The Future of Retail: Why Content Matters in Marketing
Today’s retail environment is a convergence of technology and experience, driven by consumer demand to know more, see more and actively participate with brands before buying. Consider these examples:
- Want to know how to put up a tent in the snow or build the perfect campfire? With online video, you can take DIY to a new level.
- Wondering about other people’s experiences with a particular product? Check out their videos, photos and commentary online.
- Interested in the most fashionable looks for the new season? Use your smart device to check out what celebrities and influencers are wearing — at all price points.
At the heart of the customer experience is content. Marketers are familiar with websites, blogs and whitepapers, but new forms of information — from online video to user-generated content — are influencing in-store and online retail in exciting ways.
In the next chapter of the digital age, retail’s winners will be brands that use innovative content to influence the customer journey. To gain market share, retail brands will have to find, define and communicate their own editorial voice across channels — and do so in a manner that resonates with consumers.
Retail’s Current State
Today, there are more than 1 million retail stores in the United States, which have collectively contributed to a 4 percent growth of retail sales annually over the last several years. These figures indicate that although e-commerce is a strong presence, accounting for about 10.1 percent of all retail sales, it’s not the dominating one. Storefronts and e-commerce sites can coexist quite nicely. Depending on the product, situation, price and priority (convenience vs. hands-on factor), there’s a time and place for both types of retail.
Whether a retail brand’s products are in-store or online, well-executed content has become critical for generating interest and influencing sales.
Great Content Influences Purchases
Content marketing is expected to be a $313 billion industry worldwide by 2019. As part of an engagement marketing strategy, content can be a powerful tool to influence retail spend, prompting consumers to explore additional brand content, visit a different part of the store or make a purchase.
Content Has Purpose
Today, content is no longer created solely for the sake of having an online presence or to earn a high ranking in search. Rather, content is created for a specific purpose and held to standards defined by measurable results. Brands must take a strategic approach to content — from setting key performance indicators to continual optimization — to ensure accountability.
Brands as Publishers
Brands are no longer dependent on traditional media outlets to tell their stories and connect with target audiences. Facebook, YouTube, search engines and other digital innovations have made it possible for brands to attract and retain customers with compelling content that builds trust and authority.
One of the best examples of brand-as-publisher is REI. The outdoor apparel and gear retailer has established itself as an authority on outdoor recreation by offering a breadth of sports-related products, and by creating content that demonstrates its authoritative voice. This content focus has served the brand well, and when consumers need advice about camping, skiing, biking or other outdoor adventures, REI is the name that comes to mind. REI isn’t dependent upon sports, travel or adventure publishers to reach its target audiences. The brand has developed its own valuable audience and can reach them directly.
Brands that want to connect with customers do so with a variety of content formats. Three of the most exciting formats to gain momentum are augmented reality, user-generated content and video.
1. Augmented Reality
Content created with augmented reality has found its way into many retail genres. One example is the Sephora Virtual Artist, which enables customers to virtually try before they buy thousands of makeup products. Through AR technology, Sephora’s app scans an image of the customer’s face and then invites her or him to experiment with the brand’s makeup. (In 2014, L’Oréal launched a similar app called Makeup Genius.)
With AR content, consumers are empowered to have an exciting brand experience that may prompt them to make a purchase.
2. User-Generated Content
There’s no better brand advocate than the people happily using your products. In our digital age, communicating consumer sentiment is so simple and effortless that user-generated content (UGC) is one of the most powerful and influential marketing tools.
GoPro, the definitive leader in action cameras, has shown the world the power of UGC by encouraging customers to shoot and share their adventures online. More than 6,000 GoPro-tagged videos are shared daily on YouTube, making the brand one of the best at turning happy customers into marketing gold. GoPro’s UGC is so successful that the company has its own editorial department to curate and edit the content — and its camera sales hit $1.19 billion in 2016.
Because UGC is a first-person account, it provides instant credibility for the brand. Furthermore, reviews, videos, comments and images can also positively influence search rankings. In fact, UGC is so influential that customers often consult it before buying. Eighty-six percent of millennials think UGC an accurate indicator of brand quality. In addition, 59 percent of millennials rely on UGC when making purchase decisions, and 70 percent of consumers listen to peer recommendations/reviews.
UGC is one of the most powerful and influential marketing tools. Consider the following:
- 54 percent of adult internet users post original videos or photos;
- 47 percent of users repost them;
- Snapchat users make up 9 percent of all mobile phone users; and
- Instagram users make up 18 percent of all mobile phone users.
3. Video Marketing
The potential of video as a marketing tool has expanded from the traditional (watch and learn about a product or service) to a product guide or point-of-sale influencer. Online video marketing leverages storytelling to introduce consumers to a brand, and it can even enable viewers to purchase products by clicking on links embedded in videos.
By empowering a customer to purchase from the video in real time via mobile or a smart home device (think Amazon Echo devices such as Alexa), customers can make decisions in the moment. This technology also makes it easy for the customer to share on social media, thus further influencing the customer journey (and brand sentiment) across channels.
Julie Kinzie is vice president, content marketing, at Ansira, a data-driven marketing agency.
Related story: Sur La Table Invests in Improving the Customer Experience