The New Experience Economy: Establishing Authentic Connections With Customers

The New Experience Economy: Establishing Authentic Connections With Customers
Posted on May 19, 2021

The past year boosted US ecommerce’s year-over-year growth rate to 44%* —the highest it’s been in a decade.

Now that the ecommerce space is growing faster and is more crowded than ever, what can brands do to stand out? Ecommerce leaders are increasingly leaning into the “experience economy” — the cultivation of authentic, non-transactional brand experiences — to win long-term customer loyalty. 

We held a second webinar exploring this topic, entitled “Mobile Engagement Trends for the Post-Covid World: Win in the Experience Economy” and presented in collaboration with Adweek. In it, CleverTap CMO Dave Dabbah and Nick Lamothe, CMO of direct-to-consumer athletic apparel brand Legends, discussed the strategies and challenges faced by brands looking to take advantage of this new experience economy.

“The game is changing,” said Lamothe. “There was always this talk about the shift to digital, which has happened slowly over the last 10 years, but over the last 12-14 months, everything has been expedited. All these things we were talking about 10 years ago, like pick-up-in-store and omnichannel, were slower to be adopted than people predicted and then—Boom!—over the last 12 months, they’ve become very real.”

Here are our takeaways from the discussion between the two CMOs:

Customer (and Influencer) Loyalty is Earned, Not Bought

“From the moment the cash register is rung, how do we ensure consumers are going to come back in the future?” asked Lamothe.

As ecommerce has rapidly matured, brands have been forced to optimize their cart and checkout experiences — or risk being left behind. 

But what does the rest of the user experience outside of the transaction itself look like? From basics like the checkout process to more complex elements of the customer journey — like shipping, fulfillment, and customer service — there are plenty of touchpoints to optimize. 

“Right now, there are a lot of transactionally-built relationships between brands and consumers. Customers are starting to see through that and want more genuine experiences from a brand,” said Lamothe. “At Legends, we’re trying to build a brand for the long haul. We’re building the foundation of genuine relationships with our customers and earning their trust.”


Quote by Nick Lamothe, CMO at Legends: “Right now, there are a lot of transactionally-built relationships between brands and consumers. Customers are starting to see through that and want more genuine experiences from a brand.”

At Legends, significant marketing dollars are put behind initiatives that aren’t necessarily associated with conventional ROI metrics — namely customer service and their ambassador program — all in the name of building long-term relationships with customers.

Customer Service: Diving Into Details 

Lamothe’s strategy when it comes to customer service: Obsess over the details. Are shipping delays leading to products arriving late? Spend the dollars to expedite a customer’s order. Are faulty products being discovered after they are in the consumer’s hand? Identify and replace them for free. Frustrated that influencer marketing campaigns have become less authentic and more transparently transactional? Reinvent the parameters of what an influencer or ambassador program can be.

Ambassador Program: Influencing Without Being Annoying 

The Legends ambassador program is an area that Lamothe and the brand have invested a great deal of effort and thought into. Instead of a typical influencer program, in which a brand pays per post, Legends focuses on non-financial arrangements (mostly with product) with professional athletes, fitness influencers, even gym owners. Though there are elements like social media posting requirements in the ambassador program that one might find in a traditional influencer strategy, Legends goes above and beyond by supporting their ambassador’s social initiatives, local projects, and small businesses in order to form authentic bonds rather than transactional relationships.

The analytics won’t be super clean in the short term, but with programs like these, customer loyalty and retention will be boosted over time. Since this is a strategy Legends has been using since it was founded in 2018, the fruits of the brand’s unique emphases are starting to be quantifiable now in customer retention data.

Lamothe added: “Direct attributable return on ad spend is starting to come into picture because of the bets we made on hard-to-attribute, but essential, spend on developing relationships with our customers.”

Texting: Good for Friends, Good for Brands

This is not to say that data has no place in a modern experience economy marketing strategy. Though Legends doesn’t have an app as part of their marketing strategy (yet), they are full believers in another channel that CleverTap fully supports: SMS messaging.

As a startup in the concentrated world of athletic apparel, Legends relies on limited but frequent product releases as a key part of their marketing strategy. By building the behavior of “hype” into their brand, they generate excitement in small but frequent intervals and reward their most loyal customers with access to these product releases through SMS marketing. 

Compared to other channels, SMS over-indexes in terms of engagement. “We’re looking at adding value into the SMS channel. We identify 2-3 products per month that will be most exciting and for those products we give early access to our SMS list. This has helped with discovery and excitement,” said Lamothe. “SMS is huge right now in terms of engagement rate and adoption.”

Lamothe suggests looking at the channel mix a brand has at its disposal and not just analyzing them from an engagement standpoint but from a customer excitement perspective.

“When you see data around customer experience, it is not about shopping cart paths anymore,” said Dabbah. “It’s about how you’re using the data from your customers to connect with them in a way that they find valuable.” 


Quote by Dave Dabbah, CMO at CleverTap: “When you see data around customer experience, it is not about shopping cart paths anymore. It’s about how you’re using the data from your customers to connect with them in a way that they find valuable.”

Behind Every Great Consumer Experience is a Killer Content Strategy  

When it comes down to it, “experiential” doesn’t necessarily mean hyper-personalization. As Lamothe explained, in his view, brands will often interpret personalization as making sure the first line of an email includes the customer’s first name or being able to cross-sell a consumer based on something they’ve bought or browsed before. While these are tried and true digital marketing tactics, in his mind, experiential marketing and personalization are really about narrowing in and digging deeper into a specific marketing discipline… like a content strategy.

“What’s the content you’re showing them and when? How do they like to consume it? Diversify your channel mix and let the customer tell you where they like to be interacted with. This personalization notion can be much broader than brands approach it with,” said Lamothe.

A content strategy isn’t just about what is being produced but also how it is distributed. Not all customers interact with your brand the same way, so it’s important to understand how your community is segmented and how to best reach each segment. One way to start this process is by unifying customer data across multiple channels. Then you can efficiently repurpose your brand’s content with an informed and more effective rollout, not to mention when and where to connect with customers according to their own preferences.

Final Thoughts

Dabbah said: “All the data we collect is always about customer lifetime value. It’s never not about that. The question is: how can a brand figure out how to extend that value and make that a longer program than it currently is? Everyone needs to find their own metrics and figure out what’s important to them.”

Whether you’re a more traditional ecommerce brand or a newly arrived disruptor like Legends, the new experience economy is a wake-up call to the industry to think about better and more efficient ways to spend marketing dollars. That doesn’t necessarily mean committing dollars to hard-to-attribute initiatives, but it does mean having a closer relationship with your customer — both in authentic connections and interpretation of key consumer data.

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