Much has been said about the promise of con­tent and com­merce. Some have praised its poten­tial, and some have ques­tioned its effec­tive­ness, but many have yet to invest in immer­sive, con­tent dri­ven e-commerce sites and dis­cover the results for them­selves. Oth­ers may still be unsure of what makes e-commerce effec­tive. Here’s a hint: that lit­tle “e” stands for experience.

Experience-driven com­merce is about deliv­er­ing more than com­pet­i­tive prices and convenience—that’s the least your cus­tomers expect. They’ve even come to expect feature-rich prod­uct com­par­isons, one-click check­out, and acces­si­ble cus­tomer ser­vice reps. So what’s the “more”? Inter­ac­tive, insight­ful, preference-guided, aspiration-aligned expe­ri­ences. Cus­tomers are grav­i­tat­ing to sites that allow them to engage with search­able and share­able con­tent in a fluid, respon­sive inter­face, and to brands that reflect their desires and lifestyle aspirations.

The experience-driven com­merce imper­a­tive is to turn your site into more than a store­front, mak­ing it a valu­able resource, des­ti­na­tion, and com­mu­nity. Unless you adopt experience-driven com­merce, you are going to be in the price-war rat race and see your mar­gins dri­ven to zero. There’s more in it for your brand too—specifically, loyal cus­tomers who in turn con­tribute to brand content.

I’ve iden­ti­fied four prin­ci­ples of experience-driven com­merce: inter­ac­tiv­ity, insight, pref­er­ence, and aspi­ra­tion. I will tackle one prin­ci­ple at a time. Fol­low along to build a solid struc­ture to attract loyal, engaged cus­tomers and contributors.

Inter­ac­tiv­ity: The First Prin­ci­ple of Experience-Driven Commerce

What does it mean to be inter­ac­tive? Exam­ples of inter­ac­tiv­ity include respon­sive design ele­ments; com­ment fea­tures and com­mu­nity forums; rich video and graph­ics; social media inte­gra­tions; and quizzes, con­tests, and gamification.

The fea­tures you should choose depend on the inter­ests and pref­er­ences of your audi­ence. But there are two key qual­i­ties of inter­ac­tiv­ity rel­e­vant to every brand: Focus on cre­at­ing an immer­sive, story-rich envi­ron­ment. Let’s look at each of these adjec­tives up close.

Immer­sive

What does the word immer­sion make you think of? I think of a deep sea diver. I imag­ine plung­ing into a world that touches all my senses at once and com­mands my full atten­tion. When shop­pers are immersed in great con­tent, they stop feel­ing like they’re merely shop­ping, and go explor­ing. Hav­ing a mul­ti­chan­nel brand pres­ence is an excel­lent start, but it doesn’t become immer­sive until you can unify con­tent, com­mu­nity, and com­merce into one seam­less pre­sen­ta­tion. Rather than divert­ing your audi­ence to dif­fer­ent places for dif­fer­ent needs, cre­ate a one-stop des­ti­na­tion that is respon­sive to needs as they arise.

Con­tent mar­ket­ing has been crit­i­cized for slow­ing the path to pur­chase. Com­merce sites want to drive vis­i­tors to check-out quickly, and text and media—the argu­ment goes—create a diver­sion. Style­caster begs to dif­fer. The fash­ion and beauty media com­pany has steadily acquired immer­sive dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies, such as its vir­tual makeover site that allows vis­i­tors to upload a photo and “try on” var­i­ous beauty prod­ucts. In the words of a Style­caster spokesper­son: “The more engaged the con­sumer is, whether that con­sumer is try­ing on prod­uct or click­ing on more arti­cles, the more likely he or she is to pur­chase a prod­uct then and there.” What’s more, in a truly inte­grated site, the vis­i­tor won’t be forced to leave great con­tent to reach a shop­ping cart.

If you’ve so much as donned a snorkel and peered below the ocean’s sur­face, you know that total immer­sion is also an emo­tional expe­ri­ence. This emo­tional engage­ment with a brand can help drive pur­chases, and leave deep impres­sions that bring cus­tomers back to buy again.

Story Rich

The old e-commerce model uses lin­ear and highly struc­tured nav­i­ga­tion. The future of e-commerce is “story-selling.” In this model, com­pelling sto­ries guide cus­tomer inter­ac­tions on an engag­ing, non­lin­ear jour­ney that leaves deeper impressions.

Sto­ries cre­ate con­text and iden­tity for your brand. Amy Calla­han of Col­lec­tive Bias describes story-selling as a “con­tent spec­trum”:

At one end, the brand’s mes­sag­ing is about being help­ful and at the other end the brand’s mes­sag­ing is about enter­tain­ing. Help­ful con­tent shows how the prod­uct will fit into the consumer’s life, hits on con­ve­nience or util­ity, takes us behind the scenes, intro­duces us to com­mu­nity or sim­ply shows us how it works. Enter­tain­ing con­tent is about let­ting the con­sumer express them­selves, mak­ing us smile, laugh or cry or even gives us a chance to inter­act directly with the brand.”

 Sto­ries have the power to human­ize a brand, help­ing con­sumers relate to your mes­sage and trust their trans­ac­tions. Sto­ries can also frame the cus­tomer jour­ney, guid­ing a begin­ning, mid­dle, and end that feel nat­ural and mean­ing­ful. In some instances, prod­ucts and trans­ac­tions are embed­ded directly in the stories.

Thril­list CEO Ben Lerer calls this “native com­merce.” The company’s lat­est dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence is Shops, a des­ti­na­tion for mul­ti­ple web­sites to seam­lessly inte­grate con­tent and com­merce through micros­to­ries. Learn about qual­ity mes­sen­ger bags in a photo-rich blog post on the his­tory of the bag’s design, or dis­cover clas­sic cock­tail recipes while eval­u­at­ing a new home shaker.

With increas­ing com­pe­ti­tion for cus­tomer atten­tion, rel­e­vant, cap­ti­vat­ing sto­ries can help you make a dent in trou­bling bounce rates. Rich media plays an impor­tant role in dig­i­tal sto­ry­telling. Video, look­books, info­graph­ics, pod­casts, and music are all tools you can use to cap­ture cus­tomers’ imagination.

Enable Inter­ac­tiv­ity with the Right Tools

Cre­at­ing a con­sis­tently immer­sive and story-rich expe­ri­ence that evolves with your cus­tomers is not easy. It requires pow­er­ful and intu­itive Web con­tent and expe­ri­ence man­age­ment tools that enable your team to deliver uni­fied con­tent to mul­ti­ple chan­nels. The most valu­able solu­tions will weave together com­merce and con­tent func­tions, help­ing mar­keters make the most of each dig­i­tal inter­ac­tion in real time.

Adobe has been con­sciously dri­ving a shift toward experience-based solu­tions with flex­i­ble mar­ket­ing cloud, ana­lyt­ics, and e-commerce inte­gra­tions to its Web expe­ri­ence man­age­ment offering.

There’s No One Way to Do Experience-Driven Commerce

Inter­ac­tiv­ity is about cre­at­ing a mul­ti­sen­sory expe­ri­ence to reach shop­pers’ emo­tions and build trust. Don’t limit your brand by try­ing to mimic another retailer’s dig­i­tal envi­ron­ment. Write your own story that will res­onate with your unique cus­tomer base. Then build an immer­sive, inter­ac­tive expe­ri­ence that expresses that core story at every step of the cus­tomer journey.