THE BLOG
11/05/2014 02:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Gilt's Founder Answers 4 Questions for Marketing Innovators

We are launching a new feature of our widely read blog Ernan's Insights on Marketing Best Practices. It is called:

4 Questions for Marketing Innovators.

The goal is to provide a quick read filled with meaningful insights from marketing thought leaders. Each column will feature one innovator who will address 4 questions:

  1. What is one marketing topic that is most important to you as an innovator?
  2. Why is this so important?
  3. How will concentrating on this help improve the customer experience?
  4. How will concentrating on this help improve the overall effectiveness of marketing?

The 4 Questions for Marketing Innovators feature will be a periodic blog.

Please send your feedback and ideas for people you would us to interview to ernan@erdm.com.

This inaugural blog will focus on Alexis Maybank, Founder and Strategic Advisor of Gilt.

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In 2007, Alexis and a founding team conceived of and built Gilt, and in doing so, revolutionized the landscape of luxury ecommerce and the way millions of people shop online.

Alexis also serves as Director for National Audubon Society and for Girls Who Code. Alexis, together with Gilt co-founder Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, is the author of The New York Times bestseller book, By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop.

Gilt is an innovative online shopping destination offering its more than 9 million members access to top designer labels, at significant discounts and exclusive local services and experiences.

We caught up with Alexis at the recent DMA Annual Conference, where she was inducted into the DMA Hall of Fame.

Here are her marketing insights;

1. What is one marketing topic that is most important to you as an innovator?

Adding a "face" in the faceless world of the Internet.

2. Why is this so important?

Online we think about how we create a differentiated look or fulfill a unique promise to a customer.

However, it's equally as important to consider how we make our business relatable and identifiable to the consumer.

Technology can be intimidating, sites with a blur of offerings and pages upon pages of content can be overwhelming.

Customer loyalty is generated not just through an excellently executed customer experience, but also through a deeper connection to what the customer feels personally for your business.

At Gilt, here's how we approached it. As we set out to build this deeper personal relationship with our customers, my cofounder Alexandra Wilson and I put ourselves out there and made sure we interacted directly with our base on many fronts.

Firstly, each city we visited for personal or business travel we'd meet our 10-20 top customers. We heard first hand what they loved about Gilt, what they would like to improve.

The conversations soon turned to recommendations on travel destinations, favorite restaurants and even to our families or common passions. We realized that by having the two of us engage directly and frequently with our members, we started building a recurring dialogue with our customers, or in other words that "Face" we needed to emerge from that anonymous world of the internet.

We began to foster that dialogue in both small ways and in large ways. Smaller ways included series of local events in key cities where we could speak to hundreds at a time; we inserted personally signed thank you notes in all outbound boxes; and we made sure we too answered customer support calls and emails regularly.

At scale, we kept the conversation consistent across our social footprint, speaking to followers and friends alike about the same topics our customers enjoyed discussing in person. And importantly our customer support voice and tone also had the same cadence. We established a consistent voice and put in place key policies that sustained these practices, like having no time limits on customer calls or giving advice on any topic our customer wanted, regardless if it entailed an imminent site purchase or a hotel recommendation in a new city.

Our customer accommodation practices were geared to this same empathic, friendly relationship. These and many other examples of the touch points with the customer were carefully thought out and consistent with who we were as a founders. We built a relatable "face" to the business, one that the customers could relate to, define and ultimately root for due to their deeper sense of connection to our brand.

3. How will concentrating on this help improve the customer experience?

By creating that recognized, trusted brand, the customer feels they have someone in their corner.

The right policies, advice and friendly person on the other side of an email and phone call builds confidence in the service and offerings the customer can expect.

Now it's not always possible to have a couple of senior members of the team that can be out there and really embodying and shaping your company's brand.

If that's not feasible, I have given the following advice;

  1. Have you taken the time to solidify your company's values, or even it's mission and vision? What drives the operating principles of your organization? Having these understood, documented and shared broadly help unify an employee base and lead to greater consistency in how your clients and customers interact with you, the company.
  2. Secondly, if you think of your brand, what type of person would s/he be? How would s/he present herself, what characteristics would she have, and what would she care about? To me, these, and others, are useful exercises that inform many of your key practices and policies that are critical to bringing your brand to life in trusted, animated and consistent manner. They can help create a relatable face.

4. How will concentrating on this help improve the overall effectiveness of marketing?

It's difficult to engender loyalty and a personal connection from customers in a strictly online world, however it's critically important to try. With all the noise and distractions online, and without the benefit of that personal handshake or eye contact, it's harder to create a relatable, lasting bond with a person. If you can achieve it, you can establish a truly original brand, a sense of personal connection. Through the relationship we at Gilt established with our customers, we could confidently, empathetically and personally open a window to the fantastic for our customers each and every day.

Ernan Roman is president of ERDM. ERDM conducts Voice of Customer (VoC) research to identify high impact Customer Experience strategies. Inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame due to results clients achieve with ERDM's VoC research driven strategies. Clients include IBM, MassMutual, Microsoft, NortonAntivirus, QVC and NBC. Roman is the author of Voice of the Customer Marketing and of the Huffington Post published blog, Ernan's Insights on Marketing Best Practices.

Named by the Online Marketing Institute as one of the "2014 Top 40 Digital Luminaries" and by Crain's BtoB Magazine as one of the "100 most influential people in Business Marketing".
www.erdm.com
ernan@erdm.com