Engagement has been the watchword of forward-thinking marketers when it comes to promoting a brand through social media. Many businesses leverage the power of influencers as part of their campaigns to reach their target audiences. But when, according to influencer marketing agency Mediakix, the influencer economy on Instagram alone is worth $1 billion, with key opinion leaders (KOL) with more than a million followers commanding as much as $15,000 for a post, brands need to look for ways to measure the return on their investment in an influencer’s effectiveness.
The way for businesses to the square this circle is to close the purchase loop and use social-media channels as commerce platforms.
Under the influence
There are multiple models for this: ‘click to shop’ links an influencer’s post to a brand microsite selling product; there are dedicated influencer platforms like shoplikeit in the US and Xiaohongshu in China, where people share their purchases and their followers can buy them directly through the platform; and brand microsites on platforms like Instagram, WeChat, and Facebook, can be umbilically linked with commerce sites.
New brands, who are smaller and more nimble have been the first to respond to the commercial possibilities of social media. In seeking to establish their customer base, for smaller businesses selling through social media platforms is common sense as it renders their brand accessible to the maximum number of people. Outdoor Voices is one example of a digital first startup in activewear using social media channels and influencers to find and gain access to their audience.
Brands with an existing proposition selling through bricks and mortar and e-commerce, have been less swift to respond. In order to effectively sell over social channels, existing brands need to overcome the fear of channel conflict and liberate themselves from organizational and operational constraints. Most importantly, they need to create a compelling, simplified offer that makes it easier for consumer to choose and purchase.
Strike a pose
Larger brands are demonstrating that they can successfully make this transition, and the Chinese market is leading the way while other markets like the US are lagging behind. Up to 70 per cent of Chinese Gen Z consumers (those born after 1995) say they prefer to buy products via social media.
Fashion and beauty brands are the pioneers, as categories which lend themselves particularly well to commerce through social media. Fashion brands can pay influencers for outfit posts which their followers can immediately click through from to shop. Blogger and Instagrammer Manrepeller, for example, has partnered with brands like Zadig et Voltaire, Amazon Fashion, and The Volon, showcasing their products and pushing followers to links to buy.
For beauty brands, like Charlotte Tilbury, successful content includes demonstrations that push consumers to a microsite where the products used are shown alongside the original Instagram post. It’s a strategy that works – when Maybelline hosted a live stream on Meipai, a popular video-sharing app in China, with famous model and actress Angela Baby, the brand sold over 10,000 lipsticks in only two hours.
Know your audience
Social commerce is inevitable, given the amount of time and traffic these platforms command, and grabbing the attention of consumers while they’re scrolling and minimising the number of steps required to purchase will become critical to businesses marketing on these platforms.
The questions we consider to be key are not around whether brands ought to be engaging in this way—to stay relevant they absolutely should—but to ascertain who their consumers are, how to engage with them and where to invest, bearing in mind who their audience follows.
For example, our recent research in China showed that live-streaming is the most popular and influential marketing scheme among younger consumers aged between 18 to 24, while product placement is more effective among more mature consumers aged between 35 and 39.
As businesses find answers to these key considerations, and then creative ways to reach their identified audiences, selling through social platforms in this way will increasingly become the norm.
Reap the rewards
Aside from growing brand awareness and reaching new consumers, the advantage to brands is clear. When KOL posts have measurable sales outcomes, businesses are able to assess the true value of influencers, gaining transparency about their impact and marketing effectiveness on social channels.
Measuring the value of marketing has never been a precise art, but by engaging social commerce tools, brands will at last be able to quantify the benefits of using an influencer, reaping the rewards of an engaged audience in dollars and cents.
Jack Chuang is partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants.