Category Archives: Retail

Google Serves Up Shopper Trends to Retailers to Win in Mobile Moments

Written by: Eric Fransen
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Google has recently begun to use the term Mobile Moments to describe mobile’s place in the consumer journey across devices. Specifically, they’re trying to understand how search signals intent at a regional level and how retailers can capitalize on this intelligence. I’m certainly in Google’s camp when it comes to search as a signal — when you’re asking a question about a product, you’re almost certainly heading toward a purchase, depending on what information you discover — and Google’s plan to address (and monetize) these signals just got better.

Two weeks ago, Google announced a new ad product that allows retailers to tap into their massive databank of search and mapping data, offering them the opportunity to fully utilize local shopping trends and behaviors. For example, Google found that demand for PlayStation 4 was 2x that of Xbox One in New York while consumers in Los Angeles were 9x more interested in Xbox One. This kind of insight could change the entire strategy of merchandising and co-op advertising to fit local preferences and nuances in behavior. Why spend equally everywhere when the same dollar promoting Xbox One would go a lot further in Los Angeles compared to New York?

"I shop here because of their people-first approach to marketing across devices."

“I shop here because of their people-first approach to marketing across devices.”

So, where does mobile fit into this behavior? Everywhere. In fact, according to a recent study, 54% of shoppers are expected to shop in these Mobile Moments between other activities throughout the holiday season, rather than simply cramming it all into Black Friday or a “shopping day.” This also includes the ever-present behavior of “showrooming,” where consumers are checking prices and comparison shopping online even while they are in other stores.

Here’s the bottom line: Mobile is going to be bigger than ever this holiday season, and Google’s got a new bag of tricks to make sure you’re reaching the right customers with the right message on the right device.

Halloween 2015 Marketing Stats and Trends

Written by: Digitally Approved
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Co-written: Hannah Redmond, Director of Strategy, and Rita Mogilanski, Senior Content Strategist

Halloween isn’t just a fun time for trick-or-treaters, it’s also a fun time for marketers. More than 157 million Americans plan to celebrate Halloween this year, spending an estimated $6.9 billion dollars. Brands have the opportunity to capitalize on consumers’ excitement and become relevant with deliberate seasonal content. Here are some content marketing trends and stats to consider this Halloween:

Brands are innovating in the digital space this Halloween.
Target launched an app called “Treatster” where consumers can find the best places to trick-or-treat. Users can add in their own houses and “up-vote” houses in the neighborhood to alert other trick-or-treaters in the area which doorbells they should ring.

34% of consumers used online search to find inspiration for their costume. (Statista) Researching and planning ahead online before buying in-store continues to be an integral part of the shopping experience this fall, with almost half of households nationwide researching online before purchasing Halloween-related items in physical stores.

Consumers are more likely to indulge during the holiday, whether they are celebrating it or not. The top 5 candy sales days of the year are in October. This is in part due to the “permissibility” people feel around the holiday – even those who aren’t trick-or-treating or going to a Halloween party still feel more comfortable enjoying a treat more than at other times of the year. Studies show that people think that the same treats “taste better” during the Halloween season (Mintel Reports).

Halloween videos account for 57% of seasonal makeup tutorial video views. (Think With Google)
Beauty and lifestyle brands should consider Halloween a key moment in their video and social marketing strategy.

Halloween-related searches on mobile grew more than 1,000% from last Halloween. (Bing Ads)This is one of many stats that confirms the need for all content to be mobile-friendly.

How Virtual Reality Could Shake Up Retail Experiences

Written by: Eric Fransen
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I have a confession to make. I wasn’t always a believer in virtual reality. I thought it was the latest tech fad, with everyone trying so hard to make it happen.

Gamers are in the middle of the Virtual Reality Rebirth with Playstation VR (formerly Project Morpheus), Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and others. You can’t talk about the future of the gaming industry without discussing virtual reality. Want to ride a virtual rollercoaster? What about a survival horror experience? You got it.

Yet, none of it was speaking to me in a way that caused me to say “THIS is the future…” until I tried the HTC Vive with Steam VR. It was eye-opening to say the least. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like I was completely immersed and present in a virtual world.

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HTC Vive taught me everything I know about digital kitchens.

To try and describe my experience with the Vive would not do it justice. It truly must be experienced to comprehend how realistic it is. In the demo that I tried, I watched as a full-scale whale swam by me on a sunken ship, I painted in 3D space and could walk through my creation, I cooked a meal in a kitchen, and I tried to repair Atlas — a robot from the beloved Portal series. It was incredible. TL;DR I’m a believer.

