Mike Austin, CEO & co-founder of Fresh Relevance, explains why marketers need to look past the hype surrounding influencer marketing when exploring new ways to drive sales.
Up and down the country, marketers are faced with the constantly declining effectiveness of traditional B2C marketing tactics. Today, only 9% of digital ads are being viewed for more than a second and 69% of UK consumers say they don’t trust advertisements. Also, one in three shoppers state they prefer to see images with real people instead of professional campaign shots.
Especially younger generations are sceptical when it comes to brand marketing. This doesn’t come as a surprise given that both Generation Z and millennials, who combined now comprise half of the total population, grew up in a world influenced by social media.
Looking for new ways to improve click-throughs and sales, many marketers are turning to social proof tactics which harness the fact that shoppers are influenced by the online behaviour of others when making a purchase decision. Investing in social media stars in particular has certainly become a hot topic.
A recent survey from Rakuten Marketing showed that while the average cost to engage one influencer to support a social media campaign is decreasing, the amount major brands are prepared to spend on the concept as a whole is dramatically increasing. The study found that influencer programmes now account for 40% of marketing budgets globally.
However, influencers may not be the silver bullet marketers are looking for. Just because certain brands are prepared to spend a growing share of their marketing budget on them doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the right fit for every brand. And headlines surrounding influencer fraud and the rise and fall of social media stars have certainly raised questions around authenticity.
Leveraging influencers is one way to make marketing more relevant, but for many marketers and consumers alike, it’s not the preferred tactic. In our recent report, we found that only 22% of retail brands surveyed use influencers as part of their web and email marketing strategies. What’s more, only one in ten UK consumers have purchased a product based on a recommendation made by an influencer, while almost half state that they wouldn’t trust any product information provided by influencers.
In many cases, other forms of social proof, such as customer reviews, user-generated content and product popularity messaging, are more likely to help drive sales. And while these tactics have been around for a while, we found that there is still a lot of untapped potential for brands.
Ratings and reviews
Our research found that consumers believe detailed product reviews from other customers (61%) and star ratings (56%) are the most important social proof tools marketers can display to help them make a purchase decision. In fact, more than one in three (37%) shoppers read three to four product reviews before making a purchase decision.
As consumers’ shopping habits move steadily online, and they are less able to touch and try items as they would in store, shoppers have become more reliant on the feedback and recommendations of their peers. Yet, despite this, just over half (58%) of the retailers we studied were found to be displaying user product reviews or ratings in their online store to help their customers purchase with confidence. Even fewer (8%) retailers are harnessing ratings and reviews in their email marketing.
Retailers that are failing to provide this information are missing out on valuable opportunities to make their marketing convert better across channels. Customer feedback on products serves to reassure shoppers that the product they’re buying is of good quality, and can provide a valuable additional source of information to help customers choose the right product or size, thus reducing returns. Neglecting to provide peer feedback can even put brands at risk of losing sales and trust, as our research reveals 30% of shoppers are sceptical of brands that fail to display this information.
User-generated content is the perfect tactic for industries driven by visual trends. Loyal customers often become the brand’s best marketers by offering up the latest looks and styles on social media, inspiring their peers. Especially younger customers appreciate photos and posts from their peers, with two in five millennials finding user-generated content useful when making a purchase decision. However, many brands are not taking advantage of this opportunity with just 16% of the retailers surveyed using the tactic.
Photos of real customers increase engagement on product pages and in emails by helping shoppers imagine how they will look and feel when they wear or use your product. This is a major win for customers who would ideally prefer to try an item before buying it. It can also help build a sense of community that retailers across verticals and especially brands with a younger, image-conscious customer base could benefit from.
Product scarcity messaging
We desire items more when they are popular or scarce. Marketers can easily leverage this by using real-time stock levels that let shoppers know when an item is running out or by showing how often an item has been purchased or viewed recently. This simultaneously taps into consumers’ FOMO (“What if the product sells out before I have a chance to buy it?”) and the desire to follow a consensus (“Other people are buying it, so it must be good!”).
According to our research, 43% of consumers prefer to know how many products are left when making a purchase decision. However, of the retailers we surveyed, fewer than one in ten display current stock levels on their website – and not a single one provides this information in marketing emails. Especially brands with frequently changing stock, such as fast-fashion brands, could benefit from adopting this tactic, as customers know that the inventory sells fast and is unlikely to be restocked.
In an e-commerce driven world, influencer marketing does have a part to play in a brand’s marketing strategy, but it comes with a hefty price tag not without risks. Brands should focus on finding a mix of social proof tactics that’s right for their brand and make sure to include quick wins like product ratings, user-generated content and scarcity messaging. These tactics are easy to implement, scalable and come with a proven track record of driving conversions.
By Mike Austin
CEO & co-founder