Instagram extended its shopping function to Stories last month in a move it believes will democratise brand building and shift consumer behaviour from window shopping to purchase.
“Previously we made it really difficult to interact. You would see something, get inspired and want to go and buy that product, but you had to go to the business profile, try to find a link and jump off to web search; it hasn’t been easy to do,” Instagram’s head of business Jim Squires admits.
“With shopping we introduced the ability to browse. If you see something that you’re interested in you can get more details about that product and you can also browse and discover other related products within the Instagram experience.”
Brands can add up to three stickers that each represent a product in Stories, while inside the Feed businesses can tag up to five products. When a story is shopping-enabled the user can interact with the stickers to get more information or move on to purchase.
We hold our phones in portrait mode 90% of the time and if you’re consuming content that is intended for TV then you’re not using the screen.
Jim Squires, Instagram
He believes it is creating a level playing field for smaller businesses and ‘Instapreneurs’, the entrepreneurs who start their businesses on Instagram, who can use it as a selling platform rather than operating their own website.
For bigger brands, however, there is often the tension between operating in the Instagram shopping environment and driving sales on their own platform. In April, Asos CEO Nick Beighton questioned whether the shopping function on Instagram would “turbo-charge” the brand or threaten its business model.
Squires argues that rather than presenting a threat, Instagram offers brands flexibility in how they interact with their consumers.
“With the shopping experience currently you do the window shopping inside Instagram and then when you’re ready to make a purchase you jump off to the website of the business to make those purchases. You have flexibility as a business for how you want to interact with your audience on Instagram and off Instagram,” he states, speaking to Marketing Week at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.
“We view shopping as a huge opportunity that we will continue to invest in as we move forward.”
Instagram introduced shopping to Stories after noticing almost a third of the most viewed Stories were being created by businesses.
He describes the adoption of Stories as a new shift in behaviour, akin to the move from desktop to mobile or TV to digital video. Stories has already amassed over 300 million active daily users since launching in 2016.
Instagram has seen users move from the Feed environment to Stories, which they are using as a “pressure release valve” for a spontaneous form of sharing. Half the content consumed in Stories is video, which is typically full screen and with the sound on.
The most successful brands on the platform, Squires argues, are the ones that take a “holistic” approach, using the Feed in combination with Stories, their brand profile and Instagram Direct messaging.
Squires believes that a variety of content works on Stories, from playful, spontaneous behind-the-scenes videos to more polished content. The key is to keep the approach consistent with the brand tone of voice and ensure it doesn’t feel “gimmicky”.
He references the way Louis Vuitton used Stories to launch its men’s spring/summer 2017 collection, using the full height of the vertical video to showcase the models. Another example is Mercedes, which shared behind-the-scenes footage of the filming of an ad campaign, from the production crew waking up in the morning to the finished advert.
The future is vertical
Stories will continue to be Instagram’s top priority, alongside educating the market about the importance of creating 9 x 16 vertical video, as Squires believes the brands that create short vertical video will be the ones that succeed on Instagram.
“We believe that the future is very much vertical on mobile devices for videos and photos, and so the faster brands can move and get really good at this short-form video content, the more successful they are going to be on the platform,” he explains.
To make it easier for businesses to make the move to vertical, Instagram has recently introduced the ability to automatically convert landscape video into full screen 9 x 16 vertical video.
The idea, Squires explains, is to help brands that perhaps do not have the necessary production budget or want to extend a campaign from another medium to a platform like Stories.
“If you’re not including Stories as part of your campaign you’re just cutting off a bunch of value that you can get out of the platform,” says Squires.
“We hold our phones in portrait mode 90% of the time and if you’re consuming content that is intended for TV then you’re not using the screen.”
Instagram Direct and messaging is another important area for the business.
“Instagram Direct is the fifth largest messaging service in the world and it has a massive audience. We’re seeing a huge volume of conversations between people and businesses, many of those are being driven through Stories, so we’re starting to introduce tools now for businesses to better manage that communication with people.”