So how does this come to life in retail?
The possibilities are endless. With flexible VR tech like Google Cardboard and other smartphone-enabled opportunities, retailers can create simple, lightweight experiences designed to be used remotely or to enhance the in-store experience. With more sophisticated tech like the HTC Vive that requires a substantial footprint, there’s an opportunity to create in-store engagements that transport consumers into virtual worlds where they can experience products firsthand.

Here are a few ideas of how this could come to life:

Design: Stores like Bed Bath & Beyond or Home Depot could create an interior design experience where consumers virtually build their dream house using products available in the store. Once the design is complete, they’re provided with a shopping list of the appropriate materials.

Outdoor: Outdoor stores like REI could create experiences that allow consumers to try out the gear in the context of amazing locales like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and even Mount Everest.

Fashion: Stores like Forever 21 and H&M could allow customers to model various clothing items on avatars modeled after their body types. This could extend to unique designs and colorations to be custom-made for the customer.

But why does this matter?
As I’ve touched on in a previous post: personalization (or perceived personalization). Virtual reality offers the ability to completely personalize the experience for each customer. It affords flexibility and immersion in the shopping experience like never before. In many cases, it’s going to be the closest consumers can get to trying out products without actually trying out the product. The possibilities are endless.

Beacons in Retail: Will Eddystone be a Game Changer?

Written by: Eric Fransen
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In July, Google announced their answer to Apple’s iBeacons — Eddystone. It is an open source beacon that is not only accessible by both Android and iOS platforms, but can also operate without the need for an app by the sending of a URL. This kind of flexibility could open up a world of possibilities for interested retailers. Here are just a few ideas:

Real-Time Inventory
Departments, aisles, and product sections feature beacons that help users locate the product they’re looking for and alert them if it is in stock. If it is out of stock, users could be pushed to complete a transaction through the mobile app or e-commerce site to order for home delivery. App users could instantly connect to an expert through chat or messaging to ask product questions or get help with an order.

Real-Time Content Delivery
Product sections feature beacons that trigger access to exclusive product reviews, content from content creators, and lifehacks featuring the products. For example, a shopper in the Home and Bath section of a store may receive a video of interior design inspirations with complementary products that are curated by a popular YouTuber, or featured Pinterest boards from a Pinfluencer.

Real-Time Social Reviews and Tips
Shoppers can leave reviews, tips, and complementary product suggestions through an app experience that are tied to physical locations in stores. For example, a shopper may have had a better experience with a particular brand of cleaning materials — they could leave that preference in the form of a social sticky note for the next shopper to discover.

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6 Things to Know About FTC Disclosures When Working with Influencers

Written by: Allie Wester
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Earlier this summer, the Federal Trade Commission updated their Endorsement Guides FAQ for disclosures in digital advertising. This new document helps provide additional clarity into their 2013 Disclosure Guide, which is a bit ambiguous.

In blogger/influencer brand partnerships, it’s always best to make disclosures clear and conspicuous. If you’re not sure if something is clear and conspicuous, take a step back and look at the content through the eyes of a consumer who doesn’t work in the advertising/marketing industry. Assume this consumer has no idea that bloggers, YouTubers, Instagramers, Viners, etc. get paid by brands to market on their behalf. Is it 100% clear that the content is a partnership with a brand? If not, then you have some editing to do! If it is… good job!

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Here are some general guidelines that bloggers/influencers and marketers should follow when working on sponsored content:

1. Make sure to clearly disclose relationships in blog posts.

Again, make sure the disclosure is clear and conspicuous. You can say something like, “This post is sponsored by Brand X,” or “This post is in partnership with Brand X.”

2. Disclose relationships in individual social media posts, too.

Typically, influencers promote brand partnerships on social channels that complement their primary channel (such as their blog or YouTube channel). These complementary social channels include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. If the brand is mentioned in text (e.g., calling out the brand’s Twitter handle) or image (e.g., the product is visible in the Pinterest image), disclosure needs to be included in that individual piece of social content, too.

Linking to a blog post with disclosure is not sufficient. What if someone never clicks on that link?

3. #sp and #spon are not acceptable disclosures on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. Use #ad instead.

Many bloggers use #sp and #spon as disclosure. This is a common mistake. The FTC Endorsement Guide cites #spon as insufficient and not clear. A consumer may not realize that #spon or #sp is shorthand for “sponsored.” I see their point here; even I, a marketer, read #sp and think, “Spelling error!” (Elementary school essay flashbacks…)

The easiest solve is to use #ad. It uses the least amount of characters and is undeniably clear. For a softer approach, you can disclose in context such as, The easiest BBQ brisket, in partnership with @BrandX: [LINK].”

