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The Visual Transformation of Retail Marketing: Lessons from eTail West

Last week marked the conclusion of eTail West, a three-day long multichannel and e-commerce event for retailers across the United States. We attended the conference along with 1,900 others to learn more about the evolving digital retail marketing space and to contribute to the conversation about how investing in authentic visual marketing can drive revenue for brands.

Our pitch aside, this event provided an extensive look at the current, yet expansive, state of the e-commerce industry and its future. Each day of the conference focused on a particular subject, which informed the attending brands and influencers’ presentations. Below are the following topics that were covered:

Main Conference Day 1: Omnichannel & Online Growth Strategies
Main Conference Day 2: Innovation & Transformation
Main Conference Day 3: Mobile, Social & Digital Innovation Strategies

After spending the first couple of days mulling over the subject matter covered at eTail, we decided to turn to Twitter to see what relevant social conversations were bubbling to the surface. With a focus on the third day of the conference, below are a few themes that emerged from the presentations and dialogues surrounding mobile, social, and digital innovation strategies affecting e-commerce in 2016.

Personalization Is Key

In the next five years there will be 20 billion connected devices according to Kelly McGann, CMO and Head of eCommerce & Integrated Marketing at Sears Holdings Corporation. Therefore, with the increasing connectivity of every man, woman, and child, it’s important for brands to “get personal” and provide relevant content to its fans and prospective customers.

Whether consumers have caught on yet or not, people are becoming more accustomed to receiving messages tailored to their likes, interests, browsing behaviors, and more. If a brand cannot keep up with this new status quo most likely its messages will be missed, or worse, ignored.

By now, most of those in retail realize the importance of personalization online via advertising or brand websites, but what about in-store? Digital advertising platform, Criteo, quoted Dunkin Brands’ when posing the question about what physical retail will look like in about 20 years. Dunkin predicts that, “by 2025 physical retail will still exist, but will need a good reason to exist.”

The point above drives home the idea of personalization. There is no way for a brand to exist in the future if it isn’t highly relevant to its customers. Now online retailers must focus on seamlessly integrating each of their channels to reach their customers no matter where they are.

NYX Cosmetics is ahead of the curve in reaching its customers on a personal level and providing relevant content not only online, but in-store – creating a unified brand experience. The company has continued to innovate and evolve by bringing highly visual user-generated content (UGC) in-store to showcase relevant images of its products from the every-day customer.

The relevance here is clear: Customers want to know how certain makeup products look on someone that resembles them. Through integrating new technology in-store, NYX is now able to seamlessly provide authentic visual content to customers who want a realistic idea of how NYX’s product will fit into their beauty routine and lifestyle.

Authentic Content Drives Commerce

It is also apparent that quality content drives commerce. Whether it’s through words or images, brands are learning that the best way to reach their customers on a personal level is through authentic content. The key word here being authentic. Unfortunately, the “content crunch” is real, and it’s scary for a lot of brands.

This term represents the idea that consumers increasingly are looking for more authentic engagement with products, yet brands are having trouble creating the content needed to keep up with the demand from its customers.

Digital Commerce Marketing Director for Chicos, Steve Lamb, cites Wet Seal below as a brand striving for authenticity through content.

He also previously posed an important question that relates back to taking advantage of all forms of content to drive sales in his example about post-purchase emails.

At Olapic, user-generated content does not just have to be used in the most obvious places such as a brand’s website or social channels – it can be used in cart-abandonment emails, digital billboards, and in-store displays. What makes high-quality UGC so important is that, by nature, the content is authentic because the photo is coming directly from real customer using a product they love.

We have witnessed multiple examples, like Unilever’s Magnum brand, increase their click-through rates, conversions and revenue due to use of user-generated content in their marketing materials. Whether it’s through post-purchase emails, as Steve Lamb suggests, or other forms of content, increasingly brands should be looking to their own customers and fans to produce authentic and relevant content to drive interest in a product.

A Picture Is Worth More Than 1,000 Words

It’s no secret that the world has become increasingly visual and Naomi Jacobs, the Social Media Marketing Manager of QVC, proves this point in sharing the stat that consumers are now more than 58% more engaged with a brand on Instagram than on Facebook.

This stat is significant because it shows the movement towards and importance of building a strong visual marketing strategy to better reach one’s customers. QVC is also highlighted for achieving success using a “Shop from Instagram” technology as part of their content strategy.

The reason we are seeing a shift towards more visual content relates back to the buzzword of authenticity. In the UGC world, it’s clear to see the positive impact of customers producing branded content: it portrays a realistic picture of how a product is being used by a person, in a particular setting, in the real world.

It is no longer enough to show a stock image of a brand’s product: Prospective customers and fans want to understand how others, like themselves, look, feel, wear, or use a product. Anthropologie is a great example of a brand that collects high-quality images from a specific hashtag and displays rights-approved photos in a gallery on their website. From the gallery, customers can then shop the look.

Anthropologie - Retail Marketing

Anthropologie

As one can imagine, there is a distinct link between providing quality user-generated content on a website and driving sales. When shoppers see photos from people like themselves, they can more easily imagine buying and using said product.

Overall, eTail West provided an amazing inside look into the world of digital retail and the upcoming trends for 2016 and beyond. E-commerce is becoming highly digital, social and, most importantly, visual. To keep up, brands must adapt to a shifting landscape where consumers determine what and how they want to be marketed to based on their own terms. In order to maintain relevance retailers must find new and creative ways to reach their customers when they would like to be reached. Retailers that solve for this challenge will realize the most success now and into the future.

EDIT: We worked with eTail to interview a few marketing leaders on the concept of “authentic marketing” at this year’s event. Check out the video below to see what they had to say!

Image Source: Olapic’s June Wee

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