The lights dim and the audi­ence goes silent. For a moment, there’s no fid­get­ing, no crack­ling of candy wrap­pers, just the hush of antic­i­pa­tion. Then, with the whoosh of cur­tains, we fall head­long into another world.

Watch­ing a play, or opera, or film is a seam­less, sen­sory journey—for the audi­ence. That abil­ity to cap­ti­vate, chal­lenge, and stir emo­tions takes the hard work, coor­di­na­tion, and pas­sion of an entire cast of actors and sup­port­ing crew. Not to men­tion the gad­getry to cre­ate sound, light­ing, and spe­cial effects. Months of effort—orchestrated and shaped by a director—result in a cou­ple hours of cap­ti­vat­ing, immer­sive entertainment.

Can we say the same for our websites?

Why do peo­ple con­tinue to pay for Shake­speare and episodes of “Down­ton Abby” or “Mad Men” when they can watch other webisodes for free? Because great works make us laugh and cry, engage our minds and senses, and put us shoul­der to shoul­der with other humans. In other words, they offer an irre­place­able experience.

Wait, I thought this post was about the dig­i­tal age…

Dig­i­tal has rapidly changed the means of inter­ac­tions, but at the end of the day, peo­ple, your cus­tomers, are still human.

Today, peo­ple have a host of com­pa­nies to choose from for every imag­in­able prod­uct and ser­vice, each promis­ing lower prices, greater con­ve­nience, and faster deliv­ery. Each of these qual­i­ties sat­is­fies the prag­matic, ratio­nal ani­mal in all of us. But sat­is­fac­tion, as Andrew Ash­man, cus­tomer expe­ri­ence man­ager at Ford, duly noted at a recent con­fer­ence in Chicago, does not equal loy­alty. For that, you need engage­ment, “an emo­tional con­nec­tion beyond reason.”

No other indus­try has been in the busi­ness of fos­ter­ing an emo­tional con­nec­tion longer than the the­ater. From a unique story, strong dia­logue, and flaw­less exe­cu­tion, an engag­ing play is a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of sub­stance and style.

In a dig­i­tal age with absolute price trans­parency and search costs near zero, it is only through loy­alty built by deliv­er­ing amaz­ing and use­ful expe­ri­ences that brands can sus­tain pre­mium value in the long term.

Amaz­ing Dig­i­tal Experiences

The best web­sites feel like an exten­sion of the visitor’s brain. They are intu­itive, dynamic, and human. They also offer a visual story, stim­u­lat­ing the emo­tions and imag­i­na­tion. And most impor­tantly, they are highly per­son­al­ized, inte­grat­ing social media, pre­dic­tive search, real-time sug­ges­tions, and tar­geted con­tent. When done well, like the spe­cial effects of a play, all the dis­parate pieces come together trans­par­ently to heighten the experience.

After a $50 mil­lion prop­erty ren­o­va­tion, the Palms Casino Resort needed the dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence on its web­site to be visu­ally stun­ning and engag­ing because it is the pri­mary way peo­ple dis­cover the resort. They cre­ated a respon­sive site that works seam­lessly, regard­less of whether a vis­i­tor comes from a tablet, mobile phone, or lap­top. They also inte­grated social chan­nels directly into their site so, like the­ater, vis­it­ing the Palms’ site could be a col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence. By focus­ing on mak­ing the site easy to use, the com­pany allowed vis­i­tors to immerse them­selves in the incred­i­ble visu­als of the resort, its par­ties … the expe­ri­ence. While every­one in a play­house can only see a sin­gle play, dig­i­tal breaks this lim­i­ta­tion. The Palms is able to per­son­al­ize the expe­ri­ence and engage­ment for each of its online visitors.

“We cater to three dif­fer­ent audi­ences through our dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence,” says Erin Lev­zow, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Hotel Mar­ket­ing and eCom­merce. “Indi­vid­u­als who know the Palms Casino Resort well and are look­ing to book right away, indi­vid­u­als who are con­sid­er­ing stay­ing at the Palms but need to be per­suaded to book, and those who know noth­ing about our resort and are look­ing for edu­ca­tion and incen­tives to stay. We wanted to make sure our dig­i­tal chan­nels deliv­ered that expe­ri­ence for all three tar­gets in an engag­ing way.”

Amaz­ing dig­i­tal expe­ri­ences are rel­e­vant and empow­er­ing. The data serves the end user, meet­ing their needs and mak­ing life eas­ier. That means the cus­tomer deter­mines the expe­ri­ence. All the hard work and the right tech­nol­ogy behind the scenes yields an authen­tic, one-to-one expe­ri­ence that feels effort­less.

Valu­able, Customer-Driven Content

Let’s face it, peo­ple are skep­ti­cal of one-way, varnish-perfect mar­ket­ing tac­tics. They’ll tune out the sec­ond they get a whiff of salesy lingo. Offer­ing use­ful, authen­tic con­tent sets you apart from com­peti­tors who are merely spew­ing noise.

Valu­able con­tent starts with lis­ten­ing to the cus­tomer. Many tests mea­sure only “what hap­pens,” not “why it hap­pens.” If you seek incre­men­tal improve­ments, opti­miz­ing actions may be enough. How­ever, if you are forg­ing a new direc­tion or try­ing to expand and deepen your rela­tion­ships, you have to con­sider not only actions, but also audi­ence moti­va­tions. Your data is only as good as your under­stand­ing of the peo­ple it rep­re­sents. Before wor­ry­ing about your cus­tomers’ rela­tion­ship to your prod­uct, learn about their rela­tion­ship to them­selves. What inter­ests them? What do they value and res­onate with? What stres­sors and prob­lems do they face every day? Who do they want to become?

MyMove​.com uses con­tent mar­ket­ing to grow its active user com­mu­nity. The mov­ing resource site lets indi­vid­u­als research moves by pro­vid­ing arti­cles such as “5 Tips for Choos­ing and Rent­ing a Mov­ing Truck” and videos such as “5 Mov­ing Scam Red Flags & How to Avoid Being Scammed.” There is also the MyMove check­list, which maps a move jour­ney from plan­ning to set­tling in. The check­list is made per­sonal with a few ques­tions, and it also empow­ers indi­vid­u­als to add tasks. MyMove draws a fan base of 40 mil­lion folks a year and grow­ing because of its customer-relevant content.

Volk­swa­gen AG, the largest car pro­ducer in Europe, improved the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence on its site by not only pro­vid­ing the lat­est model infor­ma­tion, but mak­ing avail­able use­ful shop­ping tools, enabling peo­ple to share sto­ries and pho­tos of their last road trip, and help­ing them build their own car and guide them through financ­ing options. There is a cen­tral­ized global repos­i­tory of con­tent, but each of the 77 auto mar­kets and over 300 edi­tors world­wide are able to adapt regional ver­sions to best suit the par­tic­u­lar audience.

When you human­ize dig­i­tal chan­nels, you can ini­ti­ate a con­ver­sa­tion with the cus­tomer cen­tered on their prob­lems, needs, ideals, and desires. Customer-driven con­tent solves prob­lems, meets needs, speaks to ideals, ful­fills desire, and ulti­mately builds loy­alty. And by con­nect­ing that con­tent to con­ver­sion, it becomes just as valu­able for you and your bot­tom line.

Fol­low these indus­try lead­ing exam­ples, and you too may find your­self bask­ing in cus­tomer encores.

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