Keeping Retail Socially Relevant

Outlook4Go to any marketer and he will bombard you with the importance of being present on the online space. From having a ‘fan’ page to devising ways to increase the number of ‘likes’, suggestions that pour in are umpteen. But what does it really mean to be socially relevant? Nishank Joshi, assistant vice-president – marketing, Property Zone demystifies the world of social media for the retail community.

Most Indians never ever used Myspace. Infact many don’t even know it existed. Just like Pagers came and left before people in India could even sample them, so did the Myspace revolution. And then ofcourse came along the first social network that Indians got to use and later abuse – Orkut. Though it didn’t last long either, Orkut did last enough to make ‘social media’ a household name across the country. From Mumbai to Bhopal, users were logging into Orkut on their laptops and PC’s. Truly, Orkut in many ways paved the way for India being social – Online I mean. And then one day just like that, it was gone.

Outlook5A new wave took over – Facebook. Facebook’s story from being a college networking and dating site to having numbers equivalent to countries is well documented and legendary. But, that’s not where the story ends. In fact for marketers that’s where it started. If there is consumption of media, there has to be advertising. And Facebook was not in existence because Mark Zuckerberg liked poking people. Clearly, he was in there for making millions, no billions. And as he touched the personal lives of people like no one had done before, companies the world over saw consumers in every login that happened into Facebook. Thus began the complicated strategies of what I call as non-intrusive marketing. An art form where companies subtely push their products as millions share their interests, photos and emotions online.

 Consumer Decision making undergoes a Paradigm Shift

Outlook1Where do you shop today? Gone are the days when the consumers were only found at ‘Point of Sales’. Today’s consumer is omnipresent. Over the last decade or so, consumers have taken that giant leap from the traditional behavioural patterns and have now migrated to a more instant and interactive mode of expressing their opinion, preference and views – Social Media. If you look around, consumers these days are spending more time making their decisions while being in the world of Social Media rather than in stores, outlets or at malls. The very process of ‘deciding’ has undergone a sea change. Online research, sharing pics on Facebook, sharing pins on Pinterest, following trends by their favourite celebs on twitter  – the party dress dilemma is resolved long before they set foot in your store. Social media has everyone hooked on because everything here is in ‘Real Time’, and there is no delay in getting responses, feedback and suggestions from peers and colleagues. In how many films or television serials do you see the actress bring out a large book where she has painfully collected all that she wants for her wedding. Move over book of the 1800’s because Pinterest is where she stores all she wants now. The harsh fact is that the new age shopper is fast reducing the sales person to an insignificant medium in the buying process. So, does your company reach him before this process or after?

Today, it is pleasing to see that Indian brands that have put in that extra effort, time and money to find out where their consumers are spending most of their time and have connected with them on social platforms. From Vodafone to Shoppers Stop, from Diesel to small starts-ups like Chachi Says, a lot of Indian companies have pushed the envelope when it comes to social media initiatives and connecting with their brands. On the other hand, there are several other brands that are refusing to accept the shift in mindset of its consumers and some others who are taking those first baby steps towards social media.

 Statistically Speaking…

But how does going Social really help your business? While there is little doubt that Social Media adds a completely new dimension to marketing and PR, it’s true potential lies in changing your entire business eventually.

The world of social media is littered with brand mentions and recommendations from friends and perfect strangers, or influencers as they are known. If the proof in the pudding lies in eating it, sample this:

  • 76 percent of consumers recommend companies they trust to a friend or colleague (Source: Edelman)
  • Millennials are highly-skeptical of brand content and marketing in social media, instead 86 percent of consumers in that group say that user-generated content has more influence on what they buy (Source: Bazaarvoice Study)
  • 62 percent of all online shoppers read product-related comments from friends on Facebook, with 75 per cent of these shopper clicking through to the retailers site (Source: Sociable Labs Social Impact Consumer Study)

A study by Democracy, UK shows what 20 minutes is like on Facebook:

Every 20 minutes:

  • More than 1 million web links are shared
  • 13 million pictures are tagged
  • 1.6 million wall posts are published
  • 2.7 million  images are uploaded
  • 10.2 million comments are shared
  • 4.6 million messages are sent
  • What this translates to is more than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums) are shared each month.

Remember this is only Facebook. 1/10th of what’s happening in the social media sphere.

