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As retailers prep for a year chocked full of socially informed shopping, strategies must shift to match customer behavior. Marketing initiatives introduced via social media platforms have proven to be less than successful — a recent report by Sumo Heavy Industries influence less than 16 percent of social media users.

Bart Mroz, cofounder and chief executive officer of Sumo Heavy, discusses how to build on social commerce, the importance of influencer in a thriving social climate, and how to improve conversion rates.

WWD: Sumo Heavy’s survey revealed that there’s still a gap between social influence on spending and actual purchasing off platforms — what are key takeaways for retailers from Sumo’s latest survey?

Bart Mroz: First it’s important to note how much peers, friends and families influence each other. Retailers need to carry out inventive social strategies that encourage sharing, whether it’s through brand advocacy, influencer marketing, or viral campaigns.

Brands and retailers must continue meeting consumers on the social platforms where they’re discovering and learning about new products. There’s now more reason than ever before to experiment with different social commerce strategies, chatbots included.

It’s not only imperative to build a strong social presence but also to enable direct transactions for the consumers who are considering making purchases right through social platforms. And if your brand has been targeting consumers via advertisements and promoted posts, take an honest assessment of how that’s working out. If it’s not producing significant results — and according to this survey, it might not be — start phasing those out and prioritize direct user engagement strategies.

WWD: How will the role of the influencer evolve given the growing impact of social on consumers’ spending habits?

B.M.: Today’s influencers are already becoming potent marketing channels, boasting an average earned media value of $9.60 for every dollar spent, according to media agency RhythmOne.

But at the same time, everyone is becoming an influencer, thanks to social media. Whether they realize it or not, peers exert influence on each other on social media…and their roles in each other’s decisions will continue to grow.

WWD: It’s been reported that Millennials and Gen Z-ers are especially intrigued by video, how can this help brands to align with these super spenders?

B.M.: The video resources available now are more numerous and more accessible than were even just a couple years ago, so brands can and should play that to their advantage. It doesn’t take fancy cameras, production crews and big budgets. Today, a smartphone works fine for video-inclusive social commerce platforms like Snapchat, and brands can now broadcast something by live-streaming it on Facebook Live. Not only that, commerce-enabled video streams are becoming another retail channel for brands and retailers to pioneer.

But regardless of how you choose to distribute the video content, remember to keep it short. Millennials and Gen Z have many other things competing for their attention and won’t hang around for content that takes too long to get to the most compelling part.

WWD: How can brands and retailers align their social presence with brick-and-mortar experiences?

 B.M.: There’s an interesting opportunity for brands and retailers because the way consumers interact with brick-and-mortar is changing substantially. Today it’s not uncommon for consumers to visit a physical store just to try a product out before buying it online.

The shopper journey should be seamless across all channels, including physical, web, mobile and now social. Interactions with a brand’s physical environment should lead to interactions with its social environment and vice versa. A purchase could happen anywhere and at anytime.

One example is Snapchat’s geo-filters, which offer a great way to ride the coattails of young shoppers’ enthusiasm for shopping and place your brand into the Snaps that they’re already sharing. Other opportunities include mobile beacons, social sharing rewards. Many service-oriented business like hotels and restaurants are already offering incentives to customers who post a review to Yelp, Google, or Facebook; it’s likely that we’ll see retailers follow suit, if they haven’t already.

WWD: What will be key moving forward to improve conversion rates from inspirational browsing to actual purchases?

B.M.: One of the first things that need to happen as revealed by our survey is addressing the concerns and allaying the fears that consumers have about shopping online, through social platforms specifically.

It’s important to understand that not all social commerce experiences are created equal. For example, what works well on Pinterest for a retailer selling fashion accessories might not work as well for an electronics retailer.

In devising their strategies, marketers need to consider the full context of what they’re selling and to whom — this must inform the social commerce strategy.

Finally we need to make sure that the experience is fluid and not so jarring. Strategies that resemble ads with noisy, abrupt calls to action aren’t going to get traction. Users need to be invited into the content and that content needs to be enjoyable and engaging. From there, they can be courted with more direct invitations to purchase.

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