On Storytelling, Selling Tools and Strengthening Customer ‘Engagements’

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Nordstrom Inc.’s “Closer to You” isn’t only a three-year agenda setting strategies and goals for the company. It’s a marketing vehicle, too, with some staying power.

“Closer to You lends itself to telling a lot of different stories,” said Scott Meden, Nordstrom’s chief marketing officer. “You can talk about Closer to You in terms of fantastic product stories. You can talk about Closer to You in an amazing story of making shopping more convenient through buy online, pick up in store and other services. You can talk about Closer to You in terms of bringing experiences to customers. It’s pretty versatile.

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“I’m not saying it’s going to be the external campaign forever and ever. But it’s not just a one-season campaign,” Meden said. “It gets at the core of our strategy and that’s not a short-term strategy. There are some interesting things ahead — more to come on that with how we get that out in front of the customer, how it shows up in 2022, in the channels it reaches and the frequency that it’s out there.”

Integrating the Closer to You theme into the marketing “brings the Nordstrom brand story to life and layers on the place where we really shine — that real connection to customers.” The Closer to You campaign had “a quick flight” in October 2020 before Nordstrom shifted into its holiday campaign. “It was getting out there over that fall season, but the investor event (in February 2021) was the big reveal for investors and media.

“Whether it’s through top-of-funnel marketing, whether it’s showing up in somebody’s Instagram feed, or whether it’s something through our email channel, we want to show up in an authentic way and tell the story of our brand,” added Meden. The Closer to You messaging is effective “externally and internally,” he said, meaning it reaches customers, investors and Nordstrom employees. “It’s really about how to reimagine retail in a way that best serves customers.”

In separate interviews, Meden, and Fanya Chandler, senior vice president, Southwest region and styling, discussed advances in Nordstrom’s marketing, the loyalty program, digital selling tools for stylists and salespeople, livestreaming and personalization. They’re both Nordstrom veterans and involved in formats, technologies and tactics that have recently come to the fore.

Chandler posed the question: “How do we offer customers a personalized experience? We know that 70 percent of our customers want styling, to help them with fit and how to wear outfits. What’s been really fun and exciting in the last several years is creating those experiences in a digital way.

“We have over 12,000 salespeople in our company and more than 400 stylists. How do we offer style and fit advice? Historically, it’s been done in person. Now we have added capabilities to do that digitally.”

According to Chandler, “We made significant progress expanding our personalized styling programs, with new tools deployed in the first quarter to allow our salespeople to offer our customers highly relevant recommendations, both in-store and digitally.” In 2020, Nordstrom started equipping salespeople with tools to curate looks and sell on social media, and enabling customers to online chat with salespeople and stylists, and schedule styling and alterations appointments, in stores or virtually. More than 50 percent of Nordstrom’s salespeople are now utilizing these remote styling tools, a 10 percentage-point increase compared to a quarter ago.

“The pandemic really accelerated the need for our salespeople to stay connected to customers. The Nordstrom On app allows stylists and salespeople to communicate with customers and curate looks for them,” Chandler said. The app will also soon allow them to text customers.

“Instagram is a platform that many customers view for inspiration,” said Chandler. “Now our salespeople can post their favorite outfits and looks and customers can engage with that and purchase directly from Instagram. When we talk about social selling, it’s helping customers discover what’s posted. They can actually message a stylist or salesperson who can create a personal style board for them. Many store salespeople would rely on walk-in traffic to build their business. Today, it’s no longer just about walk-in traffic. Think about social — that’s traffic. And when you are able to show who you are as a salespeople, and how you put looks together, that attracts customers and leads to a one-to-one experience.”

While Instagram is very popular, “We have a generation of customers that really love TikTok, and we have seen some great success from our salespeople posting really fun things on TikTok. It’s a whole new customer,” said Chandler.

“What’s challenging and exciting is providing salespeople with new ways of selling. Anything that is new can make people nervous in the beginning,” said Chandler. “Fifty percent of our employees have adopted this way of selling, but that means 50 percent have not yet. We need to make the tools intuitive enough so we don’t have to do a lot of training. It’s how we make things frictionless for the both the customer and the employee. We have amazing teams in product management, technology, data science that really help deliver great capabilities for our salespeople.”

Chandler characterized livestream shopping, launched by Nordstrom in March 2021, as “the next evolution of our selling capabilities that gives customers access to Nordstrom employees and to our brand partners in a very entertaining way. It’s an example of ‘one to many,’ where you have one person with the ability to serve many customers yet still make it very personal.” Nordstrom extends invitations for livestreaming events held on nordstrom.com, and viewers can engage with hosts through messaging and real-time shopping.

Meden cited one Nordstrom livestreaming show with Burberry, held last spring on the selling floor of Nordstrom’s 57th Street flagship. “You are at your screen, whether that’s your phone or laptop, and there was a representative from Burberry talking about fashion of the season,” said Meden. Then you can click, purchase the fashions and have a chat with the representative, or shoppers can chat amongst themselves. “So the combination of a great product, the ability to purchase, and the ability to chat is a really engaging experience,” said Meden.

Meden also said that Nordstrom employees have been hosting livestreaming events. One employee who is also a yoga instructor did a 20-minute yoga flow. Another employee who is an artist livestreamed on drawing, and a Nordstrom chef and his son livestreamed on Nordstrom’s best dishes. “That sort of stuff was really powerful, right for the moment, and it’s ongoing,” Meden said. “People like to see a little more behind the curtain and who makes it all happen.”

During the pandemic, “It felt like the right moment to provide things for our customers that weren’t focused on something we had to sell them,” Meden said. “People don’t just shop brands. They join them because they feel like the brand is right for them. Obviously a lot of content will be focused on things we do and provide our customers, but there is also an element of becoming more than just transactional.”

Nordstrom’s Nordy Club, launched in the fall of 2018, marked “an evolution” of the rewards program. As of February 2021, there were more than 13 million Nordy Club members. In the second quarter of this year, 70 percent of Nordstrom’s sales came from loyalty customers. Nordy Club members who don’t have a Nordstrom credit card earn one point for each dollar spent. Card members earn two points per dollar spent, and top tier spenders earn three points per dollar spent. Nordy Club also has personal double points days, at-home styling services, free two-day shipping for cardmembers in Nordstrom’s top 20 markets, free basic alterations, and early access to the Anniversary Sale and the “Clear the Rack” sales at the Rack off-price stores.

“With our loyalty customers, they are more engaged with us and we know more about them,” said Meden. “How do you turn that around and use what we know about customers to serve them better,” through personalization, fine-tuning the service and providing access to products most in demand, said Meden.

“So if we have a great product launch, like a sneaker drop — those are the sort of things we are continually trying to find to give our best customers access to.”

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