s also best fulfillment, channel mix, and the like. People don’t give you credit for a great store if your website sucks. Also, make sure you have product available that you’re marketing.

Remember that customers have one set of expectations when shopping in store and another when online. So you need to know what matters in each scenario. Nordstrom wants to be best-in-class in store and online, and they’re two different things.

Connolly: Customers used to think of different channels, as did marketers. Now customers are less tolerant of a disconnected experience. If I buy in the catalog, I want to be able to return in store.

Nordstrom: Customers know we have data; they’re not so freaked out about it as in the past. Younger customers are more aware than other age groups that marketers are using their data; we need to show what we’re doing with that data on their behalf and make it transparent. Customers expect that we’re using data for a more relevant experience. How do we show that we’re delivering that relevant experience? Answer that and create a great experience that builds loyalty.

Connolly: Ultimately, you need to make it easy for the customer; you need to execute the basics well every day, and use Big Data to enhance those efforts.

Nordstrom: Ecommerce sites need to use Big Data to personalize the online experience. Those who don’t won’t be relevant five to 10 years from now. Younger customers expect you to know them and deliver service on their terms. When they’re 25 or 30, if you haven’t made those investments, you’ll be irrelevant to them and out of favor.

Connolly: Culture is often what holds companies back from fully embracing ecommerce and multichannel. It’s part of our culture, which has allowed us to enjoy the success we’ve had, which also allows us to attract talent.

Nordstrom: Loyalty programs are also changing. They were about points, which has been great. But now it’s, “If you join we can deliver more relevant experiences for you.” That’s what programs going forward will be about.

In terms of social media, for Nordstrom it’s primarily about word of mouth. Nordstrom is not a big advertiser; it’s used word of mouth for 100 years.  

Connolly: With social media, just do it and be genuine about it. Don’t worry about measuring it. Though Williams-Sonoma measures engagement level in terms of how many of fans’ friends see its posts. You need to grow social organically. You can’t buy it.

Email is still powerful; it can generate excitement. But catalogs are still “it” in terms of driving lifetime value.

Nordstrom: Direct mail will remain a valuable part of the multichannel marketing mix.

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