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Retailers Stretch Social Media Strategies

Carol Spieckerman covers eTail West

Carol Spieckerman covers eTail West

Not that long ago, social media was regarded a simple game of multiple choice by many retailers and brand marketers, with "A and B" (Facebook and Twitter) seen as manageable choices, but "all of the above" (Instagram? Vine?) being out of the question. This was the case even as consumers delighted in exploring the growing number of social platforms available to them.

Presentations at this month’s week's eTail West conference illustrated just how much marketers' mindsets have changed in terms of both social media's promise and the exercising of new options. The perception of social media as a necessary evil with dubious ROI has quickly evolved toward that of a playground of possibilities, particularly when it comes to user-generated content (UGC).

In particular, social media is becoming a cost-effective resource for satisfying marketers' insatiable appetites for images. Streetwear brand Stussy recently leveraged online content aggregator Social Board to grab all social content that included the "Stussy" hashtag, garnering millions of photos that the brand is using "for all kinds of things," according to its lead designer, Domenic Venneri.

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Meanwhile, Under Armour's successful, female-focused "what's beautiful" contest, which encourages women to share their goals and success stories, has allowed the company to glean a treasure trove of multi-media, user-generated content. Several companies, including Jetblue, have now made integrating more socially-derived UGC into corporate websites a top initiative.

Under Armour's mobile app gathers vital stats from users.

Under Armour's mobile app gathers vital stats from users.

Many companies are awakening to the power of the "visual web," which is also driving accelerated interest in Instagram and Pinterest. Steve Hartman, Urban Outfitters' managing director of direct marketing, called Instagram a "huge" engagement venue for the brand, noting that even pictures of employees' shoes have immediately grabbed over 40,000 likes. By contrast, Urban leverages Pinterest for showcasing product. Katie Laird, Blinds.com’s social media manager, said that it wasn’t until they “dug deep” into the data that they realized how important Pinterest is to their business.

As new options proliferate, fewer marketers are defaulting to a "Facebook first" strategy, although Twitter seems to have only gained in popularity, despite the crowded field. For Urban Outfitters, JetBlue, blinds.com and others, Twitter plays a vital customer support role and, in some cases, marketers are intentionally leveraging the platform to take the pressure off of call centers and other traditional customer service solutions.

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Some are also taking more measured approaches to Twitter promotions. According to JetBlue's head of digital commerce, Maryssa Miller, its deep discount promotions on Twitter have been so successful that the company has had to deploy them sparingly. Under Armour selectively uses Twitter to promote flash sales and to get the word out as it makes forays into new categories such as basketball. The preponderance of players who are active on Twitter ensures exponential reach by association.

In terms of up and comers, Twitter-owned Vine, a micro-video platform that is being called a mashup of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, was cited most often as the "one to watch" in my conversations at the event.

Read Carol's other E tail West articles:

What Will It Take to Improve the Mobile Shopping Experience?

Disney Store Makes Digital Magic

Prescient Points: A wrap-up of Carol's favorite moments from the show

This article also ran on Retail Wire. Check out the discussion.

Oh SoLoMo! Retail's Mighty Mashup

Social. Local. Mobile. Disruptions that retailers and brand marketers have had a heck of a hard time harnessing all at once, even as shoppers have enthusiastically embraced social media, geo-location, and mobility in crafting their shopping and sharing experiences. The term “SoLoMo,” is mash-up that addresses how shoppers are interacting with brands on all three levels simultaneously.

Recent developments promise to rescue the social, local, and mobile domains from their disjointed beginnings and evolve SoLoMo into an integrated consumer targeting trifecta for brand marketers.

Facebook’s release of “enhanced page post targeting” sounds benign, but the new set of features will offer unprecedented content targeting granularity to brand marketers, bringing them one step closer to turning social media into social sales. Before the update, posts could only be segmented by country and language. Now brands can target their posts to their fans and followers based on an expansive list of criteria, including relationship status, gender, workplace, and education. Marketers can drill down further by matching the frequency and timing of updates to user behaviors.

Twitter has just announced that it will allow advertisers to more easily target messages in the Twitterverse based on user interests. Twitter will zero in on those interests by drawing from various criteria, including users’ followers and what they tweet about. The move is significant, given that interests are emerging as the socially-derived stats to track for brands and retailers. Point-of-sale data may show what consumers have bought in the past, but as Venky Harinarayan, co-founder of Walmart-acquired social analytics company Kosmix has noted, current interests are a far better indicator of what consumers will buy in the future. Beyond that, Twitter’s users disproportionately access the service on geo-location-enabled mobile devices, building a powerful social, local, and mobile bridge for marketers’ content strategies.

