Shop-PR Advocacy: why PR should be leading purchase consideration in a digital age

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By Louise Watson
Head of Consumer Packaged Goods, London

Shopping has always been social. But now thanks to both the recession and digital technologies, commerce has gone social in every sense with big brands such as P&G, Levi’s, Disney (and even Stephen Fry) harnessing the wisdom of the crowd, or in the case of Facebook, wisdom of friends, to sell more stuff, more often and more cheaply.

Social commerce – defined by Wikipedia as ‘electronic commerce that involves using social media…that supports social interaction and user contributions…’ – may still be embryonic in some markets (even Ebay admits as much). However, when big names start to experiment (and report results), it’s time for brand owners to start questioning their silo’ed approach to brand sales, to where every agency has a separate part to play in a marathon relay along a linear path to purchase.

Heard it all before?

  • The average shopper consults an average of 4.1 information sources on the path to purchase1.
  • The biggest reason consumers join fan pages is to tell friends the brands they support (note: actively buy into, not passively like)2.
  • 67% of people spend more online after recommendations from friends3.
  • Manufacturers selling direct to consumer is the fastest growing online retail category4.
  • Consumers want to see more value-added interactions on Facebook and Twitter5.
  • This month could see Facebook Credits start competing against PayPal as a legitimate online currency to accelerate change faster.

So if this is the case, what needs to change? The established wisdom goes a bit like this: “Advertising created awareness. Frequency ensured people saw the thing enough to be aware. Scouting occurred in-store (where point of purchase and promotions did some of the heavy lifting). The shopper purchased. For the most part, the post-purchase period meant mailing in a warranty (or most-likely, nothing)”.

The path less linear

But with the advent of digital, the path is far from linear and the real shopper marketing power starts at the end, after the sale is made. Brand marketers who split their communications agencies against different parts of the brief, or hire shopper marketing partners who focus disproportionately on the sale-clincher itself, are missing a valuable part of the picture. And with big retailers rationing stock keeping units to maximise margins and make way for own brand, what better time for brand manufacturers to reclaim control over their retail channel?

A discipline like PR that naturally harnesses the power of endorsement, can now start to sit more comfortably at the heart of the solution, and should start flexing its muscles beyond where many still put it – piles of press cuttings. PR professionals need to think more commercially, embrace digital (and the opportunities it provides) more fully and integrate more metrics to help keep more of the investment coming.

Future proofing

So what can you do to future proof your comm’s team and put the PR at the heart of your brand’s shopper enticement?

  1. Listen: undertake listening exercises to map the conversations already taking place around your brand and identify the key influencers to unlock barriers and drive sales.
  2. Put advocacy at the heart of your shopper comms rather than focus disproportionately at the fixture or the in-store environment.
  3. Optimise search: Search engines and retail websites are still the first places shoppers turn to. Are you maximizing your organic and paid rankings to set out your stall in an enticing way?
  4. Make it easy: whether this means selling on social platforms, using social plug ins or integrating mobile for easy comments and uploads, make social commerce second nature to your shoppers.
  5. Over-service: Retail is detail. Be where your customers are, don’t wait for them to find you, and when you meet, make every experience from every brand representative count with surprising experiences and compelling content. Does everybody with an external-facing role embrace this?
  6. Integrate your shopper’s online and offline experience, to drive a consistent voice and a seamless sale

Digital is blurring the boundaries and presenting an opportunity for PR professionals to lead. Whilst shoppers seem responsive, is the industry ready to move quickly enough to capitalise… before it all changes again?

References:

  1. Research by comStore
  2. Morpace, ‘Facebook’s Impact on Retailers’ as reported in EMarketer, 1 April 2010
  3. Internet Retailer, September 2009
  4. Internet Retailer, September 2009
  5. Performics & ROI Research
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