social commerce i know you%27re selling me somethingA new study sponsored by Lyris and published today by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EUI) looks at both consumers and marketing executives in consumer product industries in order to analyze the effectiveness of different marketing channels. The study finds some initially striking information about purchasing decisions and preferred marketing channels.

Here’s what they found when speaking with consumers:

  • When initially introduced to a product, 37% of consumers prefer email, followed by printed catalogues and personal referrals.
  • When they are about to buy a product, 36% of consumers turn to personal referrals, followed by trusted websites and email.
  • After purchasing a product, 37% of consumers prefer to be followed-up with via email, followed by printed catalogues and personal referrals.
  • Over half of the consumer respondents prefer to engage with brands via their company website, followed by email and third party websites (only 4% prefer social media).

Looking at these results, marketers may think that the social media sphere is not the space to connect with consumers looking to make purchases. But, here’s something you need to think about: the demographic of this study, strictly in terms of age, spans 20 year olds to those 65 years and older (in fact, the 65 and older crowd gets more love and attention than many similar studies).

On the other hand, a poll performed by IRI in Q4 of 2012 found that 40% of millennials (defined in this study as 18-34 year olds) use social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to get coupons and 22% of this cohort use these social sites to research products. Millennials, the up-and-coming generation with 170 billion in annual outlays, according to a comScore study, appear to be much more comfortable with using social media channels in their retail endeavors. It seems intuitive to assume, then, that this idea of using social media sites as purchasing platforms for retail brands will continue to grow.

Let’s Be Honest

Traditionally, major brands and marketers have regarded social media as strictly for engaging with consumers and building brand loyalty. It’s been said that social media isn’t for selling. 

But wait – isn’t the point of all brands to eventually sell you something? In order to fully step into the integrated spotlight, businesses need to see social media as a space to ultimately execute all of their goals. That includes consumer engagement and brand loyalty as well as lead generation and sales.

When it comes to social media, companies need to be honest with both themselves and us and recognize what’s really going on here; only by doing so can brands build truly organic, mutually beneficial relationships with consumers.

Think about it: isn’t every guy that walks up to a girl in a bar trying to hit on her? It’s a simple truth that both parties understand. Guys: don’t try and fool us into thinking you have any other intention. Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario #1:

Guy walks up to Girl in a bar.

Guy and Girl smile and say hello.

Guy asks Girl to come home with him.

Girl throws drink (that she bought) in Guy’s face.

...Yikes. Moving on to Scenario #2:

Guy walks up to Girl in a bar.

Guy and Girl smile and say hello.

Guy asks Girl sincere questions about herself and complements her.

Girl giggles, smiles, cocks her head (the usual).

Guy asks girl on a date next Wednesday.

Girl says yes.

Guy calls Girl a taxi.

Guy and Girl go on a date next Wednesday.

Guy and Girl go on more dates, get married, have ten kids and live happily ever-after in their hillside cottage.

The common theme in each of these scenarios is that Guy is interested in Girl. Both parties know this. But, which scenario worked out better? Folks, I hope you’re all saying #2.

Scenario one goes wrong because there is clearly no engagement or sincere interaction on Guy’s part – the self-serving, one-night-stand was blatantly asked for. *Cue Girl throwing drink. In looking at scenario two, it’s obvious still that Guy is interested in Girl. But, Guy does awesome, engaging things that add value to Girl’s experience and make a long-term relationship with Girl more promising. Notice how much longer, fruitful and fulfilling scenario two is as well. But make no mistake: Guy was interested in Girl from the first interaction.

Now think of these two scenarios in terms of brands and their consumers. It’s no secret that brands approach consumers with the intention of selling their products. Both parties acknowledge this main intention, and in fact, that’s OK: consumers ultimately seek out brands to buy their products. However, as we saw in the second scenario, there is (or better be) more to a brand than the blatant pursuit of product sales.

The bottom line is that companies need to be up front about their desire to sell the consumer something, but also respect the process that goes into it. It’s a “wooing” game for brands, so-to-speak.

If we think of a brand’s website and social media presence as integrated elements of its online storefront, then it’s ok for a business to bake a sales layer into its social media strategy. Yes, social media is for engagement and building brand loyalty, but it can also be a powerful tool for sales and lead generation. As consumers continue their organic adoption of digital technology, that which works offline must also work online; total integration, and all that.

Think this can’t happen? Check out two social tools that would beg to differ:

Meet Chirpify

Launched over a year ago in early 2012, Chirpify is a social commerce service that allows consumers to make purchases via some of their favorite social sharing sites – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, all in-stream. To purchase with Chirpify, a consumer just has to reply to a post or tweet to purchase their desired product. According to Tech Crunch, major brands such as Adidas, Green Day, the Portland Trailblazers (an NBA team) and Snoop Dogg have all found retail success using the platform.

Like many other startups, Chirpify has been trying to connect this idea of social commerce with both the consumers and brands. The brand announced yesterday that it will be eliminating PayPal from the transaction process and will now be accepting domestic and international credit and debit cards as well as automated house clearing payments. What it means for the consumer and brand? Fewer fees, and more ease. We’ll see if this move generates more buzz for the platform, but my guess? We’ll be hearing more chirps (and maybe cat calls?) in the future.

Pinning away: Pinterest is Sales-Actionable

While Chirpify is a platform to foster social commerce on various social media sites, Pinterest is a social sharing site already primed for social commerce. The nature of the site allows Pinners to make digital boards of products, looks, recipes, architecture (etc, etc, etc) that they love. It’s like streamlining your favorite stores all on one platform. It creates a user experience that, by itself, is sales-actionable. According to Bizrate Insights, 43% of Pinterest members agree that they use Pinterest to “associate with retailers or brands with which I identify” and 70% of users say they are on Pinterest to get inspiration on what to buy. Well there you are, everyone. Even if they’re on their couch in their pajamas at 1:34 a.m. on a Tuesday on Pinterest, they are still looking for things the love and products they want to buy. Seems like something brands may want to capitalize on.

Takeaway

So what does it all mean? Social media is not just a platform for brands to engage with and build loyalty among their consumers. In this era of integrated digital marketing, a brand’s social media channels are an extension of both its physical storefront and its online presence. As such, social media should be a place for the brand to be itself to its fullest extent – to engage, to build loyalty, and to sell its products.

So, a message to brands on the topic of social media marketing – stop hiding the fact that you’re selling me stuff. YOU ARE A BRAND. I KNOW YOU ARE SELLING ME STUFF. Just be honest about it – and then do it right – and we’ll get along just fine. 

The big question that remains is how companies will embrace this idea of social commerce moving forward. It may not be big right now, but something tells me there’s a huge opportunity for large and small business alike to make a pretty penny on social commerce.

What are your thoughts on social commerce? I’d love to hear your thoughts and musings in the comment section below.