4 Strategies to Future-Proof Your Brand

4 Strategies to Future-Proof Your Brand

This talk was originally presented at Commerce+ in 2019 in Sydney, Australia. In this series, we've pulled together relevant talks from our past events in Sydney, London and New York.

What is Commerce+

For the last two years, Shopify Plus has hosted Commerce+, a global thought leadership conference that brought together industry leaders to share their knowledge and best practices in the ever-evolving world of commerce.


During this talk, Mark Bergen, Director of Sales at Shopify Plus, dives into four considerations all businesses should adopt to provide the best experience for their customers and prepare their brand for uncertainty. Watch the video above or read the full transcript below.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Bergen: My name is Mark Bergen and I head up the growth function within Shopify Plus concerned with how we grow in the regions, and how we help more merchants find Shopify and Shopify Plus. At the end of this, I want to leave you with four key takeaways that I think are required to help future-proof your brand. The first is to deliver a consistent experience, and for that I'm going to talk about the environmentally-responsible shoes, Allbirds. It was founded in 2014 by two New Zealanders and based out of San Francisco. They are five years old and are valued at over $1 billion. When they launched, they ensured they had a great product and a great experience for their consumers to go along with it.

Allbirds app

This gives you a sense of what the mobile experience looks like. Being a digitally native brand in 2014, you start mobile first; and if you're not starting mobile first, you should be mobile first. 

Allbirds store in San Francisco

Bergen: This is their store in San Francisco and you can see the themes carry through, similar color palette in this case, clean lines, beautiful. It's a great extension of their brand. They’ve also been very focused on building community, and so in San Francisco, there's a barista, and they're focused on building community in the stores. You can stop in and have a coffee, look at the product, and so on. It does a great job extending the brand out and building community, but in a very consistent manner for their consumers.

Allbirds store in New York

Bergen: The store in New York has a slightly different feel, where it carries more of the wood and the wool, which are super important parts of the product that they bring to market. Again, clean lines, warm, and inviting. 

So what's the secret sauce for Allbirds? Well, they're good at allowing technology to do what technology should do, and they focus on what they should do. So while they focus on building their brand and building their community, they allow the technology to deal with the technology. 

Let's talk about that: Hopefully you've all heard of Shopify Flow. In Shopify's world, we think ecommerce automation is a game changer. The idea is to use technology to actually automate all of those little things you do in the background all day long that costs you brainpower, time, and that cost you the humans that should be doing creative work, and instead are doing mundane repetitive tasks.

For example, you might automate inventory management. If something starts showing low stock, automatically email me and let me know. Allow the purchasing manager to be aware, perhaps email directly to the manufacturer allowing them to get on top of the order and to actually supply content before it goes out of stock. From an order management perspective, let’s say someone is making a purchase and it needs to be looked at because it's high risk. Instead of queuing up and waiting until I come back at the end of the day to have a look at it, Shopify Flow can notify me in real time, or perhaps even take action on it. I don't have to go in and do these things.

Brand experience can even be automated. Creating customer service tickets, for example, after someone goes in and perhaps rates something negative, it can automatically generate a ticket and send it to your customer service agent. Again, all automated. No one's having to watch what's going on, allowing your humans to deal with what they should be dealing with.

It can also do things like smart merchandising. For example, we have items that we want to put out of stock, we're getting to the end of it and we want to start selling things out, it automatically tags it as a clearance item. We have stock that's moving well, it automatically moves it into specific collection items, and automatically creates that logic in the background freeing you up to focus on what you should focus on doing. Personalized experiences and personalized emails. There's so much more you can do with it. Looking in the background and saying, what are all of those tasks that you were spending time on doing that are really not high-value uses of your time or your people's time? Let's automate it. 

Bergen: Let's look at Allbirds again for a second. Let’s say I've bought a few pairs of shoes, and I've now hit a point where, according to how they segment their customers, I've hit VIP status. The system automatically recognizes it. It goes into their loyalty engine, adds me and tags me as a VIP customer. Automatically goes off, hits their email engine and sends out an email to me saying, “Hey, welcome to the club. Here's a discount code for your next purchase.”

Then Shopify Flow also goes to customer service and says, “Hey, Mark just hit VIP status, let's send him a personalized postcard to thank him for his business.” All automated in the background. From my perspective, it provides a consistent experience as I would expect to be treated by a brand I care about and they didn't have to do anything. It was built in the background and it just delivered.

