For the last decade, marketing has been dominated by big data as more CMO’s face pressure to prove their direct ROI. The abundance of big data has led to some amazing results - 69% of marketers rely on marketing technology to drive efficiency in conversion, precision in targeting, and overall revenue growth.
The downside of big data, has been that it’s always been faceless - aiding in better customer targeting, but stopping short of personalization. Recently, though, faceless big data has begun to evolve into a very personal form. Chatbots, artificial intelligence, and changing customer demands have all contributed to brands focusing less on broad cohort analysis and more on making a personal connection with their customers to build a community around their brands. The more connected a brand is to their customers, the happier everyone is, leading to stronger marketing advocacy, lower costs per acquisition and, ultimately, increased revenues.
Today’s marketers are beginning to realize that their strongest sales channel is actually their customer base. As a result, brands are exploring how to effectively market through their customers, not just to them. Here are two easy ways to start...
Put the Social in Social Media
While the efficacy of social media is usually measured in likes and shares, the goal of social media is to build a community around your business and brand. For retailers, the process of building a community doesn’t start with Facebook or Twitter, it starts with your own website.
While social media platforms can direct users to you, the discovery, search, education, and ultimately, purchase process will be completed on your site. Most retail sites promote “social” just by having “Follow Us” buttons placed somewhere on each page. Creating a social experience, however, should actually revolve around product reviews.
The product reviews from backcountry.com are a perfect example of creating a truly social experience online. Customers are encouraged to engage in a unique way by:
- Posting pictures of themselves using their purchased items in the real world: selfies on a city street or at the top of a mountain;
- Sharing specific details about themselves, from interests to physical size - this allows readers to better match their needs to available reviews
- Responding to other reviewers’ feedback and questions, offering advice, guidance, and recommendations - this allows customer-to-customer chat without a clunky forum
- Using a personal profile photo - reviewers even get their own profile page
- Personally interacting with Back Country’s product experts, the “Gearheads”
This kind of design promotes a deeply personal engagement between the reviewer and reader, and enables the reviewer to step into a role of brand and product advocate. As a result, customers become a primary sales and customer service force in the social, interactive community that Backcountry has developed for consumers.
Innovate a Two-Way Conversation in the Storefront
It’s ironic that in some ways, the digital experience outperforms physical stores in leveraging social experiences. Customers in most brick-and-mortar stores are left alone to shop, with store employees passively available to help when needed. Physical retailers, however, have an incredible opportunity to create a proactive social experience for their customers.
Encouraging social media use in-store is a great way to start. The first step is to rethink the basic store display and make it more than just a showcase for products. Traditional displays are something that customers look at, but technologies like augmented reality can transform them into something customers interact with. Leading make-up brand MAC recently added augmented reality mirrors to their stores, enabling customers to rapidly imagine themselves in new looks with virtual makeovers. Coupled with in-store marketing that encourages customers to share their hypothetical looks and their end results on social media, brands like these can motivate consumers to get social in store. One could go a step further and offer special discounts for users that post photos and share their in-store experiences directly at the social media handles of the specific retailer.
The second step is to rethink promotions. In a physical store, promotions are still tragically antiquated - static, 2-dimensional signs, sometimes digitized to add a touch more flash. Increasingly, the most innovative retailers are turning to humanoid robotics platforms like SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper. Devices like Pepper encourage social media engagement with your customers through two key ways:
- The novelty and playful nature of a humanoid robot immediately inspires curiosity and joy, and;
- Pepper’s advanced software proactively engages customers with uniquely entertaining interactions
Combined, the novelty and technology working together compels visitors to capture their experience and share it on social media - a behavior so commonly witnessed, Pepper will literally pose for a selfie with the people she interacts with.
Additionally, devices like Pepper serve as a critical mechanism to collect previously inaccessible data about consumer behavior and sentiment in-store. Combine this with the functional benefit of a robot - the ability to actively promote and sell a product or brand during the interaction - and Pepper presents retailers with a holistic solution for customer engagement in a physical location.
Leveraging these kinds of advanced technologies for in-store promotions is a great way to both associate a brand with the spirit of innovation and encourage visitors to share their shopping experience through social media. They also provide invaluable education to customers about offers, products, and brands, and help marketers derive better consumer insights by capturing critical data; a key advantage of using digital tools in a physical environment.
The Bottom Line
How companies use big data is evolving to meet the new demands of today’s consumers. Shoppers are increasingly shedding their ties to faceless, monolithic brands, and investing in companies that develop a personal, two-way conversation with them. A critical component to successfully initiating this conversation is encouraging a highly social element through every part of the customer journey.
Injecting a social experience into online product recommendations and the in-store experience will form the bedrock of these conversations. Brands that adopt a social, conversation-first approach stand to benefit exponentially because, unlike their traditional competition, they will be able to build rich, active customer communities and turn consumers into their most effective sales and customer success team. In this sense, the future of retail marketing is centered around marketing through your customers, as well as to them.