If you pay attention at all to the retail industry, you’re aware that retail is having an identity crisis. Experts at every corner are telling you conflicting things.
“Start an eCommerce business; drop brick and mortar and never look back!”
“eCommerce is dead! Brick and mortar’s the only way!”
“Omnichannel! Omnichannel is the future.”
What’s a person to think? I’m of the opinion, both having worked in retail and having shopped retail (at an expert level), that it doesn’t matter as much where your store front is (physical, online, or both), as much as it matters how you treat your customers. What makes you stand out is the experience a customer has with your brand. So the real question becomes: How do you create an experience that stands out in a world where ‘customer experience’ is rapidly becoming a buzz phrase?
Why not look to the customer experience queen herself, Taylor Swift?
TSwizzle is a genius.
I mean, maybe not musically (even I, her biggest fan, will grant you that), but when it comes to branding and customer experience, Taylor Swift is indisputably a genius.
While I’ve loved Taylor since the very first time her single, Tim McGraw, was played on 98.7 WMZQ in 2006 (a moment I’ll never forget), she hadn’t quite solidified her brand as a powerhouse to the rest of the world until this past fall when she became the first artist ever to sell over one million copies each week of the first three weeks it was on sale, in a year in which the second highest selling album of the year sold only 746,000 total. Girl’s doing something right – even the biggest Tay-haters (Tayters?) can’t deny that.
It’s very true that much of the success of 1989 came from the brilliant marketing Taylor did preceding and following the launch. (She’s also a marketing genius.) But the biggest factor in its success is… well, why not let Taylor tell you how it happened?
In her op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, Taylor said “that people are still buying albums, but now they’re buying just a few of them. They are buying only the ones that hit them like an arrow through the heart or have made them feel strong or allowed them to feel like they really aren’t alone in feeling so alone.”
Basically: they’re buying albums that give them an experience.
I would argue that the retail industry is like that. People are still buying the more expensive pieces of [insert whatever you sell here]. People are still giving stores their loyalty. But they’re only doing this for the stores that make them feel understood, loved and represented.
So what does Taylor do to make her albums an experience that you can emulate with your brand and products?
You know, besides lyrics that speak straight to the heart.
1. She gives you more for your money.
As a reward for those who went out and bought actual, physical copies of 1989, Taylor included a lot of extras beyond just the piece of plastic that contained the songs. Jam packed into the casing were 13 Polaroid shots of Taylor being Taylor complete with handwritten lyrics from each of the songs underneath. The nostalgic photos felt very personal, and fans connected.
As a retailer, you can emulate this in plenty of ways. A good example is the cash card coupons that one of my favorite stores does sometimes. Loft often runs promotions where, for example, for every $50 you spend, they give you a $25 cash card to be spent during a future purchase, with no other restrictions. This is a great way of giving your customers not only a reason to come back, but literally more for your money. Once the cash card is activated, you can come back and spend just that amount, if you want, and no more money. (Though of course, the idea is to get you to spend more than what’s on the card.)
Overall, you need to be generous with your customers. If you’re stingy with them, they’ll be stingy with you.
2. She gets to know her fans.
In the 1989 follow-up campaign, Taylor spent some serious social media stalking time to get to know her fans. After the launch of 1989, Taylor began doing some #Taylurking and she started tweeting photos of fans with all of her 1989 Polaroids.
This not only encouraged fans to go out and buy the physical copy of her album, it also helped her learn a lot about her particular fans which she used to create Swiftmas, but we’ll get to that.
For retailers, collecting data on your customers shouldn’t be even as hard as #Taylurking, thanks to all the kinds of software. Any decent point of sale system should come with a built in CRM that allows you to keep track of all kinds of details from your customers: birthdays, size preferences, and complete purchase history from what channel they purchased off of to how much they spent. With good reporting tools, there’s no reason you can’t get to know your customers preferences on a ‘creepy’ level.
Additionally, don’t miss out on learning from interactions, just like Taylor Swift. Go out and meet your customers in person. Engage them on social media. Data reports can only tell you the what; to learn why your customers do what they do, you have to actually talk to them.
3. She surprises and delights her fans.
There are a LOT of stories of the amazing kindnesses Taylor has done for her fans seemingly at random. A few of my favorites:
- She left notes on Instagram to sad followers, telling them how much she loved following them and how she thought they could get through their tough time.
- She gave a fan $90 on her birthday to take her friends to Chipotle.
- And, my personal favorite, she sent a fan $1989 to help pay off a student loan!
Or you could take a page out of Pret A Manger Coffee’s playbook and give away random free stuff. The chain gives each store a budget within which cashiers can choose to give away free coffee to anyone. Cashiers are able to give coffee away to brighten up someone’s day, reward a loyal customer, or just provide a wonderful first experience for a newbie.
Additionally, surprise and delight is a necessary part of product design. After all, everyone is creating the same stuff you are. What makes yours different? To put it in the words of Taylor:
“In the YouTube generation we live in, I walked out onstage every night of my stadium tour last year knowing almost every fan had already seen the show online. To continue to show them something they had never seen before, I brought out dozens of special guest performers to sing their hits with me. My generation was raised being able to flip channels if we got bored, and we read the last page of the book when we got impatient. We want to be caught off guard, delighted, left in awe.”