4. Don’t put #ad in the first comment on Instagram.

If multiple people comment, then it will get buried and no one will see it. It needs to be in the description.

5. On YouTube, make sure disclosure is stated verbally both in the video and in the description.

Make sure that the disclosure is featured in the description above the fold, before the “Show More” link. Additionally, disclosure should be stated verbally at the beginning of the video, since YouTube videos are often embedded and a consumer may never see the description. And, as the FTC says, it’s even better to disclose multiple times throughout the video.

6. If you’re working with a blog network, make sure they call out the brand name in the disclosure. 

Some blog networks have bloggers disclose with a simple “This post is sponsored by Blog Network X,” without any mention of the brand name. The consumer may think Blog Network X is a neutral third party, so it is not sufficient. The brand name must be mentioned.

For further insights and guidance, visit:

FTC Endorsement Guides FAQ

.com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising

Changes to Instagram’s ‘Explore’ Should Have Retailers Looking Differently at the Platform

Written by: Jake Schneider
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A few weeks ago, I wrote on our blog how Instagram’s new paid offerings (Carousel & Actionable Buttons) signaled a coming into the spotlight for the tiny image-based app with a massive audience. For retailers in particular, the new offerings allow brands the ability to engage audiences through aspirational and immersive content while driving to business objectives – something Instagram didn’t have the ability to do. While those offerings have yet to be released beyond Facebook’s Alpha Partners, your paid test strategy on these new offerings should already be taking shape so that once they are released through Facebook’s power editor, you are ready to go.

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Instagram’s present may be something equally – if not more – important for retailers looking to influence, be discovered, or get on-trend as users are spending more and more time in the platform (an average of 257 minutes per month).

A little more than a week after Instagram announced the future of their paid products, they made some pretty important yet misunderstood changes to their Explore functionalities that are available right now for users and brands.

It is easy to pass over the magnifying glass on your way to your content stream. Explore gives you a brand new way to shape content, understand, and ride trends while positioning your brand in visual conversations and important tent-pole events.

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The most noticeable difference within Explore is trending places. It sits in a box at the top of the screen and showcases the most relevant events (NBA Finals and Comic-Con) within your area (nightlife, festivals), or top content creators and relevant celebrities based on an aggregated topic just by scrolling to the right.

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This feature aligns real-time relevancy with tent-pole events for retail marketers looking to align with major events relevant to their industry. For example, a retailer showcasing their work on the red carpet at the Oscars can be found within these timely categories.

Instagram surfaces trending hashtags in the center of Explore, bringing the most popular topical tags to the forefront. We are urging our clients to give heavy consideration to not just creating their own trending tags but also analyzing tagging structures that help them enter conversations with current followers while also promoting discovery.

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Continuing with Instagram’s theme of positioning top creators as well as brands, and aligning them with the passions and tastes of users, the bottom third of Explore looks very familiar. Raising and suggesting creatively compelling posts, Instagram’s new user flow allows users to move easily from one photo to the next, but now without having to go back to the home Explore page between photos.

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Here are a few suggestions when considering your organic posting strategy on Instagram.

  • Know your audience (who are you trying to reach).
  • Plan your content with tent-poles in mind, and plan to participate with real-time content during events.
  • Monitor relevant and trending search tags to enter into conversations, don’t just create your own and hope others will follow.
  • Create premium content specific to Instagram that is visually compelling and tells a story.

Content and the Consumer Journey

Written by: Eric Fransen
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A smartphone is a crucial part of our daily routine – a connection to the rest of the world. And in the case of retail shopping, it’s the critical key to accessing information to help inform our purchase decisions in real time.

According to Google, 79% of shoppers access information online while visiting a store, from retail websites to influencer vlogs. The fact that only 9% more shoppers at 87% conduct pre-visit research suggests that there is a huge opportunity to influence decision-making in the moment, at the time of purchase, by using the right content across the right channels.

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But what kind of content is most impactful in purchase decisions? In short: not the brand’s.

  • 92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people – even strangers – over brand content.
  • 70% of consumers reported online customer reviews as the second most-trusted source.
  • 35% of U.S. readers read blogs to discover new products.

As marketers, it’s our job to understand how impactful influencers’ and peers’ reviews and opinions are in the decision-making process, and plan accordingly. This means developing meaningful partnerships and lasting relationships with advocates and influencers, as well as encouraging consumers to share their experiences and opinions.

