Bridging the gap between social media and the high street

Robin Jaffray, strategic planning director of integrated advertising agency Inferno, looks at how retail brands have bridged the gap between their presence on the high street and how they use social media to connect with customers.

Social media is a reality no brand can afford to ignore, a reality that can create instant recognition, generate worldwide word of mouth and grow an invaluable fan base. But as consumers connect online, many brands are still struggling to understand the unwritten rules of the new world and often frantically apply those of the old one. The key outstanding question relates to those with a physical retail presence – how can brands close the loop between social media and the high street?

Capturing consumers’ imagination must remain the essence of brand experiences, and of capturing those communities who are vital to a successful word of mouth platform. Mothercare’s Gurgle.com or the Lomography movement are good examples, where people are more interested in an activity the brand enables, than the things it sells. American Apparel partnered with Lookbook.nu calling on customers to submit pictures of themselves wearing the brand for the chance to be featured in their advertising campaign. The visuals were then analysed to identify trends, studying how consumers were pairing American Apparel with other clothing brands and feeding back to customers to provide inspiration on how to ’get the look’.

Brands need fans not friends. Don’t be obsessed by the quantity of friends or followers. Forrester says that over half of marketers simply blanket everyone they can. It’s more important to identify the communities who are going to be interested enough in your offer (the experiences, not the stuff) to start talking about it. Walmart harnessed their ’elevenmoms’ (moms blogging about money saving) into an owned media platform. Victoriassecret.com has an “All Access” site where enthusiasts can access special features, behind the scenes footage at shoots, the brand’s blog, Facebook page, iPhone app, and register for exclusive offers. Whilst issues of visibility remain, the site has huge potential to grow a loyal fan base, drive footfall instore and provide a forum for spreading the word.

Secure the influencers. Most amplified word of mouth programmes tend to begin by seeding product (or branded content) to the most influential people in the communities you want to reach. These are the opinion formers who set up groups, run blogs and moderate forums. Providing them with early access to services, information and products will win their attention. G-Star led a blogger engagement initiative for budding fashion reporters over New York Fashion Week.
Create a physical home for virtual communities. Our Client Nokia has created ’maemo lounges’ in their larger stores. Maemo is a new, open-source operating system for mobile computers. Linux and mobile technology advocates online, and Nokia staff enthusiasts, were encouraged to explore the possibilities of maemo on the web, then congregate in the maemo lounges for further collaboration.

Drive word of mouth. Brands with a physical retail presence have a huge advantage in giving people moments of surprise and delight. When customers in Apple stores realised they didn’t have to queue at the till to buy something, it became very talkable. As did the Diesel cam, which allowed customers to take pictures of themselves instore trying on outfits and post them on Facebook for instant feedback.

Work with your consumers in social media to create the product or experience. Co-creation might seem like a slightly tired concept now – but making customers feel like they are part of a programme of betterment can still reap dividends. MyStarbucksIdea is an owned media community that encourages people to suggest ideas to improve the stores and service. Another of our clients, Unilever, set up Mindbubble which incentivises women to feedback on products, while Giff Gaff, the budget people-powered mobile network, actively encourages brand interaction and promotion with the user in return for rewards and vouchers.

Measure everything, and don’t expect everything to work. While word of mouth marketing is increasingly accountable, the nature of social media means consumers will, in large part, own the conversation. Sentiment tracking tools will give you a decent sense of what’s happening, and your social media editors will be able to feedback. However, the benefit of a social media campaign for retail is the added tangibility it affords: retailers can meet and talk to the consumers who were online.

Social media isn’t about the channel, it’s about the idea that translates across all platforms and how people respond to it. Retailers, and innovative brands at retail, have a unique opportunity to join the two activities together – to create meaningful relationships and conversations online, and fulfil them with memorable experiences instore. By taking one idea, drawing on the best practices of word of mouth marketing, embracing technology and new techniques, and placing a retail experience at the heart of the conversation, these brands can develop genuinely interesting and effective marketing platforms.

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