Traditional outbound marketing to consumers, such as email campaigns, SMS text messaging, display ads, retargeting and other forms of “push marketing,” will in the future see even less engagement from consumers. Commercial email open and click rates are on the decline, SMS/text marketing is simply offensive to customers, display ads are outright ignored, and impending privacy legislation and removal of third-party cookies will make retargeting nearly impossible. As these methods continue to deliver less and less return on marketing investment, brands must evolve to drive engagement and retention in more relevant and timely ways.
There are two primary areas of marketing innovation underway: shopping rewards and social commerce.
Shopping Rewards Drive Sales Conversion and Increase Order Value
Next-gen loyalty programs offer cashback rewards for shopping. Done right, these programs reach customers intelligently and authentically — within the normal flow of their online shopping — surfacing the right offer (e.g. for a store the customer is actually interested in, not by random email blasts), at the right time (e.g. when the customer is actually shopping a given store).
Based on our data, cashback rewards drive a 10X increase in transaction conversion rates, from the industry standard ~1.5% – 2%, to over 15%. At the same time, rewards programs can drive a 60%-80% increase in average order value by implementing real-time incentives to online shoppers. In essence, cashback and coupons, properly intertwined in the shopping experience, serve as a magnet that pulls consumers through to complete the purchase and increase basket-size.
Today’s loyalty program platforms have evolved to meet the customer where they are. Gone are the days of making a customer jump through hoops in order to activate an offer related to a loyalty program, or to receive a benefit or discount. Instead, the next generation of loyalty programs complements existing customer behavior. Platforms exist that help deliver the right brand message, at the right time, in the right context, to drive continued loyalty for brands and to incentivize customer behavior.
Accenture found that customers who were members of a brands’ loyalty program actually drove 12%-18% more revenue for that brand than customers who were not. Loyalty programs contribute to increased purchase frequency, lower cart abandonment rates and higher AOVs. But they also can be used to set a brand apart, as a key benefit that can be used in a brands’ customer acquisition messaging.
Word of Mouth has the Greatest Impact on Purchase Decision-Making
Social commerce is another area of opportunity for authentic engagements. Sometimes people consider “social commerce” to be “brands advertising on social media” or “using influencers to encourage sales of a product.” Truthfully, social commerce is neither of these. The original and most potent form of social commerce is embodied by everyday word of mouth, in which people recommend things to their family and friends.
Customers recommend products and services to other people, casually and in-the-moment, millions of times each day on social media, in direct messages, texts, emails and so on. It’s been estimated that these casual recommendations represent trillions of dollars in retail sales each year.
Brands are already throwing themselves into advertising on social media and working with influencers to drive online sales for their products. But taking advantage of the unique social commerce opportunity represented by daily casual recommendations from one customer to another has so far proven to be elusive.
Personal endorsements are the most powerful influencer of purchase decision making. Nielsen reported 84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues and friends about products and services — making these recommendations the highest-ranked source for trustworthiness. Wildfire’s own research indicated that 99% of respondents trust recommendations from friends or family more than they trust advertising, while 96% of respondents have made a purchase from their phones based on a direct recommendation they received via text.
The big challenge for marketers is figuring out how to motivate and reward recommenders contextually as they casually make recommendations, and retaining the authenticity of those recommendations. Platforms are emerging that address both concerns, allowing advertisers to execute multi-channel programs that tap into, rather than disrupt, authenticity.
To easily capitalize on the interactions between recommenders and recipients and create a social commerce program that both drives revenue and increases brand loyalty, consider these four must-haves:
- Effortless. The program must tie in easily to the way customers are already communicating digitally. Plus, recommenders must not be expected to jump through any unnatural hoops in order to make a personal recommendation and be recognized for it.
- Omnichannel. Since recommendations happen across multiple device types and communications channels, the technologies must meet the customers where they are.
- Unobtrusive. To retain the all-important genuineness of a recommendation, the program must not appear to be commercialized or “paid for.” It should simply run in the background, so to speak, and fit naturally into conversations as they happen.
- Rewarding. It’s a must-have to reward someone if their recommendation results in a sale; therefore, accurate tracking and attribution must be a part of the program.
To build a successful social commerce-driven loyalty program and tap into the power of the unrealized $3 trillion in recommendation transactions, brands must ensure their programs meet these criteria. With this in mind, word of mouth no longer has to be an elusive source of increased sales.
Marketers looking for an antidote to the rising costs and lowered effectiveness of typical push marketing channels should consider participating in loyalty programs and word of mouth marketing programs. When deciding what type of program to implement, brands have the choice of building one internally (high cost and high team impact), or leveraging a white label system that allows them to have their brand be front and center, without detracting from the customer experience.
Jordan Glazier is the Founder and CEO of Wildfire Systems, which provides an enterprise platform that enables partners to embed social commerce, rewards and cashback offerings within their existing services. A veteran technology executive and serial entrepreneur, Glazier was an early executive at eBay, where he was responsible for building several of the company’s largest business units from the ground up. Prior to founding Wildfire, he was the CEO of Eventful, Inc., which he built into the world’s largest discovery platform for local events and entertainment before it was acquired by CBS.