 With increased social recommendations being at the forefront of information gathering and product/brand discovery, it is incredibly important for brands to  take advantage of these touch points by creating opportunities for consumers to create, share and interact with their influencers via social networks, forums, blogs and brand-owned websites and storefronts.

 Outlook2There a thousand platforms to reach out, but like mankind evolution is inevitable. But the key word is evolution. Social Media is not a replacement of your salesmen. It is a means where you take your consumers through a journey that goes from engagement to conversations to enlightenment. Every brand needs to take this route. The first 2 are for the consumers the last pertains to the brand about its customers.


What NEXT from here on?

The world of Social Media is not just about Facebook and Twitter. There is so much more to Social Media- Pinterest, Instagram and blogs for instance. Image sharing based platforms like Pinterest are a haven for fashion and gourmet brands.

Retail and shopping centre brands should see huge benefits from “Location based Loyalty ideas” as well as “Augmented Reality” and “Customer Service” innovations.

 While there is truth to the fact that there are some brands which are using all of these, or at least some of these already on their social media platforms, most have a long way to go before they can create a significant impact. Remember the adage, ‘being at the right place, at the right time’- nothing rings truer when implemented in the social media world. Recent statistics show that FourSquare and Facebook Check-in’s data are at an all time high and are screaming to be taken advantage of. Brands that we manage have shown an incredible 45 per cent increase in Facebook Checkins! Ultrasound based Geo location Apps have made their way into the market and brands can now incentivise a customer for not just entering his premise, but to enter individual sections in his store! 10 points for checking into the Home Theater section of your departmental store.

Augmented Reality is another technology waiting to be tapped. From Magic Mirrors solutions available off the shelf to Augmented Reality apps where your consumers can pluck discounts and offers out of the air – This is stuff right out of a Harry Potter Movie, and all of this is available in India.

Twitter has helped take Customer Service to a whole new level. No more long hours on the IVR menu. The twitter force at Best Buy is what folklore case studies are made of. Conflict resolution is 10 times as fast. Your consumer is 1 step away from being a brand champion for you.

 What’s in it for the Brand?

Everything, Engagement. Conversation. Ideation. Incentivization – The opportunity to change your entire business. What comes off Social Media is really what a brand wants to make of it.

Not only does your brand get to know what their followers want or where they come from, you also know what they like, dislike, influences and buying patterns. A number of consulting companies and off the shelf products tell you via new age analytics like Word Clouds and Image Graphs all that you want to know about your consumers in simple easy to comprehend visual forms. But what is important is how you target your consumers. As a brand that may have limited geographical territories that you operate in, you need to know which platform you need to target. B-town cities may not be favorable to say a Pinterest, but would prefer Instagram. Facebook, however popular it may be worldwide may not be useful if you want to use social media only for customer service. Similarly, a fashion brand and an influencer would rather use Pinterest and F-Commerce to target its consumers. Research both independent and through experts is highly recommended as part of your strategy building exercise. As mentioned earlier, Social Media is not merely a sales tool. Analytics of the data you generate can help in not just designing and customising your online and offline messaging but also in customizing your products to the ever changing needs of Generation Z. It is like having a window to their mind. What more can a brand want?

Final Word

Outlook6Social Media is here to stay. Brands now have the opportunity to help them make their decisions by having a window into their minds via active two-way interactions. Brands need to be flexible and need to be thinking on their feet all the time. The social media platforms are changing every month – Yesterday it was Facebook, today it is Pinterest and now Vine -already a rage seems to be a strong contender to Instagram. As a social media manager one needs to follow trends by the minute and change course almost immediately. However, this is a long term process. Rome was not built in a day, and nor will your online community. The journey from garnering to engaging is long a and arduous. Be open and prepared for backlash for being social is as democratic as it gets. Hate mail may be in hundreds, Likes are in millions. Remember that there are a 1000 ways to get to your consumers and this time you get to observe and learn how they look, behave speak and think… but none of these methods are free or cheap and don’t believe agencies that tell you that these are. But as Brian Solis, the world’s leading Social catalyst says – the time to Engage is now.. Or perish.

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Retailers Association of India (RAI) is the unified voice of Indian retailers. RAI is a not for profit organization (registered under section 25 of Companies Act, 1956), works with all the stakeholders for creating the right environment for the growth of the modern retail industry in India. RAI is the body that encourages, develops, facilitates and supports retailers to become modern and adopt best practices that will delight customers. RAI has a three charter aim of Retail Development, Facilitation and Propagation.