Meanwhile, a torqued-up search engine called Polaris is the latest launch to come out of Walmart’s skunkworks offshoot, @walmartlabs. Polaris promises to rescue searches from literalism by leveraging capabilities like synonym mining to arrive at shopper intent. A search for “denim,” for example, would be sure to pull up a selection of jeans. Algorithms also factor in the number of “likes” a product has on Facebook, and soon, the number of pins it has on Pinterest and user ratings and reviews will be factored in as well. Polaris will power Walmart.com, along with the company’s mobile web and mobile apps, and the company claims that it has already seen a 10 to 15 percent post-Polaris increase in completed transactions.

Ongoing innovations on the SoLoMo scene present exciting opportunities for brand marketers, but also call for new strategies. Early in the game, the SoLoMo promise was to explode brand message deployment through new mediums. However, the latest developments demand an uncompromising commitment to both content quantity and quality. In order to take full advantage of the latest thin-sliced segmentation capabilities, brand marketers will have to create higher volumes of fresh content targeted to specific affinity groups. Successful marketers won’t simply buy ads on various platforms, but will be called to promote sharable brand stories that resonate across the SoLoMo spectrum.

Retail Wire picked up this article. Check out the discussion.

This article originally ran on the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association (LIMA) website.

Clicks to Bricks: Retailers Building Scale by Changing Channels

E-commerce is clearly still in its infancy as a volume-driving “channel,” but the establishment of digital flagships, often in lieu of physical ones, is driving a host of additional benefits for retailers. The “bricks-to-clicks” model of the past is beginning to be turned on its head, and a new wave of retail competition is transforming the landscape without laying a single brick.

Global Gateways

Japan-based, fast-basics retailer Uniqlo has set its sights on generating $10 billion in the U.S., with 20% of that originating online. This may seem like an ambitious goal, given that its U.S. presence is currently limited to three stores in New York and its next physical flagship opening, in San Francisco, isn’t due until October. In the meantime, the company is said to be on the hunt for an agency that will build out a U.S. digital flagship for its brand. Uniqlo’s e-commerce platform will definitely get its volume engine cranking, but it will also prime the pump in markets slated for future stores, while driving global brand awareness in a way that its spotty physical footprint can’t just yet. Uniqlo’s agency RFP included a stipulation that the e-commerce infrastructure “provide a universal foundation for future expansion in other global markets.”

Virtual Virtuosity

Often referred to as its country’s equivalent to Nike, and marketed in the U.S. as “the biggest brand you’ve never heard of,” Chinese challenger brand Li-Ning is also determined to make its mark in the U.S., but its first lob over the fence wasn’t to open a Manhattan mega-store or even a couple of pop-ups. In fact, while the $1.23 billion company expects the U.S. to account for 10% of its international sales by 2018, it has no imminent plans to hang anything but virtual shingles here. With the premise of enabling consumers to “feel the personality of the brand” as if they were in a physical store, Digital Li-Ning debuted in March and has garnered a 425 percent increase in unique monthly web visitors. The brand has since created a robust virtual ecosystem that incorporates Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, YouTube, and the blogosphere into its digital mix. Clearly, Amazon isn’t the only e-commerce pure player intent on shaking things up.

Digital Default

Although Burberry’s bleeding edge drives into digital stand out as an impressive exception, the rest of the luxury market has largely resisted the rush to e-commerce, and instead relied heavily on carefully-curated physical flagships situated in major markets. Amazon’s just-announced foray into fashion will provide a much-needed margin boost to its portfolio but its determination to sign on brands such as Michael Kors, Vivienne Westwood, and others also portends of it transforming into the digital flagship of choice for many luxury brands.

Store-less and Stellar

Watching Walmart television ads while in Manhattan has always felt dissonant to me. After all, getting to a Walmart from Manhattan requires a tedious trek off-the-island to Secaucus, NJ. Did they flunk hyper-localization 101 or is something else at work? Thanks to the magic of its endless online aisles, Walmart actually counts Manhattan as a top market, and one that isn’t reliant on New York bargain hunters making hikes to neighboring states or succumbing to its ongoing store-building overtures. Any future ribbon-cuttings in the Big Apple are bound to grab headlines, but for Walmart, they will signify the achievement of a multi-channel milestone.

Retail Wire picked up this article. Check out the discussion.

This article originally ran on the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association (LIMA) site.