Why Are Autonomous Marketing Platforms Important for Retail Brands?

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More than ever before, people engage with products and retail brands on autonomous marketing platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Whether it’s tweeting about a recent purchase, Pinning a product on a must-buy board, or watching a retail brand’s video on YouTube, people are having conversations with brands.

Autonomous marketing platforms are where people discover, collect opinions and share what they want and plan to buy. The channels retailers can use to communicate with consumers have multiplied, audiences have fragmented and the effectiveness of the channels that were once considered to be mass media are being called into question.

Instead of water cooler discussions, driven by a shared experience of seeing the same ad at the same time the night before, we now have autonomous marketing platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter where almost immediately and at enormous scale, consumers like to learn about new products, learn about the possibilities by engaging with brands and get recommendations from friends.

These platforms are an integral part of the shopping and buying experience year–round. Shoppers are now comfortable shopping and buying online. They think about their digital and real-life experiences as part of one single shopping experience.

Autonomous marketing platforms surface content and provide recommendations. 46 percent of back-to-school shoppers surveyed by the National Retail Foundation in 2014 said that peer reviews guided their shopping, while 34 percent are guided by expert reviews.

Both types of content are prevalent on these platforms and as such, they play an important role in the path to the checkout counter in-store or checkout page online. 64 percent of people surveyed by the National Retail Foundation said that social media would play a role in their back-to-school shopping. 63 percent said they purchased something for back-to-school that they saw on social media.

The holiday season is when retailers drive their highest revenue. Last year, overall retail sales grew 3.5 percent during the core holiday season months of November and December, according to eMarketer, while ecommerce sales grew 16 percent over the year prior to reach $ 72.03 billion, roughly 8.5 percent of total retail sales. Not coincidentally we see an uptick in social engagement during the holiday season. On Twitter, where 81% of users say they love holiday shopping, purchase conversations began as early as September.

Between October and December 2013, 39.5 million holiday-related shopping conversations happened on the platform. These consumers visit a mix of retailers to complete their shopping, but 39 percent say these platforms are their new holiday shopping list, 60 percent use it to learn about new brands and products and 54 percent check Twitter while they’re shopping in a store. They also use the platform before, during and after their holiday shopping. Consumers on Twitter are especially valuable because they tend to spend more than non-users, and 87 percent say that they purchase items that they didn’t intend to buy when they shop.

For retailers

Autonomous marketing platforms bridge the gap between direct response and branding campaigns. Retail marketing budgets skew more toward direct response campaigns (65 percent) than branding campaigns (35 percent), according to eMarketer. But as mediums like rich media and native advertising flourish, the boundaries between direct response and branding vehicles aren’t as clear cut as they once were. A tactic that blurs the line between brand building, performance and direct response is called “sequencing.”

Nicolas Franchet, head of retail & commerce, global vertical marketing at Facebook, uses video as an example of sequencing. He talked about this with eMarketer:

Retailers will target a population with a video, with a brand awareness message like, ‘Here’s our new collection. And what they’ll be able to do is retarget the viewers of that video with more calls to action, such as, ‘Here is a shirt that you might like,’ and with a ‘Shop Now’ button that links to their website or into the mobile app.

Neha Bhargava, advertising research manager on Facebook’s Marketing Science team, discussed nonvideo sequencing in a recent interview:

For example, the first phase called ‘Meet the Brand’ would be a brand’s introduction to the market. This phase occurs no matter if the brand is new to the market or an established brand. The next phase, ‘The Teaser,’ would feature a product-focused ad. The third and final phase, ‘The Hook,’ would feature a call-to-action ad. No marketing approach is one-size-fitsall, but based on the cases in (our) research we have seen that most of the time there is a positive lift when a campaign is designed using the storytelling framework.

Autonomous marketing platforms offer the opportunity to close the loop.

We’ve all experienced it. You view an item of clothing on a website, but don’t purchase it. Then you go to Facebook and an ad for that product shows up in your News Feed. And it’s not just Facebook that allows retailers to try and close the loop with consumers in this way.

Instagram allows paid advertisers to link directly to product pages. Pinterest has already launched buyable pins, which allow consumers to buy directly within the platform. Autonomous Marketing Platforms are an integral part of the retail consumer lifecycle. Consumers field recommendations on these platforms and rely on them during major shopping seasons such as the holidays.

For brands, they provide a bridge between what were once separate campaign goals and offer a way to close the loop with consumers. As such, it is vital for retail brands to be in this space.

Sean O’Neil is the president of Facebook Marketing Partner Adaptly.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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