Apu Gupta
Apu Gupta 17 July 2018

Three ways retailers can create brand fans

Since the 1950s and the advent of television, heavy investment into brand building via advertising and marketing has ultimately been about encouraging consumers to believe in you and your product. Social has changed the equation. On the same platform that allows people to broadcast themselves, brands can also broadcast. People and brands are now occupying the same space.

Picture a dinner party where one guest happens to be a brand. They’re not going to stand in the corner quietly, but interact like everyone else, in a very natural way. 

Social channels have enabled the humanisation of brands. This is fortunate, because as the old saying goes, people buy from people. As technology has evolved, brands are no longer big, faceless entities running ads. They are people that happen to be hanging out where you spend time with others. Now it’s a conversation, rather than a narration.

So how should brands encourage customers to engage with them?

1. Make it interesting to join the conversation

Hashtags are nothing new. Brands will slap a hashtag on a store window, a receipt or a TV ad to make it easy for people to talk about them. Brands are promoting a means to centralise commentary, but often completely ignore the opportunity to turn that commentary into a conversation. 

Recently, I was looking at the hashtag for a multibillion dollar US retailer. Within about two minutes on Instagram, I found a great photo posted by an influencer with 14,000 followers that featured products from two brands she’d explicitly hashtagged. The image received over 300 likes and nearly 50 comments - universally positive, and nearly all variations of “That top is so pretty.” 

Neither brand mentioned in the photo bothered to join in this conversation. No, “You rocked that outfit”, or “If you liked that here’s some other stuff you’re going to love.” No cheeky comment playing off the influencer’s words about how inexpensive the outfit is. Just silence. 

Large brands will of course object to the idea of engaging with every hashtagged post. There’s simply too much volume. But brands must find ways of demonstrating that there’s a human on the other end of the hashtag. One that’s real, has a personality and an actual interest in what people are saying about their brand. Anything less on social is antisocial. 

Cosmetics sensation, Glossier, is a great example of this. With 1.3 million Instagram followers and a deeply devoted customer base, Glossier customers talk to the company on social channels constantly. And Glossier’s founder, is famously known to write back.

2. Celebrate the stories people share about you

People have always talked about your brand. Today’s connected world means more people than ever can consume the words, pictures, videos and memes created by your audience. And that’s because your audience has an audience

Historically, brands have tightly controlled their story. So in a world in which people now have a platform to share their stories about you, leverage these to humanise your brand and build a community by providing a place for those stories to live. 

Urban Outfitters does a great job with the ‘UO community’ on its home page.This collection of user generated images identifies straight away that customers are part of a connected group. 

It’s fascinating how brands can form communities in really authentic ways. The idea that a group of people may identify some level of commonality based on where they shop and which brands they embrace is powerful.

There’s a component to social that’s about belonging. Brands ignore this psychology at their peril. 

People identify with the places they shop, the clothes they wear, the music they enjoy and the food they eat. The tools are already there for people to share their best selves with the world, but forward-looking brands are allowing them to become storytellers - giving them ways to express their identities around certain themes. 

There’s also a vanity element to social, which brands can benefit from. People feel a kinship with certain brands, so when a brand says “hey you’ve created something amazing and I want to share it,” that’s incredibly validating. Likes and shares are part of the feedback loop that all social is predicated upon. 

In the era of social, you have to relax and allow people to take ownership of your brand. It's the difference between a loudspeaker and a choir, where lots of little voices all come together to sing your song. 

3. Move from mega to micro influencers

Social is fuelled by content. And some of that content is incredibly creative, authentic and compelling. More often than not, it’s generated by influencers whose followings are driven by their creativity, rather than those with followings as a result of their celebrity. These influencers, with their specific points-of-view and niche followers can hold tremendous sway over their audiences. What they lack in reach they make up for in engagement. 

You will find that these smaller micro influencers care deeply about their chosen topic. They might post about tango dancing or embroidery because they’re knowledgeable about it. Their resulting content sits at the intersection of authority and creativity, compelling people to want to follow them. 

Brands can do much more to tap into these types of influencers. Creating a network of micro influencers to help get the word out is just the start. Why not also take their unique points of view and use them to help bring customer feedback in? Or carve out areas on your website and in emails that can be owned by the micro influencers you partner with, allowing them to showcase how they’d style or use your products. By welcoming new points of view, you’ll harness the creativity of influencers and give them something to talk about with their fans. 

This approach will achieve a much deeper level of authenticity. Given the age of transparency we now live in, people are getting wise and craving something real from their favourite brands. 

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