Bergen: Let's pivot for a second to Naadam. This brand, very similar to Allbirds in that they care a lot about the environment, they care a lot about their supply chain. They're trying to bring a product, cashmere sweaters, and take them out of the fussy, expensive, high-end world they live in and trying to make them very accessible. They've used technology in a really interesting creative way to bring their brand to life and to bring their consumers on with it. Let's watch.

Naadam: This is Mongolia, and we are Naadam. The only company in the world who’s created a premium 100% cashmere sweater for just $75. To do that, we needed kids. No, these kids don't work for us, they inspire us, and actually we work for them. Through a series of non-profits, we've built this park, planted over 2000 trees, built more than 30 miles of fencing, inoculated over 1 million goats, and set the mood for breeding action. 

Oh, golly. It all started a few years ago when we came to Mongolia and fell in love with the country, the people, and the baby goats. We realized that by going into the cashmere business and cutting out the middleman, we can pay our friends more and sell luxury products for less. It's simple: We buy the raw cashmere and drive it 36 hours to the capital—well, we don't drive it, Bougul does. Once there, we wash and de-hair the raw material until Turgen gives it a thumbs up. 

We then go 600 miles to a top-of-the-line spinning facility with Italian machinery. Mr. Chen owns the place, and he really does make the best cashmere yarn in the world. Finally, the yarn goes to this family-owned facility where we are now part of the family, and this family has created the most comfortable and stylish sweaters in the world. Sweaters that are perfect for reading a book, pillow talk, being a model on a fancy photoshoot, standing in a doorway, laughing in that same doorway, lounging in a bathtub in front of an old barn drinking coffee.

We treat the environment and everyone along the way with care and respect, so that we can make luxury sweaters that are 100% cashmere that only costs $75. It wasn't easy, but we busted our humps. The $75 sweater. Only from Naadam.

Bergen: It's brilliant. Using technology to bring their customers on the inside. We have a sense of their supply chain, we get a sense of company culture, how they think, they're clearly not taking things too seriously, which is great, and it creates an environment for a consistent experience. When you go to their website and you see their marketing materials, when you actually purchase and you experience getting the product, it carries through in everything they do. I think it's a brilliant use of technology to create community and to bring the consumer into it.

Third, let's have a look at how we can remove friction and specifically there's a variety of ways we can look at it. 65% of people when they hit the first stage of your checkout drop, which is a horrible statistic, 65% of people hit the checkout experience and drop. You spend all of your time building your brand, you create great videos like that (gestures to the Naadam video), you deliver this wonderful online experience, and they go to the moment of truth.

At Shopify, we talk a lot internally about the need to kill the checkout. Your entire experience is completely focused on your consumers, while checkout is completely focused on us. Suddenly we need information, so hey, go and enter the credit card information, we need these details, and it now becomes about us and it's not really congruent with the brand we're trying to create. Shopify pay runs on the back of Shopify Payments. It's been used by hundreds of thousands of merchants around the world, and here's the beauty of it, when a consumer purchases something through someone who has Shop Pay enabled, it gives you the opportunity to be remembered.

Bergen: We now have tens of millions of consumers around the world. Let’s say when I hit any Shopify checkout of anybody using Shop Pay, I have a three-step checkout. “Hi Mark. Do you want to make a purchase?” Text the code to my phone, answer the phone, and it’s done in just three steps, or seven seconds. Conversion rates skyrocket. It's also consistent with the brand experience that I want. 

Then of course, channels, and hopefully I don't need to tell you about channels. Shopify is a channel first company. Facebook, Instagram, down here, some of the larger markets like eBay, and we need to start using technology to discover what the new channels look like. We're seeing more merchants starting to test VR/AR, is it ready to go fully? No, probably not, but we know it's going to be a significant channel. It's a chance for those brands to demonstrate their innovation, their care about where their customers are. 

Bergen: So let's review. Let's create consistent experiences, front to back from the moment they experience the brand to the moment they check out and receive it. How are we being consistent in delivering the experience that they want? 

Let the computers do what computers should do, that's what technology is for. You should be spending your time thinking about your brand, your product, how do you create the experience that your consumer should have?

And last, channels. Test them, use them, pay attention to them. Shopify is pushing the boundaries of it, start looking, where are your consumers and how can you start experimenting with channels today? I argue if we can do these four things well, we'd offer a fairly good opportunity of having a lot of longevity. Thank you.

About the author

Toni Akinwumi

Toni Akinwumi works as a Field Marketer at Shopify Plus. When she’s not working, you can find her recording new episodes for her podcast and binging Netflix shows.

Check out Toni Akinwumi’s work