The bottom line: conversations are taking place with or without the brand’s involvement. Will you be part of them?

Fastest Growing Online Retail Channel: Social Media

Written by: Hannah Redmond
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Social for retail is a growing space, from embedded Buy buttons on social to referring traffic to retailers’ websites and apps via social posts. Platforms are creating more and more options for brands and consumers, and brands need to consider social as a serious avenue for sales. According to the Internet Retailer’s Social Media 500, the top 500 retailers earned $3.3 billion from social shopping in 2014, up 26% from 2013. That is well ahead of the 16% growth rate for the overall e-commerce market in the U.S.

Business Insider recently published a report showing that social is driving more retail traffic than any other online channel. Additional findings below:

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Key points from the report:

  • Social media increased its share of e-commerce referrals nearly 200% between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015.
  • For retailers to maintain these social gains, they will need to pay special attention to mobile, where social engagement with retail content is still limited.
  • Facebook continues to grow its lead as the dominant social commerce platform. Facebook accounts for 50% of total social referrals and 64% of total social revenue. The site’s changing demographics could make older consumers a strong target for retailers leveraging the platform.
  • Pinterest is a major social commerce player despite a relatively small user base. The pinning platform drives 16% of social revenue despite an audience 6.5 times smaller than Twitter. New buy and action buttons on retailer posts should make Pinterest an even stronger referral and revenue engine for brands.
  • Twitter is losing its influence for mass-market merchants, but it could still have a role to play among sporting and event marketers, especially for location-based promotions. Recently, NFL and NBA teams have used Twitter to sell game tickets and merchandise.
  • Instagram doesn’t drive significant sales activity for retailers, but high-end companies have been leveraging the platform for branding purposes. New Buy buttons on paid posts, as well as increased targeting capabilities, could make the app a more important direct-response driver.

It is no surprise that people are spending more time on social not only consuming content but also making purchase decisions, and ultimately purchases. As we think about helping our brands navigate the digital space, social provides enormous value for retail, mobile, and beyond.

To read the Business Insider article that inspired this post, click here.

The More You Know: Wantering

Written by: Jordan Lee
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Online shopping can be overwhelming. Combing through a sea of retail sites, blogs, and Pinterest in search of something on trend to wear can feel daunting.

Many retail search engines, like ShopStyle and Polyvore, offer the same experience. You can sort by color, size, and price. A new site, Wantering, is offering something more to consumers: item search based on social popularity.

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Image via wantering.com

Ranking is determined by mentions across the web including blogs and social networks. Clicking on a product allows you to see both where it is most popular and a “hotness” score based on current mentions and relevancy.

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Image via wantering.com

Social influence impacts the consumer journey as a consultative force. According to a study by Bazaar Voice, 84% of millennials say user-generated content plays a role in their purchase decisions, even when that UGC is from a stranger. In addition, 71% of millennials say they share their opinions and input because they help other consumers’ purchase decisions.

Wantering is leveraging the movement of consumer empowerment and providing a unique online shopping experience. Product reviews are going to be weighted more and more in the future. Brands and retailers will need to not only keep up with how their products are evaluated but also with what is trending in order to drive sales in the changing shopper landscape.

Humanizing and Amplifying Your Brand Voice Through Employee Advocacy

Written by: Jake Schneider
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One of this year’s breakout films is Ex Machina. At its core, the sci-fi thriller is the story of an inventor’s quest to create an authentic, seamless human experience and connection through something that isn’t human at all: an android.

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We have never had more global avenues to connect and be connected to than we do today, and we do it seamlessly and authentically through these platforms of personal expression as if it were second nature. For consumers, digital authenticity is an expectation; for brands, however, it remains a goal that only gently grazes the surface.

For a brand to reach a truly authentic and emotional connection with their customers, and become a part of their lives, they have to do something in this day and age that is very foreign. In order to humanize a brand, they must give a piece of themselves over to their humans, their employees.

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External employee advocacy and internal employee engagement are not mutually exclusive of each other and have become popular topics for our clients for great reasons. In today’s highly connected world, employees provide knowledge and expertise – as well as authentic relationships – in their social ecosystems, providing value to both their network as a trusted expert as well as a valuable ambassador for their employer.

What are some of these benefits? It really comes down to the goals of the brand and what problem they are trying to solve internally and externally.

