Sustainability, capitalising on online trends, and greater collaboration and communication with consumers were all hot topics at this year’s eCommerce Expo and Technology for Marketing conference.
Hundreds of digital marketing experts, brands and businesses attended the event at ExCel London on 27 and 28 September, which included keynote speeches, panel discussions and networking with industry leaders.
The event included insights from brands such as Ralph Lauren, Condé Nast, Sainsbury’s and Harrods, and partners included Adobe and Shopify.
For anyone unable to attend, CORQ has rounded up the key takeaways and top tips brands need to know.
1. Social commerce advice
Social commerce is where it’s at and particularly on TikTok, according to Alvin Gunputh, social media lead at Thredd.
Sales via social platforms valued $1.3 billion (£1.06 billion) in 2023 and if its current form continues, this is expected to soar to $3 trillion (£2.5 trillion) by 2026.
Even if users aren’t buying, social commerce is still useful for consumers to see a brand’s content regularly and be inspired, says Gunputh.
Instagram works well – it’s easy for users to save posts of products they’re interested in and there are fewer barriers than, for example, logging into a company’s website but a separate site is needed for purchase and payment.
TikTok is even smoother because everything (purchase and payment included) can be completed on the same app – think TikTok Shop – and it’s worth the effort. If an ad is viewed for as little as 1.5 seconds, the algorithm will note the user’s interest and the brand’s content will be resurfaced time and time again.
2. Social listening tips
Another strategy to utilise is social listening, says Gunputh – monitoring and analysing online conversations to improve market positioning.
This may sound expensive and time-consuming, but free and simple tools exist, such as TikTok Creative Centre. Google and TikTok are planning to collaborate on combining search data as well, so this will become even more comprehensive.
Find out what key words are being used most and where and then “hijack” that for your content, Gunputh advises.
3. Looking after the customer at Harrods
Harrods is celebrating its 175th anniversary in 2024 but key to its success – alongside its luxurious appeal, naturally – is its ability to change with the times.
Mitul Shah, general manager of Knightsbridge distribution, shared that one of the key services Harrods offers is delivery – whether that’s £250,000 spent in-store, sent directly home and unpacked before the customer even returns or guaranteed worldwide delivery for £25.
Post pandemic, the customer wanted more, and what the customer wants they get. Harrods Beauty outlets are now available across the UK for the local consumer, a two-tier (either premium or cost-effective) customer delivery service has been implemented in response to the cost-of-living crisis, and its offering of personal shopping has expanded hugely.
4. Trends: Know the difference and keep the faith
Understanding the concept of trends in the online space and how to capitalise them can be vital to brands looking to accelerate their business growth and expand the visibility of their offering.
If your product or business goes viral on TikTok, suddenly it can be seen by millions of people and that can have a huge transformative impact, explains CORQ CEO and founder Sara McCorquodale.
Trends can just be a moment – i.e. what’s trending at the moment (think nose makeup or Louis Theroux’s Jiggle Jiggle) or it could mark a long-term shift – the popularity of “get ready with me” (GRWM) formats, haul videos being replaced by routine content, and the rise in short-form audio such as bitesize podcasts.
For businesses looking to create content in-house, this presents a great opportunity to speak to consumers in a way they are interested and entertained by.
“You have to jump on a trending moment right away and be spontaneous otherwise it’s too late and looks bad,” says McCorquodale.
“On TikTok, content that is not high production value actually performs better. Accept that results will be varied but you’ve got to keep the faith.”
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5. Time to invest in business messaging
Daniela Birnbaum, channel partner manager in WhatsApp partnerships at Meta, says it’s time for businesses to invest in business messaging.
This involves, for example, an online user clicking on a social media post for a product or service and being navigated to a platform such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to have a direct conversation with a business and complete the purchase and delivery process.
Event sponsor MessageBird is an example of a company that can help build the tech for businesses to do just this and there are numerous ways of doing it, from a website link to a social media post or QR code.
And why bother? It’s more convenient for customers – which means more sales – and research shows it also increases their engagement and retention.
6. What’s happening with WhatsApp
WhatsApp is a platform on the rise for businesses and worth taking note of. As well as the business messaging option (which is already available in the UK, other than completing payments in the app), MessageBird is working closely with Meta to improve its use as a marketing tool for brands.
WhatsApp Channels – a one-way broadcast tool, similar to Instagram Broadcast Channels – launched globally on 13 September and WhatsApp Flows is the next big launch to be aware of.
Due in late 2023 or early 2024, it will enable users to complete a whole host of tasks within the app, including booking appointments, hailing taxis and checking in for flights.
7. Sustainability and storytelling insights
The ethical consumer business is growing faster than the ordinary consumer market, says Thomas Panton, founder and CEO of sustainable shopping platform Canopey.
However, the gap between customer intent and action is still huge. 100% want a greener planet but only a very small percentage of consumers truly put it into action because of time and convenience factors.
To brands, he has the following advice: “Don’t aim to talk to the very climate-conscious because they will call you out. Don’t build something people don’t need. You don’t have to be perfect but be better.”
Storytelling is key to sharing your brand’s sustainability message but the stories have to be honest and compelling.
8. Creating customer feedback loops
Cally Russell, CEO and co-founder of sustainable clothing business Unfolded, set up his company partly in response to issues he faced in a previous business – while it was presented with sustainable solutions, it was too entrenched in old ways and so unable to action them.
Unfolded speaks to its consumers through private Facebook groups and a newsletter called The Fold with more than 75K subscribers. The products are co-created with the community and customer feedback is the lifeblood of the brand, he says. The team is constantly trying to create customer feedback loops.
Russell also recommended the platform Pawprint as a useful resource for any companies wanting to engage their employees in making more sustainable choices.
9. Know what works and where
Keeping an eye on growing and emerging platforms and knowing what works best on each of them is crucial for any brand, says Roberta Cianetti, director of social operations and global partnerships strategy at Condé Nast.
Things change extremely quickly in the digital space: 35% of TikTok users are now aged above 35, Lemon8 “peaked in March and has gone down from there”, and Mastodon and Bluesky are worth monitoring, she says.
Other things stay the same: 52% of internet users access YouTube once a month and Instagram has two billion monthly active users.
So what works, according to Cianetti? On TikTok, it’s creators first, trends, effects and trending sounds. For Facebook, it’s Reels, organic feed content and not linking to external sources. And on Instagram, it’s Reels again, being timely, being creative and communicating directly with consumers through comments and DMs.
10. The Pinterest effect
Crucially, Pinterest is not to be underestimated, advises Cianetti. It is focusing on bringing more inspirational creators to the platform and becoming more of a shopping destination.
What works on Pinterest: Strong visuals; trends; expert/insider advice; listicles; feel-good and evergreen content; tips on planning ahead; and video is key.
It’s worth another look, says Cianetti: “It’s not the Pinterest you remember.”
By Lauren Harris, CORQ editor.