Getting up close and personal – Orvis keeps its customers on the hook with Salesforce AI

Getting up close and personal – Orvis keeps its customers on the hook with Salesforce AI
Stuart Lauchlan
Tue, 06/22/2021 – 03:56

Having great content is vital, but so is getting it to the right target at the right moment, something US retailer Orvis has been focusing heavily upon.


There’s nothing worse than getting someone that’s trying to personalize something to you, but to completely misses the mark on what they show you.

What Dave Finnegan, Chief Experience Officer at retailer Orvis, says will almost certainly ring a bell with most people. Very few consumers can have escaped being sent supposedly highly-targeted email promotions for goods and services that are reportedly based on our buying patterns and interests, but are, not to put too fine a point on it, totally wrong. As Finnegan puts it:

There’s a lot of that bad kind of personalization out there, where it’s a mismatch, and it’s actually worse than just a generic [pitch]. If I attempt to do it and do it poorly, it’s even worse than not even attempting to do it at all.  It has a detracting quality to it.

And that’s not a quality that Orvis wants to have associated with its brand.  A family-owned business that dates back to 1856, Orvis specializes in fly fishing, hunting and sporting goods. It can also boast of being the oldest mail-order retailer in the US, a pedigree that has evolved online over the years. It’s also a company that’s big on values, says Finnegan and that shapes its thinking around its customer engagement and loyalty strategies:

For us, loyalty really is  simple – customer love of the brand. When you think about relationships and what it takes to nurture those and how it works, there’s authenticity, there’s humility, there’s listening, there’s empathy. All of these [are] things that are really really important for us to signal in the relationships that we have with our customers.

For Orvis, there is a trifecta of elements around loyalty, he explains – great product, values, and content:

We lead with products that are really high quality and make a difference. We can make a really big impact if we buy high quality stuff that lasts forever or lasts for a long time. That quality and what that means and putting the attention to detail, people really, really value that. Because of that, we’ve built a reputation that this is a great place to come back to for high quality gear and fly fishing rods and things like that and clothing. That same attention to detail that we put into fly fishing is the same attention to detail that we put into our other apparel products.

As for values, these have been hard-wired into the company since before the American Civil War, he notes:

We really feel strongly about protecting what we love and so we give 5% of our pre-tax profits back to conservation and taking care of the world around us. Just the nature of fly fishing means that we’re not just building for people that love the sport and love the grace of it and the athleticism of it, but they also love the adventure of it. It also turns them into conservationists, people who care about leaving the stream better than when we found it.

Those values resonate with consumers today, he says:

What we’re finding is Boomers are attracted to good values, Gen X’s are and so are Millennials. There’s this universality of values that engenders great loyalty when you match up your values with companies that you believe match yours.

Content rules 

The third leg is content, an area upon which Orvis places a good deal of attention. It’s not just about selling customers a product, insists Finnegan, it’s about being a trusted guide for the adventures that those customers are going to have using or wearing those products. But this brings the argument back to the mismatched personalization challenge mentioned above – having great content is one thing; getting the right content to the right person at the right time is the real trick.

To pull this off, Orvis has been using Salesforce Einstein AI tech. Finnegan explains:

The first thing that we did was we created a content library concept where we curate our top products. We call it our hierarchy –  our Go Big, Hero and Core products. Go Big is like a LeBron James shoe, Hero products are the check chambray shirts and things like that, outerwear. We build content in each of those [categories] and then we load that up, so that as we see browse behavior, as we see interactions with our company, both digitally and in the stores, then we can use AI to pull the right content out of that library and match it up with a consumer.

Of course, the quality of the content is also critical as he notes:

Putting in an AI engine is awesome but unless we have a content library that is robust enough to really personalize those experiences, it doesn’t go. Having done this in the past, that’s where I always failed –  on the content side. So we wanted to make sure that we were doing a good job on content and we’re still working on it. We still have so much opportunity on content. You’ll see us continue to invest in content in a really major way and we’ll use AI to make sure that we match that content up with the right consumer interaction, who’s looking for that specific content. That’s what we’ve seen to be really, really, really successful – a great AI engine with a great content stream.

COVID changes

Understanding what customers want to hear about should be a retail marketing North Star at any time, but it’s been particularly important during the COVID crisis. Like all other retailers, Orvis had to tear up its usual playbook in March 2020 and adapt to an unpredictable commercial environment. As Finnegan recalls:

The first few weeks, everything went down. Right after that and into the summer, we saw an uptick in casual, above your waist – no-one was buying pants or shorts or anything like that; they were buying things that they could be seen on Zoom with, something that was comfortable and casual for them, but still shared what their brand values were for their own personal brands. So we saw a lot of that.

We also saw a huge, huge move in fly fishing. As people shifted into digital in a significant way and were more digitally-connected than ever before, what that also created is this desire to re-connect by disconnecting from digital, by getting outdoors and using outdoors in a wellness sense. We appreciate the outdoors for so many reasons, but it really played a wellness role for many of us during this time. More people got into sport, more people went hiking, more people went fishing, boating, all of those outdoor activities that you could still do during this time, exploded.

The firm’s merchandizing and inventory planning teams had to respond with agility to changing demands, cancelling orders for products that were no longer going to be in demand due to lockdowns and other restrictions, while making sure there was plenty of what was going to be needed in stock. Getting that balance right was vital, says Finnegan:

What it allowed the marketing teams and creative teams to do is focus on the products that were winning. We didn’t have extra inventory that we had to work through, so we could focus on key product stories. The other thing that we focused on from a marketing perspective is we increased our emails. We have a robust email program. We increased our email send by 50%, but almost all of that was content. We immediately started with, ‘OK, what is the consumer going through in the summer?’. All those kids summer camps got cancelled, so we launched Orvis Summer Camp for kids, online, where every day you would have a list of things that you could do in your local area to get out there and have a summer camp experience.

When it gets really crazy during the holidays, we have a campaign called The Moment of Chill, which is a 30 second little video spot of somewhere in the world that you can just take a deep breath and remember those awesome connections that you have with the outdoors. So we launched these types of things. We ramped up our Facebook Live events –  free fly fishing lessons online, free fly tying lessons, celebrity fly tying sessions. We had some celebrity interviews. We did a whole bunch of content that grew and it shifted our attention to the products that people were looking for and the content that they were looking for.

As the Vaccine Economy starts to take shape, this focus on appropriate and compelling content is going to remain a priority. The firm’s research into its own customer base has found that more than 70% of consumers plan to travel in 2021, more than half of them intending to go abroad. The number one priority is seeing friends and family again, reveals Finnegan, and that sets a content agenda:

As we think about loyalty and as we think about putting the customer first and really empathizing and putting ourselves in that position, what things do we need to provide that will help to enable us to get back out there?  We have trips and adventures and things like that, but we also have the gear that will help you to get back out and that you need for trips.

So [it’s about] positioning that well and with content that will help you. What ways to pack and ways to think about how to keep safe? How to travel with your dog. What tips do you have around, travel local adventures, the art of the mini adventure, in your locale? We think that those things will continue to be important.

We want to make sure that we’re answering the call for the customer – and you’ll see us really, really leaning into content, content, content.

Image credit – Orvis

Disclosure – Finnegan took part in the Salesforce Industries Summit. At time of writing, Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica.


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