External: Reach & Trust

For brands, trust in a recommendation from an employee has never been higher or more credible. In fact, in a recent study, consumers named “a person like yourself” 62% more likely to trust, “a regular employee” 52% more likely to trust, and “a technical expert” more likely to trust 66% compared to a “CEO” or brand at 43%.  It is easy to see why. Word of mouth, even in digital form, is still the most powerful form of marketing. We still crave human interaction and connection; it’s only how we interact and connect that has evolved.

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According to a Nielsen study, 92% of consumers still trust recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. Additionally, consumers are still 71% more likely to purchase based on a referral from a connection and 78% of salespeople using a social selling strategy outperform their peers.

Despite those statistics, less than two-thirds have any sort of strategy for sales and marketing teams and even less have a structure that empowers employees to share.

The reason? Fear on both sides.

Control of identity, message, narrative, and brand protection has been a traditional part of brand marketing, but the more restrictions and controls brands feel they have over their message the more they feel they are mitigating risk but also depreciating authenticity and approachability. Enabling employees to share and join in brand efforts means opening brands up to some risk it also means opening  up to massive scale, impact, and authenticity.

An employee assumes a great amount of risk, as well. The greatest risk is their job, and therefore financial wellbeing. Employees fear sharing, or don’t feel empowered to share, for fear they might position the wrong information or fired for sharing their personal interests, views, and activities while identifying as an employee of their company.

As early as 2008, brands were asking employees to not post to LinkedIn (the world’s largest business network), Facebook, or Twitter. As early as 2011, we were still trying to convince brands to build Facebook pages because of the fear of negative comments. As early as last week, I had a conversation with a major brand requesting that employees not identify themselves as employees for fear that their personal actions might reflect poorly on the brand.

From a brand perspective, social collaboration is the idea that everything I do remains private with the exception of what I choose to share, so that the message is controlled. From a human perspective, everything I do, I share, with the exception of what I want to keep private.

Brands benefit by breaking down this disconnect and empowering their employees.

Brands that empower their employees can see a considerable shift in organic reach on Facebook. One of the greatest complaints over the past year is the massive drop-off in organic reach for Facebook Pages where it is generally 0-5%. Person-to-person sharing is much greater. When working in parallel with paid campaigns, the brand can weave a great creative story with human content, increasing the impact of the campaigns.

For Retailers – especially big box retailers. Employee advocacy can allow you to position regionalized content, making your brand feel more local. Because employees often identify as a target demographic with the brand they work for, an employee program allows you to impact more accurately and efficiently, as the employees’ connections within their network are of the same demographic.

For Tech Brands – recruitment and the cost of recruiting are always constant. More and more companies are giving new hire bonuses as an incentive, which is a great first step but few go beyond that incentive. Employees are the best extension of your brand culture, and the theory is top talent knows top talent. Incorporating recruiting into your marketing and enabling your employees to play an active role helps reduce time and costs in finding the right people for open positions.

Internally: Purpose & Loyalty 7.14.15E

Engaged employees are brilliant ambassadors for brands, because while they are beacons externally they are also improving the foundational culture internally.

Even more brilliant is that while employee engagement seems a no-brainer, less than 30% of employees say they are engaged in their workplaces, according to Gallup. The least engaged demographic: millennials. It is easy to see why when you consider the traditional philosophy of corporate sharing (everything is private, except what I allow to be open) vs. the personal view of sharing (everything I share is open, except what I wish to remain private).   Millennial engagement internally and externally with their network is a plus.

Employee advocacy programs add a feeling of purpose and deeper involvement outside of the day-to-day mandatory productivity that employees execute. That small participation involves and empowers employees and, more importantly, it engages them.

Engaged employees can impact all areas of the balance sheet. Statistics show that there was 2.5x more revenue for companies with engaged employees than competitors with low engagement levels.

From a corporate expense number, $11 billion is lost annually due to employee turnover, yet we’ve seen that highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave the company they work for than their counterparts, reducing the cost of onboarding and ramp-up, as well as breaks in culture.

These are just a few reasons why to consider an employee advocacy program.

Employee advocacy programs are becoming more and more important for our clients and for the industry, in general. It is important to understand that this is not something that you just decide to do. The formation of a plan to humanize a brand through the empowered voice of its employees isn’t turnkey. Authenticity never is.

In my next post I will walk you through things to think about when considering enabling and engaging employees as advocates.

Jake Schneider is the Director of Digital Strategy for The Marketing Arm, overseeing both digital and social strategy and in particular leading TMA’s Employee Advocacy practice. You can find him on Twitter @jakeschneider.