You should put special effort into producing unique pieces that will catch your customers off guard and leave them in awe. After all, you can get a white blouse anywhere. But can you get a white blouse specially tailored for women with an hourglass figure so it never gapes anywhere? (Correct answer: No. Please feel free to rectify this problem ASAP.)
Having these kinds of unique pieces interspersed within your collections keeps customers interested with what you have to offer and encourages them to shell out more dollars. If you can’t get a must-have product anywhere else, you become willing to pay more for it. (Seriously, I will pay big bucks for the aforementioned blouse.)
4. She personalizes her fans’ experiences.
In a combination of the two above tips, Taylor took everything that she learned while Taylurking, picked several lucky Swifties and surprised them during the Christmas season with boxes of personalized gifts and notes for ‘Swiftmas.’ Fans who received the gift boxes were shocked and posted videos of themselves weeping while opening them, and put photos of the gifts on social media.
Taylor didn’t have to do one bit of promotion, but the whole world found out about her generosity. That’s not the only personalized thing she’s done for fans either. She also held a 1989 ‘Secret Sessions’ before the album dropped, inviting 89 different superfans to listening parties at her five different houses, where she personally entertained them.
For retailers, there are many ways to personalize your customers’ experiences. Start, like Tay did, by getting to know them through big data and daily interactions. You can mass-personalize by making sure your customers are all on correct and specific lists in your marketing automation system, so they are receiving offers that make sense to them. We’re at a point with customer data where you can pick out a group of people who clearly prefer buying shirts, and you can send them an offer for free pants with the purchase of a shirt, or something similar.
But that’s the kind of advice you can find anywhere. Tay’s tip is to get even more personal. Train your sales people to develop relationships with your customers; and to send out thank you notes, birthday cards, and get-well cards to regulars. Spend time getting to know a regular, and send them a special basket filled with things they like, things perhaps even from stores other than your own to reward them for their loyalty. If you learn a customer has a sick relative, or they’re sick, send them a whole get-well basket.
And perhaps the most important tip from Tay here: promote your good works intelligently. You want to make it clear that you’ve done your good deed for goodness sake, and get the customer to share about it. Taylor never shares when she’s done good deeds, and only acknowledged Swiftmas post-Swiftmas, when she released a video detailing how she had done it. (Warning: Do not watch unless you want to cry from an overload of emotions.)
Getting this personal is intended to encourage your current customers’ deep and abiding loyalty, as well as word-of-mouth spread, and it only comes across as disingenuous if you promote it shamelessly.
5. She partners with many of her fellow celebs to get her name everywhere.
Oops. I meant she’s friends with many fellow celebs to have a good time. But seriously, Taylor creates friendships with many fellow celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Cindy Crawford. These friendships allow Taylor to stretch her reach into her friends’ fanbases, and she opens up her fanbase in return. The other thing Taylor does is use her friendship to promote launching artists. Ed Sheeran owes his fame almost entirely to Taylor Swift’s friendship. She found him and chose to include him in her Red tour in 2012 and essentially gave him her fanbase.
The lesson to be learned here? Partner away. Maybe not with your direct competition (although Taylor likes to do that), but certainly with other retailers whose businesses complement yours. As a clothing retailer, you can offer events with a make-up company, or an accessories company. Partners can even offer mutual coupons (with a purchase at their store, a customer gets a coupon to try something at yours).
Overall, partners offer a mutual marketing opportunity. Don’t miss it.
6. Taylor loves giving sneak peeks of things before they launch.
During the month leading up to the release of 1989 Taylor leaked some type of sneak peek into the album nearly every day. She released two songs off the album, not as singles, but simply as sneak peeks. She spent 13 days posting lyrics from each one of the songs on the album on her social media. She released images of the Polaroids contained in the album.
And she does this for virtually everything she releases.
Her “Bad Blood” video was launched recently, and in the days preceding the launch, she released a photo on Instagram every single day of every famous woman in the video. The video set a Vevo world record with 20.1 million views in just 24 hours.
For retailers, giving sneak peeks of your products can be tough. After all, you have a supply chain timeline. You can’t really speed that up. But there are other ways to give sneak peeks. Like Taylor, you can utilize your social media. Share designs of those special surprise items on Instagram or Pinterest. Share a picture of your team doing a floor set on Insta or Facebook. Create a countdown to the release of a big line. (Do NOT do this every month. People will get bored. I recommend doing this for the release of your spring line. Nothing makes people happier in February than the idea of bright spring colors and t-shirts right around the corner.)
Additionally, you can, like Taylor did with the 1989 Secret Sessions, invite a select group of super-customers to come into your store after hours for a special try-on party of your line before you put it out. And offer a good discount here. No one wants to go to store after hours to purchase full-price. I have experience with this. Offer something like 25% off the full purchase, or 30-40% off up to five items.
Taylor Swift is a true master of customer experience. We Swifties give her our undying loyalty (and lots of money). It’s 100% worth studying her methods to learn her ways. Just because she’s selling music doesn’t mean her tricks can’t be translated for retail. Do you have any other tips you think Taylor has to offer on customer experience?
Images by Abby Kahler
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