It’s true that e-commerce has dramatically changed the way the average consumer shops. Steady in-store foot traffic has been slumping for years, while online research becomes more prevalent for today's consumers. Before making big purchases -- those that cost $500 or more -- approximately 80 percent of shoppers start their journey with online research.

Simultaneously, smartphones are playing a bigger role in shopping, and even connects shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores. While browsing in a physical store, 73 percent of shoppers are on their smartphones doing research on the products they consider buying.

In other words, even outside the realm of e-commerce, a brand’s web presence still impacts a customers’ purchasing decisions. Brands can use this knowledge to their advantage by developing apps that help users learn more about their products. While some companies may be tempted to rely on their mobile sites, apps offer benefits that mobile sites don’t.

Advantages of mobile apps for retailers:

According to a recent survey, consumers spend about seven times longer on mobile apps than sites or browsers. Shopping apps are also rising in popularity: In 2014, mobile shopping app downloads increased by a whopping 170 percent.

It’s also worth noting that among customers who turn to their browsers for research, 60 percent begin on a search engine, 61 percent read customer reviews before making a decision, and 51 percent abandon their carts if a digital annoyance happens before customers reach the point-of-sale.

Additionally, during the research and transaction phase, a lot of other distractions on the internet could keep shoppers from completing the transaction. With a mobile app, this isn’t as much of a problem.

Apps also allow retailers to customize their own analytics so they can more effectively track customer behavior. An app also keeps your brand at top of mind for customers. Think about it: they’re constantly seeing your brand’s icon on their mobile device and soon enough, you’re integrated into their daily life.

cross-channel apps

What's in an app?

Just because an app can help boost sales, doesn’t mean that any ol' app will succeed. Your app needs to  genuinely offer useful features that make life easier for the consumer.

1. Embracing new technologies is one way to offer features that are truly valuable. For instance, augmented reality technology is capable of allowing users to “try” certain products at home before making the purchase decision.

Case in point is Wayfair Inc.’s app called Wayfair View, which allows users to superimpose images of furniture or fixtures onto images of their homes, so they can better understand what an item might look like in the physical space.

IKEA released a similar app. Sephora uses AR to let users “try on” makeup virtually. When customers can try products via their mobile devices, they’re more likely to head to a store and make a purchase.

2. Gamification is another way of making an app valuable to customers. Just consider Nike’s app, which lets users connect the app with a FuelBand. They can then post goals, track workouts, and challenge others to competitions. The app tracks a user’s achievements, rewarding them with loyalty points they can trade in for benefits, like advanced workouts and customized product ordering. Gamification makes the app fun, while also driving purchases and brand loyalty.

3. Optimizing the brick-and-mortar shopping experience is another way brands can connect all points on the customer journey. For example, New York ice cream brand Van Leeuwen partnered with PayPal to offer location-based promotions. Users who download the PayPal app and enroll in the program are alerted with coupons and similar promotional offers whenever they get near one of the ice cream shops. Other brands could develop apps that offer coupons when users step into a designated geo-fenced field.

While mobile sites are crucial for brand building, apps have huge potential to greatly improve the retail experience while keeping your brand constantly in customers’ minds. Develop one that customers truly value, and you’ll see sales boost in both your virtual and brick-and-mortar stores.

SEE ALSO: The secrets to successful brand building tomorrow > 

Who are the people you trust the most? How about the ones you’re most loyal to? Do they have common traits?

Oftentimes, those who have gained your trust and loyalty are people you’ve created meaningful moments and unforgettable experiences with. They’re people who know you, understand your challenges, and help you overcome them so you can grow into a better you. And their interactions with you are genuine and real -- not gimmicky or phony.

In a digital world where you can easily go through the day without interacting with another human, authentic relationships are what we strive for when we do connect. If this is what we want in our relationships and experiences, why would we expect anything less from the brands we interact with?

“The future [of brand building] is a lot of love and loyalty in the smallest of moments,” said John McCarthy, YML’s senior vice president of strategy. “It’s done by solving customer problems and less about telling them why they need to love you.”

This makes sense. After all, your loved ones don’t go around (hopefully!) telling you why you need to love them. The bond is formed from the meaningful experiences you share that lead to a more fulfilling life.

In other words, brands today can no longer get consumers to open their wallets merely by having a signature color like Tiffany’s robin’s egg blue. There’s just simply too much competition today. Once a brand’s able to set innovation in motion, they receive a flood of competitive response.

