Consumer shopping habits are changing, and companies are having to adapt to stay competitive.
In the past, shoppers were content purchasing branded goods only from distributors and retailers. Not anymore. According to iXtenso, 55 percent of shoppers prefer to shop directly with brand manufacturers over retailers.
This evolution has created a rather challenging opportunity for branded manufacturers. Many are shifting their sales strategies from a retailer-distributor model to a direct-to-consumer one. And, for most companies, this shift has become a necessity rather than a luxury, notes Ryan Parker, marketing designer at ParkerWhite.
The reward for making this pivot is that brands are able to build direct relationships with consumers to engender loyalty. The hurdles involve changing the business model and creating a marketing strategy to support the new sales strategy.
In our previous post on why brands need to make the shift to a DTC strategy, we explained how digital marketing channels have been the catalyst for this change in consumer shopping habits, and how they are facilitating the shift for companies.
This is especially true of social media. Social media has redefined direct-to-consumer sales because of the direct line of access to consumers it provides.
Why Social Media is So Important to a DTC Sales Strategy
Social media is one of the most powerful tools of a DTC strategy because social media platforms allow companies to talk directly to consumers at any time, not just when they are actively shopping.
And this isn’t a one-sided push by companies. Consumers are showing an interest in interacting with brands on social media.
- According to Statista, about 59 percent of American consumers interact with brands on social media between one and three times per day.
- Sprout Social’s Q3 2016 Social Index indicates that about 74 percent of people follow brands on social media because they are interested in the product or service.
- Sixty-two percent of people said they are likely or somewhat likely to purchase a product from a brand they follow on social media, according to Sprout Social’s Q1 2017 Social Index.
Numbers like that prove the need for social media in a DTC strategy, which is why companies need to assess their DTC strategies and see how social media can best be utilized. The next section is a deep dive into how companies can align their social media profile to a DTC sales strategy.
How to Align Social Media with Direct-to-Consumer Strategy
In general, social media drives a DTC strategy in four key ways: supporting the personalized customer experience, collecting consumers’ data for customizing content, creating opportunities for selling on social media and facilitating customer service.
Make It Part of the Personalized Customer Experience
Consumers are spending more time shopping online, and, according to Accenture, 68 percent of consumers demand a consistent shopping experience, regardless of channel. “Providing a consistent customer experience is key to ensuring people continue to interact with your brand,” advises Ben Phillips, senior social strategist at Hootsuite.
And with a majority of consumers interacting with brands on social media multiple times a day, companies cannot afford to ignore the importance of social media in creating that consistent shopping experience.
When adopting a social media strategy that compliments DTC, it is important for companies to maintain consistency in messaging and branding on social media channels. But where social media really stands out for DTC is its ability to customize content to the consumer and reach them directly and immediately with that content.
There are endless tactics to personalizing content on social media based on consumer expectations and company strategy, but here are some examples of ways that companies can utilize social media in DTC sales:
- Promote a sale on items targeted to specific consumer demographics, with an immediate call to action. Peter Millar, co-founder of digital marketing agency DMcropCX, stresses that this type of offer needs to be special, not generalized like free shipping.
- Have contests in which the reward is a new item valued by the customer. This gets consumers engaging with the brand and provides an opportunity for feedback on a new product.
- Supply videos that address consumer pain points or highlight product specifications and uses.
Most important when devising the social media strategy is to create a presence on the right platforms and ensure the content is relevant to the expectations of customers on that platform. One of the main reasons a social strategy fails is because companies prioritize the wrong platforms, says Betsy McLeod, social media lead and a digital marketer at Blue Corona. She emphasizes the importance of understanding how to use each social media channel and what content will perform best on each channel.
Analyze Social Media Data for Consumer Insights
In order to personalize the customer experience, companies must understand their customers. Where businesses fail, notes Jon Clark, CEO of Fuze SEO, is never understanding the buyers who are most interested in their products. Social media data can help provide the information needed to create personalized experiences.
Not only can companies collect vital demographic information from social media users, but they can also collect data on consumer attitudes and behaviors. To gather this information, Marta Buryan, content marketing specialist at Socialbakers, suggests companies run a thorough audience analysis on each social channel where they have a presence. That analysis should include an in-depth look at demographics, likes and interests, social media activities, page affinities, followed influencers and customer journey stage, says Buryan.
This type of information gives companies a deeper look at, and better understanding of, their audiences, which can help companies communicate with those customers on a more personal level.
But a word of caution: Companies should not gather more data than they can analyze and utilize. Meltwater’s Jenny Force warns that companies can’t reasonably keep track of everything and must decide what data matters most. That, she says, will depend on each company’s goals.
Sell Products Directly on Social Channels
Some of the most popular social media channels — Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest — allow companies to sell products on the platform. The 2018 Global Digital suite of reports from We Are Social and Hootsuite claim that there are nearly 3 billion monthly social media users worldwide, which creates a huge market of potential social media shoppers.
Alex York, senior SEO specialist at Sprout Social, emphasises the importance of a straightforward buying process. The process must easily move from social network to shopping pages. If the sales funnel is complicated by several clicks and on-page searches, says York, the buyer will likely abandon the shopping experience.
Social media platforms are helping create that simplified buying process. For example, Facebook Marketplace allows companies to sell items in their specific geographic area. Instagram allows companies to place “Shop Now” buttons on their products, which directs the consumer to a check-out landing page. And Pinterest has “Buyable Pins” that allow users to go directly to a website to purchase the item.
And these streamlined purchase processes are exactly what customers expect.
By setting up social commerce options, companies add value and convenience for their customers, which only deepens the brand-customer relationship, says Matt D’Angelo at Purch.
Expand Accessibility for Exceptional Customer Service
Customers expect to be able to easily reach a company, especially when there is a problem or issue with a product or service. With so many shoppers using social media as part of their buying journey, DTC businesses need to be accessible on these channels to provide the level of customer service that consumers expect.
“Customer service and social media has melded together,” says Lindsay Patton-Carson, vice president of customer engagement at natural deodorant company PiperWai. “If your brand has social media profiles, you are absolutely going to have to perform customer service on social media.”
Sonia Gregory, owner of FreshSparks, shares some best practices for companies that must incorporate customer service into their social media strategy to align with DTC sales endeavors:
- Respond quickly, not only to customer complaints, but also to general comments, questions and feedback.
- Decipher which issues should be resolved in public or private.
- Humanize the interaction by using names or initials.
- Respond to negativity with positivity.
- Use social media tools such as Hootsuite, Buffer, Sparkcentral and Mention to aid social listening and customer service efforts.
Using social media as a customer service tool is becoming increasingly significant for DTC companies because consumers are more reluctant to call phone numbers or fill out contact forms. Social media is more convenient, and, to the customers’ minds, more immediate because they expect a response right away.
Harness the Power of Social Media DTC
There are few marketing channels, even digital ones, that allow a company to speak directly to a consumer in near-real time, around the clock. Social media is one of those tools, and it is especially powerful for companies that sell directly to consumers. To meet current consumer expectations for their shopping experiences, direct-to-consumer companies must carefully align their social media presences with their DTC strategies.