Transaction and experience: The twain must meet

First, prepare yourself for this stat: Cisco predicts that by 2015 there will be 15 billion connected devices in the world. Right now, there are two billion people connected to the Internet; by 2020, that number could be as high as four billion. There are only about seven billion people in the world today.

Not that anyone was hedging, but the uh, Internet is here. And mobile, too. The definition of “multichannel” is a continually evolving thing, while the strict definition of “e-commerce” doesn’t really change. It’s about the transaction. That said, brand marketing—what a brand’s all about—can’t fall by the wayside.

So, how does a brand ensure that customer experience intersects nicely with the transaction part? Both are vital. Bad transactional experiences make people mad—but without a smart brand marketing plan in place it’s unlikely consumers will be at the point of transaction at all.

Speaking at the Media Tech Summit in New York City on October 11, Lisa Gavales, CMO of Express explained the company’s strategy as brand cohesion. Following in the footsteps of its increasingly device agnostic customers, Express has become channel agnostic in its brand expression.

“When the Internet came on board, there were many brands organizing by channel,” Gavales said. “We’re organized by customer.”

Yes, there are channel experts mixed in who understand the nuances of each touch point; there have to be—but Express has just one marketing department. It has one creative department and only one merchandising team. From the moment the first promotional photograph is taken until it’s ultimately used in an ad or displayed in a shop window, the foremost goal is to keep customer perception firmly in mind. (I’ve heard many people use the phrase, “Content is king.” Seems like content needs to share the throne with consistency.)

“The message is the message,” she said. “The channel is the customer’s choice.”

What’s exciting—and sometimes difficult to manage—is the fact that customers happen to be choosing everything. While some have dubbed 2012 as “the year of mobile,” Chris McCann, president, would argue it’s been the decade of mobile. And mobile is starting to bring its friends social and local along for the ride.

When it comes to brand marketing, though, McCann is not a fan of the term.

“I’ve always viewed brand development as built around transactions,” he said. If a form of technology isn’t generating transactions, McCann ain’t going to fund it.

A company’s culture is the manifestation of the stories told about it by its customers. “And the one feeds the other,” he said.

Which is why a brand’s e-commerce experience isn’t just gravy; it’s essential.

Take apparel, Gavales’ line. An apparel website typically brings in about 10 or 15% of a company’s business.

“But the truth is, when it comes to brand interaction, half of the traffic could be going to the website,” Gavales said. “If you’re only treating it as 10%, you’re missing an opportunity to accelerate the business.”

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