Sunday, May 4, 2014

Retail CMOs – Do You Have What It Takes to Win the Social Media Retail War?

Retail CMOs, you already know how important it is to navigate social media effectively to take your company to the next level but getting there is not always a straightforward path.  As a graduate student in Northwestern Medill’s Integrated Marketing Communications program (and a lover of fashion and retail given my background as a merchandise planner at Neiman Marcus), I have found two articles, which illustrate the challenge retail marketers face in today’s socially driven digital landscape.

Beyond participation in social networks already in place, as well as their own online communities, Sephora just launched their Beauty Board shopping platform.  It is an innovative social network experience that incorporates all the aspects of social media sites Sephora customers already use and love but intimately keeps them under the Sephora umbrella, effectively moving them through the marketing funnel.   Customers can create their own profiles, share experiences and tips as well as photos, which they can then tag with Sephora product names.  As Julie Bornstein, Sephora’s CMO stated, “The concept is that pictures are everywhere, and we know that beauty lovers love to see ideas for looks and products to buy.”  Sephora links the tags customers place in photos directly to Sephora’s e-commerce site, thus moving the shopper from sharing and browsing to liking and purchasing.

Infographic by Invesp

While people generally like to shop in-store with their friends (and family), re-creating this social shopping experience online has been challenging for retailers.  E-Commerce Times research has found that online shoppers are looking for the ability to invite people they trust to shop with them, to be able to shop side-by-side and collaborate in real time, and to be able to speak with a stylist or expert when needed.  Incorporating collaborative shopping capabilities into your site (such as Sephora has done) increases brand engagement and allows for more interaction with and understanding of your customer base, including such things as buying sentiments and product preferences.  Mauricio Cuevas, CEO of BevyUp, notes, “When shoppers engage in collaborative sessions, they tend to view a greater number of products than when they shop alone, exchange ideas, and engage in real conversations, just as they do in a physical store.  The entire visit quickly becomes an experience rather than a transaction.”

Based on these articles, I would recommend the following approach when planning your social media retail strategy:

  • Track the social footprint of your customers: Where are they comfortable interacting socially?  Are they active on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine?  And where do they fall in the social pyramid?
  • Incorporate consumer insights into your own network: Build your social network around your customers rather than your product by determining your current and future customers' wants and needs as they relate to social networks, by incorporating key aspects of the sites your customers frequent the most, and by making the transition from sharing to liking to purchasing a seamless and natural one.
  • Actively monitor and listen to your customers: Just when you think you have created the ultimate social network, something else comes along, so stay ahead by continuing to monitor your customers' social activity across all platforms.  Are there any new sites they have joined and why?  And carefully listen to what they are telling you via your own social network.  

As more and more retailers compete for attention via social media, it becomes imperative that you, as CMO, monitor the social activities of your customers and understand their wants and needs as they relate not only to your product or service but also to your social media platform.  By putting social networks in place now, where customers can interact and collaborate with your brand and each other when and how they want to, you will make huge strides towards winning the social media war and enjoy such rewards as brand engagement, customer loyalty and ultimately market share.

 Karen Lonsdale-Hands is a strategic analyst who has worked in a variety of industries—including retail, consulting, banking, and telecom.  She is now looking to creatively combine her love of numbers with her love of marketing.  She is a candidate for a Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.   Follow her at @KarinaLonsdale

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