Memorable experiences cause wallets to open

What this means is that brands today need to focus on creating memorable, personal experiences for consumers. Because no one can take those experiences, those memories away. This is what sets one brand apart from another, and keeps them ahead of the competition.

Here’s what changed: Today, consumers would rather spend their money on living and experiences -- that’s everything from vacations and dining out -- rather than material things. That’s why you see so many pictures of people’s vacations and other life experiences worth documenting on Instagram and Facebook and not so many pictures of people cuddling their Chanel bag.

Now think back on those meaningful moments where someone has been able to make you really happy. Those moments are possible because the person understands you, your interests, and your needs. Similarly, creating moments that matter for consumers requires you to understand them.

Because how can you continue to have meaningful moments, or touchpoints, with them unless you understand what it is that they need and how you can get help them get it? Only when consumers are the target of your empathy can you truly understand their needs and help them overcome challenges to meet them. Brands that are ahead of the curve can identify wants and needs even before consumers know that it’s something that they want or need.  

Getting to this point with consumers is when you start building positive memories with them.

Now when they think about you, they remember all the good times they’ve had with you. All of the good feelings they’ve encountered at every step of their journey with you. They think about how their lives have greatly improved by the user experiences you’ve created. Now you’re considered a valuable brand. Now they trust you. Now you have their hearts. Now they become loyal customers.

Create the moments that matter

Throughout our lives, the moments that matter aren’t always big ones. They can be small, meaningful experiences too. But whether they are big or small, each experience needs to support a big idea. Because today’s consumers are into big ideas. What is it about your brand that jumps out at them during the first connection point? What makes you memorable? Brands today need a big idea. You need to be trying to solve a big problem. You don’t need to create expensive, large-scale complex experiences. But the experiences you do create need to be authentic, properly executed, and well documented.

At every touchpoint of the customer’s journey, experiences should be purposefully designed to communicate the same message, said Stephen Clements, YML’s chief creative officer.

So what is it that you’re trying to say? Are you communicating that loud and clear every time you interact with a customer? If your brand is all about beautiful, well-engineered designs, then make sure you don’t have a clunky website. If you’re promising to be there for your customers when they need you, make sure the process for downloading and installing your app is smooth and intuitive.

Here’s an example of what would have been inconsistent branding:

A few years back, YML’s own Clements was leading an Audi project to redesign The instructions he was given by the president of Audi USA, Scott Keogh was simple: “I want the R8 of websites.” Keogh was referring the Audi’s flagship vehicle with a price tag that starts at around $200,000. In Clements words, it’s the “perfect marriage of design and engineering.” So when someone on Audi’s team suggested featuring an April Fool’s Day video on the new site because “it’s fun,” Clements was confused. If the R8 engineered beauty and performance, how does a “fun” April Fool’s video align with Audi’s identity and business goals? Sure, it could live on channels, like Facebook or YouTube, where “fun” makes more sense, but it didn’t make sense on a site where people are considering dropping $200,000 on a car.

“Brands are experiences,” said Clements, and that means any experience that’s tied to Audi should feel as good as sitting in an R8.

In the digital age, a lot of the touchpoints brands have with consumers are powered by software. Ask yourself: are you truly thinking about the user experience? Are you making a positive lasting impression? Are you reinforcing your messaging, bolstering your industry authority, and building trust? And importantly, are you winning customer loyalty?

Know what 'joy' means for consumers

If creating moments and experiences of joy is what brand building is focused on today, we should dive in on what “joy” means. For consumers, it’s about someone stepping in, solving their problems, and making their lives easier. It’s about creating relevant products. Are your products and services easy-to-use, so that you’re not contributing to the problem? Again, this goes back to having empathy for consumers. Have you committed to getting to know your customers and understanding what they want?

In order to solve problems, great brands understand that they can’t be myopic. Instead, they need to zoom out broadly enough so they can see from all angles and perspectives. Just take a look at the huge success Amazon gained by eliminating pain points from the buying process.

“A lot of startups ignore traditional branding from the offset,” McCarthy said, but “what’s remarkable is that Amazon has built this huge loyal following, especially among moms, who say they love the brand because it simply does X, Y, and Z.”

In short, “Amazon built their business on solving unique customer experience problems,” McCarthy continued, and “the brands that focus wholeheartedly on the customer experience are always going to be a lot more successful. Ignoring the customer experience will be problematic.”

Whatever it is that your brand and messaging is, turn those promises into products and experiences, said Clements.

The bottom line: Today, it’s software that forges the strongest connections, so don’t miss a chance to turn those experiences into memorable ones that matter.

SEE ALSO: Why storytelling has the power to shape company culture >


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