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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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