Reaping the benefits of social shopping
Social shopping - the use of social networks to engage audiences, tag products and secure direct sales - is in a growth stage.
A natural step-up from desktop e-commerce, social shopping is becoming an established norm for many, shifting both the mechanism for buying, the path to purchase and the role of advertising.
Now, with new technologies like 5G on their way, improved augmented reality and simplified payment processes, brands are being urged to think harder about their social shopping strategies to ensure they maximise their spend.
To debate social shopping's future, Mediatel News and 4C hosted a debate calling on different parts of the supply chain to explain how brands could best reap the advantages, while avoiding mistakes.
"Stories in particular are driving engagement with users on all channels, and consequently we're seeing massive growth in the marketing efforts too," says Aaron Goldman, chief marketing officer, 4C.
Indeed, 4C says it is seeing 30% of spend on Instagram going to Stories for ads booked via its own platform, while the proportion is currently lower for Facebook.
Such growth figures chime with a report by GfK that found that 71 percent of millennials now consider their mobile device to be their most important shopping tool - facilitated by the likes of Instagram, Pinterest and Snap making their platforms 'shoppable'.
This is a natural evolution for platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest which have become a destination for consumers to discover new products, whether via their friends, influencers or brands. It helps, too, that young people say they are heavily influenced by social media when making purchases.
The growth has also been fuelled by the growing difficulty on the open web to reach audiences, says Goldman. "And that is getting more challenging as cookies are going away. It's just harder to see direct results as a return on marketing spend."
However, stories are occupying more of our attention and brands are following and making better use of that format, he adds.
Agencies just see banner space on mobile - but actually it's a shopping utility"
Likewise, David Shaw, head of international product marketing at Snap, says he's witnessed a real shift from e-commerce - where brands were traditionally focused on desktop - to mobile commerce.
"Snap is one-hundred per cent mobile and our audiences are helping to drive that change across the world," he says, noting that Snap invented the concept of 'stories' before it was mimicked by other platforms.
"And it works because it's easy for the user - they can see the product, the creative pushing to action, the purchase is now very easy on mobile."
Even outside of B2C marketing, the way in which the user journey is mapped and the manner in which customers are messaged is changing, in part becuase of mobile and the proliferation of platforms and touchpoints.
"We ultimately market to people and need to understand what drives them on a personal level," says Laura Pierce, head of B2B search & social at DWA.
"When planning our social campaigns, we therefore challenge our clients to think through an audience first lens and using intent signals to define the purchase journey.”
However, social shopping is not without its challenges and warnings.
"You cannot rely on any one platform," says Goldman. "They each have their advantages and different formats and different ways of operating."
Consumers, therefore, also use them differently, he says. "And depending on the audience you're trying to reach, the platform might have a different value position that's going to be a better fit."
Goldman advocates a "portfolio strategy", which is best used with first-party data and lists of customers as the "seed of targeting" across the different platforms.
Meanwhile, Liam Brennan, global director of innovation at MediaCom, warns of growing complexity in an area he described as often being a "black box for measurement."
"E-commerce is not a new thing, but it has changed how brands approach the business of selling," he says.
"Online now affects offline, and offline affects online. It creates real challenges for brands: how do you now map a user purchase? It's very difficult. It's a huge omni-channel challenge."
Brennan says media agencies still have a lot left to learn in this space as they catch up with a shift in consumer behaviour enabled by platform innovations.
However, he said creative agencies probably had a tougher job in wrapping their heads around social shopping.
"Creative agencies have a long way to go in recognising the digital potential," he says.
Meanwhile, Snap's Shaw says the role of online creative is now more important to capture fractional attention spans.
"Creative has evolved a lot, particularly in the last three years," he says. "And online, creative is more important than ever because you're really competing for eyeballs at a scale we've not seen before."
Shaw says gaining the attention of a user in the first two seconds is now essential, and testing creative to pinpoint the moment of 'attention failure' is becoming common practice, in part helped by better technology.
"You really have those first two seconds to make it work," he says. "And making sure there's a story arc is also crucial."
Likewise, understanding how each platform provides a different creative canvas and context is also important, but can be overlooked.
"One of the biggest mistakes I've seen is using one creative across all platforms," says Shaw. "It's very important to be mindful of their differences."
For instance, Twitter is defined by conversation and brevity, Instagram is more of a digital shop window, while Snap deploys the full mobile screen and augments reality.
It means the future of social shopping needs better buy-in from the creative side - but media agencies must also play their part.
"Agencies - creative and media - have been terrible at mobile because they have not understood how consumers are using it," says Brennan.
For too long, advertisers and their partners have only looked at the reach of a mobile platform or device, rather than investigating how they are used by people.
"They just see banner space," says Brennan. "But actually it's a shopping utility."
If an advertiser or agency doesn't get mobile, Brennan adds, "then they don't get commerce."