Social commerce and human experience could be marketing’s next big shift

The Drum 07 Sep 2020 02:44
Social commerce, human experience: marketing’s next big shift

The final months of the year are always key to retailers' fortunes, and 2020 will be no different despite its unusual circumstances. Aaron Goldman, chief marketing officer of Mediaocean, outlines how he sees marketing innovation occurring in online retail during the crucial months ahead.

As we approach this year’s golden quarter, the retail sector is preparing to navigate the choppiest waters it has faced for at least a decade. While there have been some small positive buying signals which might be cause for quiet optimism, with the British Retail Consortium reporting two consecutive months of rising sales, we’re still up against a widespread recession compounded by fears of a second wave of the pandemic and necessary ongoing restrictions to minimize its impact.

In the last recession, brands had the leeway to innovate new in-store experiences, as well as launch high-profile sales events in physical stores, in order to drum up attention and counterbalance their customers’ financial anxieties. This year, the front line of retail innovation is going to be very different. There is a tendency in marketing to understate trends in consumer behavior and shifts as though those are exceptions to underlying rules about how people decide what to buy. As we assess and reassess how we are operating, where we are having success, and what could be improved on in a given campaign, we draw conclusions about this or that group deviating from their ‘usual’ outlook, hypothesise about why that is, and then discuss those changes.

Social attitudes are, in fact, in constant flux, on both the group and the individual level, and often in completely unpredictable ways – especially when unforeseeable global events exert their sudden influence. So it's clear that brands cannot simply prepare for a 'new normal' by returning to previous methods and tactics which have historically served them well. Instead, they must embrace new models which get to grips with the modern realities of retail marketing.

The key to success moving forward will be to creatively redefine the customer journey rather than treating new technological approaches as auxiliary experiments accompanying the core retail strategy. We have already seen the sports industry start to grapple with this, as events restart behind closed doors and online approaches to consumption are powered up to provide satisfying experiences for fans. As this has happened, some brands have found fertile ground in sharing that space with fans and offering marketing which makes the experience richer and more human. This is where social commerce comes into play.

However, the flipside to ever more personalised and customised marketing experiences is a growing expectation that, through marketing, really will feel personal, relevant, and genuine. Between the growing power of technology to target individuals and recent directions in the fluctuation of social attitudes, consumers are expecting brands to be more human in the way that they speak, and are more willing to demand authentic and ethical behaviours from the brands they purchase. At the same time, however, general attitudes to advertising and marketing are not as cynical as that may suggest: research from GlobalWebIndex suggests that just 15% of consumers disapproved of brands who continued to communicate as normal through the first wave of the pandemic, with near-universal approval for brands sharing practical or light-hearted content.

The real successes, then, will be found when brands ally social commerce with positive human experiences. Technology now offers more powerful ways for brands to identify and target likely purchasers – and so make marketing spend more effective – than ever before. It’s at its most powerful, though, when it also adds value for the consumer, offering a real, meaningful interaction which can bring our expectations of physical retail to the digital space.

Here, retail might just have an ace up its sleeve. The rich, varied, engaging customer experiences that physical retail offers require significant up-front investment, and insight into their performance is difficult to get with any degree of depth or accuracy. Online retail, and in particular social commerce, meanwhile has the exact opposite dynamic, and we can now blend that into the same channels with which we are interacting with our audiences and enabling the purchase process.

Necessity, if we believe the cliche, is the mother of invention. This golden quarter, I think we’ll see the world’s most innovative, forward-thinking brands make big strides in what social commerce can do, and in what it means for consumers on a human level.

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Aaron GoldmanMediaocean
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