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.