For retail brands, crafting complete profiles of consumer audiences is both a consistent challenge and critical imperative. For years, the industry has recognized a single data point as the connective thread between the online and offline customer journey: the email address. Certainly, email is the standard for how brands communicate with their consumers – allowing them to send offers, event notices, or abandoned cart reminders. In-store, customers are prompted for their email addresses as an expected step in the checkout process.
While email has unlocked some incredibly powerful insights for brands, it has largely remained a tool for direct conversion, and therefore has failed to provide information on less quantifiable metrics such as intent and interests. In short, email has proven to be a key element to a complete customer profile rather than the holy grail itself.
If email is able to connect the online and offline marketplace, what’s missing? Modern brands need to take their consumer profiles a step further, to uncover true intent, lifestyle choices, and new product usage trends. To find this information, marketers are turning to the Instagram @handle. Instagram has emerged as a discovery platform, where consumers engage with products and influencers, showcasing their own purchase decisions and inspiring others with their content. With over 500 million users, and 95 million photos uploaded daily, consumers are inadvertently delivering crucial shopper intel, feature recommendations, and a valuable creative unit to brands that are willing to pay attention.
Merging Social and Purchase Behavior
Online retailers are constantly trying to attribute purchase influence to their various channels and campaigns, with varying degrees of success. Digital analytics tools have enabled far greater accuracy, especially for conversion experiences, but most brands still struggle to map social behavior to revenue. By encouraging consumers to share their Instagram profiles, brands have an enormous opportunity to better understand the full purchase cycle in three phases:
Pre-Purchase: Which Instagram users and specific photos and videos are leading consumers to discover and demonstrate interest in products?
Purchase: Are users directly making purchases on Instagram, moving to the brand-owned e-commerce experience, or traveling to a physical store location?
Post-Purchase: How are consumers utilizing the product in their day-to-day lives? Are they sharing content that will begin the process for the next user, and how can they be incentivized to do so?
The last phase is the most often under-appreciated. Brands must realize that the customer journey, and the content creation cycle, don’t end at the point of purchase. In fact, post-purchase can be the most revelatory phase for brands looking to learn about their audiences. Until now, the challenge has been that there was no overlapping data point to knit social and shopping moments together. Consumer brands have the shopping data, like demographics and purchase history, tied to an email address. Separately, there exists data on a user’s photo-sharing behavior and the resulting revenue it is able to drive for the brand, all tied to an Instagram @handle. If brands incentivize shoppers to add their @handles to their customer profiles, it would allow an overlay of the two distinct yet related data sets, unlocking unprecedented clarity for customer profiles.
Over the past several years, we’ve worked with hundreds of consumer brands to connect across these phases of the buyer journey, and create more impactful consumer experiences. We’ve found that when executed correctly, an intelligent user-generated, or “earned,” content strategy can be an effective way to both engage and convert customers even beyond social channels. In fact, we recently partnered with Worldwide Business Research on a study of the earned content marketplace, and found that 90% of retail leaders using earned content “are seeing measurably positive results from their campaigns.”
Encouraging Consumers’ Social-Sharing Behavior
While brands have been sometimes hesitant to embrace earned content, the industry is in firm agreement today on its potential. As a result, consumer brands are taking it a step further and encouraging their consumers to share photos through contests, email, and social outreach.
If these brands could tie the social photo-sharing behavior into their customer relationship management (CRM) tools and loyalty programs, it would enable a more seamless reward opportunity for the most active customers. Suddenly, a shopper’s Instagram @handle and photo-sharing behavior can become a pivot-point piece of shopper intelligence.
As consumers continue to demand more personalized experiences from brands, understanding the content that inspires their lifestyles and motivates their purchases is a critical next step. By incorporating an Instagram @handle with email address, and other key data points, consumer brands are better poised for the next phase of social commerce.