Can a lifestyle brand create a total shopping experience within the confines of the web?
Tough times for lifestyle, on and off line. Isn’t that what got us in trouble? - the headlines scream - Too much style, too little life! From now on, we’re all going to be lean, mean, green machines... and, we need stuff to prove it!
The end of consumerism is nowhere near in sight. What we are facing is a shift in consumers’ behavior, not the most pleasant one but, still a shift. Different groups will start buying different products, at a different pace, in different quantities (who knew a 20-lb bag of rice will be a must-have item!).
Capturing Imagination Online
Now that the argument of the impending doom of commerce is out of the way, let’s concentrate on the topic: the inherent limitations of online lifestyling.
• Whisk me Away
The goal of lifestyle marketing is to entice us to buy products and services that are partially or completely unnecessary, designed to improve such a nebulous thing as quality of life. It relies on its ability to take us into a different realm, where everything is just the way it should be. By evoking all those "priceless" moments (no need to say, with a very real price tag attached) such marketing expertly pushes our emotional buttons.
• When Dreaming, Dream Big
Television and print as fully controllable media still rule with their immersive powers. We are easily pulled in by a glossy magazine photo; a large screen HDTV, usually paired with a cushy sofa, is downright hypnotic. When it comes to the web, the fact that we are sitting in front of a computer busily clicking our way around, makes it seem a lot more like work than leisure - and often it is, since a good portion of web surfing happens at work.
• It Takes (at least) Two for Synergy
Big established lifestyle brands see the Internet as a natural extension of their TV and print marketing strategies. Their websites, more or less, have a complementing role of information and purchasing centers. Most of the shopper-wooing happens before they reach the web. What about pure online vendors and content providers with no such luxury? How do they capture people’s imagination in a fast-paced, interactive medium with so many technical prerequisites and variables?
• Dazed and Confused
Except for video games, a deeper emotional involvement is all but impossible in an environment where information is ground to the consistency of raw sugar with every grain competing for attention. Quality and size of the imagery are commensurate with space and connection limitations. An old monitor or a finicky browser can make even the slickest web designs look like crumpled old brochures. Flash adds movement but, when overdone, the loading drum roll announcing something spectacular is going to spoil the surprise.
The problem is further exacerbated by the multifunctional nature of online entities. My store is my ad and my ad is my store; my blog is my newsletter; my flyer puts products in shopping carts; my portal is all of the above, etc. Speaking of interactivity: my customers’ thought processes in wording search terms are my site’s neon lights that light up only when asked for! Now, who’s pushing the buttons here?
• The Power of Bling
Boiled down, all we have to work with are pictures and words (aka content). For a start, raising the overall production quality of graphics, photos and videos, not just their resolution, might help. We all know the importance of lighting in creating an atmosphere and depth (one of the reasons magazines are printed on shiny paper) yet, light is sorely missing in web presentations. Finding a way to introduce light as a design element is a challenge worthy of exploring.
• A McMansion You Can Afford
There is a notion that web design should display the entire content and give answers to every potential inquiry right off the bat. This led to perceived real estate shortages when in fact there is unlimited space on the web. People don’t mind clicking, they mind being lost. De-cluttering and taking firmer control of the information flow is the next task to achieve. According to the web’s construction code, any and every door can be an entry door. No need for visitors to feel like they snuck in through the utility closet, greet them with fanfare regardless of where they came in.
• Digital Sweet-Talking
And last but not least, when images are lacking, words need to pick up the slack. A new breed of copywriters is required to fuse computer sciences and behavioral linguistics with an aphoristic style of writing suited for a medium suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (by the way, the style quite the opposite of the one I just used to introduce it). As Hippocrates said in his own aphorism many moons ago: Life is short, art is long.
On that note, I’ll let you go on with your life(style).