This Golden Quarter, is Instagram the new Oxford Street?

Guest comment: Social media marketing trends for the year 2021

With COVID-19 bringing on the toughest year yet for retailers – from job cuts to store closures, it has been trial after tribulation for the industry. Now, with Christmas and Black Friday soon approaching, what can they do to win over their customers? Socialbakers CEO Yuval Ben-Itzhak, looks at what can brands learn from the lockdown to bring the magic back this Christmas.

COVID-19 has brought on the toughest year yet for retailers – from job cuts to store closures, it has been trial after tribulation for the industry. As Christmas and Black Friday approach, the campaigns and bustle towards the Golden Quarter would normally be in full swing.

Brands would have already planned out festive ad strategies, dedicating a large proportion of spend to splash out on influencer unboxings and advent emails. The impact of the pandemic means that brands can no longer rely on the in-store shopping experience, from the helpful assistant to funky music and lighting, to give customers a great experience. Their outstanding experience needs to start with the first like on social and finish with post-purchase care.

So, can brands adapt or are we set for a ‘Copper Quarter’, with retailers finding coal in their proverbial stockings? What can brands do to make Q4 golden for their customers and for their business?

Learning from lockdown

Once the pandemic hit, dramatic changes in our daily lives happened overnight. For most people, this meant more time spent online, and much less time spent with friends and family.  For brands, existing plans and marketing strategies quickly had to adjust to this new world of consumer habits, with brands like Walmart’s even stating that their business underwent five years of change in five months in order to pivot to meet customer needs in the digital world.

Over lockdown, we saw brands tighten their reigns on marketing budgets. In March, a steep decline in ad spend was seen across Europe and the US. By the end of June, however, global ad spend rose and moved back towards pre-pandemic levels, indicating that brands were quickly adjusting and adapting to the crisis. In fact, consumer behaviour through the lockdown provided brands with valuable insights into their audiences and showed them the importance of digital marketing on community building and on sales during a crisis.

Now, brands must put these insights to good use, to figure out what they can do to bring the magic back this Christmas – for their customers and their bottom line.

Think customer experience first

The priority now for brands is to market with the customer experience in mind. This Christmas, customers are unlikely to want to spend hours perusing the highstreet. Therefore, brands will need to pivot and cater to an online audience, making sure customers can still discover new products and purchase them easily and simply without having to enter physical shops.

While some will use externally owned e-commerce platforms, savvy marketers will (if they haven’t already) turn to social commerce features, which engage consumers as they scroll through their social media feeds. When it comes to product awareness and discovery, 60% of Instagram users now say they find new products on Instagram. This is where social commerce is exciting to customers and invaluable to brands.

Different tactics and channels all play a role in reaching wider audiences, and building customer loyalty. If a brand wants to target Gen-Z, they know a brand partnership on TikTok is a safe bet. For over 50s, Facebook ads often deliver. One area that’s proved popular for all demographics in recent years is influencer marketing. However, as the pandemic took hold, budgets for influencer marketing were also slashed, resulting in an 11% decrease in the usage of #ad influencers on social media during the second quarter of the year. Despite an overall decline, we saw brands pivot towards smaller influencers who were capable of driving campaigns with their loyal base of followers at a reduced cost. Looking towards the fourth quarter, we can expect influencer marketing to remain a powerful tool for marketers as brands leverage smaller scale influencers with highly engaged communities to connect with their audiences and tell a more authentic story.

The personal touch

The reason these next three months are so critical for brands is simple: money is tight. Not only has the pandemic changed people’s lifestyles, but also how they spend their money. Now more than ever consumers are looking to brands to provide them with an outstanding experience. So what can brands do to give customers an experience they love?

Just as consumers relate to influencers on a personal level, brand marketers should think creatively about how they can provide that personal touch to their customers in other ways – even when customers can’t visit them in person. A great example of a brand thinking creatively is UK-based beauty company Natural Living. Their founder, Bella Middleton, switched up the online experience, sending out free samples, re-writing product descriptions and improving images to encourage people to buy online.

This got existing customers back to her website in a time when beauty products dropped to the bottom of shopping lists. The brand saw a huge rise in people buying ‘Miss You’ gifts for loved ones they couldn’t see in person. What was the key to their success? Simple. They understood their audience landscape and how their customers engage with them – then they adapted their business to their customers needs.

With shoppers still unwilling to rush to the highstreet, brands need to turn to new ways to bring the in-store experience home. Is now the time for marketers to embrace AR? FittingBox introduced a virtual fitting room solution that allows customers to try on eyewear without stepping in a store, a fun alternative to entice their customers online. With fitting rooms one aspect of in-store shopping that doesn’t look set to return, more brands may soon follow suit.

Hello, Golden Quarter

While, according to John Donahoe, CEO of Nike, consumers are more digitally grounded than ever before, the death of physical marketing isn’t nigh – despite what saying goodbye to the Argos catalogue might suggest. We’ve seen John Lewis open its Christmas shop early, to drive footfall and sales at a time when many of us still want to touch and feel – and enjoy a sprinkle of Christmas magic.

As the Golden Quarter approaches, what we do know is this: the pressure on marketers to deliver real business impacts is greater than ever before. To win new customers, brands must be able adapt to their customers, to what they want and to where they want it from the first like on social right the way through to post-purchase customer care. Today more than ever customers are demanding an outstanding omnichannel experience, whether they know it or not. From Facebook to TikTok, from AR to TV ads, and even in-store promotions, marketers need the right tools to capture the right audiences, with the right message, at the right time. This is how they will grow their community and bring their business back on track.

As brand marketers focus their marketing efforts even more on the digital world, we can be sure of one thing: for this year at least, the digital world might just be the new Oxford Street.

By Yuval Ben-Itzhak