Too many digital marketers have forgotten the fundamentals of marketing. Shortcuts, tricks, and an obsession with tools dominates the conversation as people in this industry leave behind what can truly build brand equity and create long-lasting relationships with customers. So what’s missing? The story.

This was put in sharp perspective last week at the Canadian Internet Marketing Conference (CIMC) up in Squamish, BC. Nestled under the mountains, and sustained by local food trucks, hundred of marketing professionals gathered together to learn about and discuss our industry. One key theme emerged: marketers need to bring offline customer experiences online.

When so much information is constantly at our fingertips, convenience is no longer enough. In select US cities, their infrastructure allows Amazon Prime to make a delivery within a few hours. You can’t compete simply by being online; you have to tell your story. This is what digital marketers have forgotten.

Think about your favourite store. You walk in, you know the employees and they know you. You’re comfortable. They know the right questions to ask and always have the answers for yours, so you trust them. Fostering these types of relationships can take you to the next level of ecommerce, as long as you can be relevant, personal, and emotional.

Amazon has us all beat on speed and efficiency, but they can’t compete with a strong relationship and a solid brand story. And in order to tell a good story, brands need to remember a few rules that already exist.

Be Relevant

When your brand is focused on online transactions, you have to take advantage of every opportunity you have to wow and impress your potential customers. During Christina Crook’s talk “Unplugged: How to be Technically Productive + Privately Peaceful”, she was bang on when she asked “Is the content you are creating adding value?”

Seems like common sense, right? But in an online world where everyone is struggling to be top of mind, the art of crafting a long-lasting and relevant story is fading away. Listen to Christina. Spend less time posting and more time creating. Your consumers will learn that when you post, you’re doing it to share thoughtful and value-adding content.

While operating online, you no longer have the opportunity to look your customer’s in the eyes and ask them questions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t know what they need. Utilize the digital information you have about them.

Pilar Catala of Indochino brings this approach to creating a relevant online experience. If a customer searches for “weddings” and ends up at their site, the first thing they’re going to see is wedding-related content. These small moments of delight become the basis of the stories your customer’s will tell about your brand.

Be Personal

Think about your favourite store again. The personal touch is where they’ve always had the advantage, but ecommerce is catching up. As we have the ability to capture more and more behavioural, interaction-based, and demographic information on our platforms, there are more opportunities to tailor the experience to every visitor that stops by your site, receives an email, and everything else. Every discrete moment will help build your brand story.

During the panel discussion on “The Future of Retail Marketing”, Kellie Sawkins of Saje reinforced the idea that your ecommerce experience should replicate the feeling you get when you walk into a neighbourhood store in a small town. The feeling that comes from a shopkeeper that knows your name, knows when you come by, and knows the things you need.

Companies like Frank & Oak personalize their homepage by running customers through a preferences test. Users can feel like they’re recognized and respected by their favourite store when it pays attention to your personal taste. These experiences are invaluable, just like when your local watering hole knows what your favourite beer is or when Netflix remembers what episode of Breaking Bad you’re on. This is the added value that brings customers back.

Be Emotional

“Brand loyalty is earned when you make people feel something,” Katie Schaffers of brand.LIVE told a fully enagaged room. She captured our ears when she declared to a room of digital marketers that events are moving away from digital. Something special happens when you put people in the same room and give them the opportunity to connect in real life. You get these spaces that allow lasting, memorable experiences to form and create greater engagement with your brand.

The story of Tom’s Shoes appeals to your emotions better than most. The homepage of their ecommerce page tells you “a pair for you, a pair for another”. The notion that it’s consumers are given the opportunity to help the less fortunate through their purchasing choices is the type of emotion that creates brand loyalty. Mikey Scott of Herschel Supply talked about this at CIMC. He told the room to “create experiences people can take away.” When consumers have these experiences, they are given a reason to explore your site further and that’s how relationships are built.

Being real, personal, and emotional are all part of our human nature. The CIMC reminded us by practicing what they preached. They made us get off our phones, turn to our neighbours, and told us to get personal. It’s not often that the conference experience includes a stranger turning to you and asking “what do you love?”

This set the tone of the conference: talk to people, be present, and build relationships. When we experience the immediate benefits of being present and remaining conscious of our actions in person, we’re reminded of how it affects the people we interact with. We’re reminded of the difference it makes. We’re reminded that if we take this approach whenever we interact with current and future customers online, we will be adding value to everything we do.

That’s a good story.

Jessica Turner (Marketing Analyst) and Sam Elgar (Growth + Engagement Manager) recently attended CIMC 2016 and collaborated on this post.