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In a WWD-produced webinar called “Elevate Your Multichannel Marketing Strategy With AI,” Marie La France, executive director of corporate strategy at Dash Hudson, joined WWD executive editor Arthur Zaczkiewicz to share insights on using AI to build a marketing strategy, adjusting in a post-COVID-19 world, building brand story and key digital channels.

While coronavirus has caused disruptions and major challenges in business it has also increased reliance on technology and media. Channels such as Instagram, Amazon and Pinterest have been pushed further into the forefront of daily lives and higher on priority lists for marketers. Especially as physical spaces have been forced to close, businesses have also had to work through pivoting e-commerce operations.

One challenge these businesses must face is that there is no longer one entry point for online consumers.

“Your organic Instagram feed is now as much of a storefront as your Amazon landing page as your physical retail used to be,” La France said. “The urgency here is really strong, so much so that the [chief technology officer] of one of Dash Hudson’s customers, Shopify, tweeted a few weeks back that Shopify is now handling Black Friday level traffic every single day.”

shopify twitter

Shopify is now handling Black Friday level traffic every single day.  courtesy image

Further, La France shared that, according to retail polls, the stimulus packages that Americans are receiving have shown an immediate positive impact on on-site sales and revenue metrics. Omnichannel brands built up to a 13-day revenue peak on Sunday, April 26, achieving 100 percent higher revenue relative to that data set’s pre-COVID-19 benchmark.

Average daily usage by a device is up year-over-year as well. With laptop and desktop use increasing usage by about 15 percent and mobile usage increasing by about 53 percent.

“When we look back to our engagement data, specifically on Instagram from the last month, we’ve seen that overall, there’s about a 5.7 percent increase in engagement across all industries,” La France said. “The two industries that are faring the best are home and beauty. We’ve seen about 11.27 percent engagement increase in the home industry and the home category was also the only one we found with an increasing follower growth across the board.”

The beauty category saw a 17.65 percent engagement increase. For context, La France shared the fashion category has seen an 11 percent decrease in month-over-month since the crisis took place.

With every brand shifting strategy focus on digital channels, how can a brand stand out?

According to Dash Hudson’s research, 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual and visual information is processed 60,000 times faster than text. And important to note while phone usage is up in the current climate, 83 percent of American smartphone users say that product images can be very or extremely influential in online shopping.

“In [Dash Hudson’s] research, we’ve seen that brands that invest in the right imagery see significant returns for it, which points to the conclusion that getting the visual right across your marketing touchpoints is essential,” La France said. “It’s never been more important to express cohesion among your organic and paid strategies and to ensure that every visual you put forward whether it be on your web site, on Instagram or on your Amazon storefront is optimized to attract your band’s target consumers and tell your brand story.”

Quality visuals said La France is key. “As a brand, you need to get your creative working for you and ensure you’re marketing with compelling imagery to convert the digital consumer across channels,” La France said. “Putting process and technology in place to optimize your multiple multichannel touchpoints is going to underpin your brand value at every turn and create serious efficiencies for your team’s time and money.”

Marie La France

Marie La France, executive director of corporate strategy at Dash Hudson.  courtesy image.

Notably, budgets are being cut in marketing and advertising during the coronavirus crisis.  Still, La France notes, making sure your brand’s values are heard right now will be beneficial for the long term.

CPMs for social advertising are at record lows. “There’s an opportunity there, by focusing on efficiency and digital innovation right now is a great time to build loyalty for consumer,” La France said. “Gains are obviously going to vary by industry, but the brands that invest in the new technologies that are necessary to operate today are the ones that will thrive in the years to come.”

In fact, Nielsen has predicted that businesses that do invest will see long-term growth in online purchasing as a result. For many brands, this means turning to advances in AI to help sort through the clutter. In marketing, AI has been useful for streamlining content management, surfacing visual trends and predicting how content will perform with a brand’s audience before publishing it.

“This is Dash Hudson’s arena,” La France said. “We’ve built a propriety AI technology called Vision, which powers insights on all of your brand’s digital assets. So essentially, Vision sees a photo the same way that a human eye does, picking up thousands of visual elements in a photo like tone, texture and depth of field. Vision then ties these data points to a brand’s historical content performance data across owned, earned and paid content to interpret, which visuals your consumer responds to.”

Further, Vision provides real-time learning and growing data, keeping the pulse on audience sentiment. During today’s climate, as audience sentiment changes rapidly, La France notes this is especially important to build strategies.

Dash Hudson’s AI can also assist brands in surfacing original content that will resonate with today’s consumer as restrictions prevent the ability to create new content, through a brand’s archival library. To illustrate, La France points to Versace’s post of a Richard Avedon shot of Versace’s home campaign from 1995-97. The post received 400,000 more likes and a 112 percent increase in engagement.

“At this moment where we don’t have to sell products, and in fact, many of us cannot, there’s nothing wrong with shoring up your brand identity and reminding consumers why they fell in love with you and follow you in the first place,” La France said.

Beyond finding the right content, brands need to drive results across channels. La France shares that often on Dash Hudson’s platform her team hears that brands need to bridge the gap between organic and paid storytelling.

Last year, Dash Hudson tested Vision’s predictions for paid ad placements with Revolve. “[We] ran Facebook ad testing with two images,” La France said. “They had the same targeting and the same budget. Same copy. We wanted to see if the AI technology could also predict performance for return on ad spend, not just engagement.

“The styled image with an influencer was selected to drive more sales when we ran it through Facebook’s AV testing, and we saw a 70 percent lift in return on ad spend,” La France said. “It also achieved a 95 percent increase in average order value, indicating that investing in the right creative can not only be more effective in terms of spend on social commerce platforms, but it also has the potential to increase the amount consumers will spend with you.”

Another place where top-performing user-generated content showed to make an impact is on a brand’s site. The styled imagery shows consumers how the featured products will fit into their lives. Brands are able to tie these images on Instagram through shoppable widgets, carousels and galleries, which inspire shoppers to visit the brand’s site.

Dash Hudson full funnel experience.

Dash Hudson’s full-funnel experience.  Courtesy Image.

Overall, La France says it is important that brands create a “full-funnel experience.”

“Too often we’re seeing brands only focus on [on-site] style content across their social commerce touchpoints when they need to be taking a data-backed approach to their content at every stage of the funnel, especially now, when you have the opportunity to build brand loyalty,” La France said. “With AI in your toolkit, you can feel confident that you’re optimizing your creative at every single interaction that consumers have with your brand.”

For More WWD Business News: 

Navigating Market Disruptions Through Customer-Driven, Digital Product Development

XGen AI Drives Engagement, Conversions Via ‘Event-Based Learning’

Consumers Say Masks Help, But Remain Worried

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