Social networking is staking a claim in retail as a tool for branding, community building, and gathering customer intelligence. Tapping into the growing trend, Mandee is diving in headfirst to connect with shoppers on a more personal level. The ever present question of what consumers want can leave retailers scratching their heads. Voluntary surveys and consumer profiling typically focuses only on information relevant to the shopping experience. Harvesting the power of new media tools, Mandee is leaving it up to the consumer to get personal.
Mandee has managed to find ways of reaching their customers at every channel—mobile, in store, online and via multiple social networks. By using widgets, Mandee creates multiple surveys which plug into all of their social network pages (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, MyYearbook, etc), to find out about customer preferences, such as favorite color to wear for spring and what world issue customers are most concerned about. Ultimately, this gives customers the ability to sound off on what’s important to them, but it’s also a great way to get deep, personal insight into the consumer mindset and put it to work for promotional and merchandising decisions.
“Facebook is becoming the main portal—30% of the US now uses it as their home page of their browser,” says Bob Phibbs, Founder & President, The Retail Doctor. “Being on Facebook is a secondary market that helps with influence and intent. That is different than Google or the other searches which usually are used to buy at once. Friends telling friends or word of mouth can be cultivated quite easily online and for free. Any widget you can create to drive customers’ eyeballs to will be the future.”
Last week Mandee asked fans to share their thoughts on being able to buy the season’s hottest trends in Plus Size if it were available on Mandee.com. Several fans “liked” the idea, giving thumbs up, but others said it would make them shop more, and advised the retailer to also bring plus size items into stores. Capitalizing on the social tone of Facebook, Mandee is using the comment string on the “wall” to get rich, nearly instant feedback directly from shoppers. But the key factor here is that shoppers are immersed in the social networking scene, so they don’t necessarily feel like they are giving out any information—they are just commenting on a “friend’s” page.
“Connecting a customer’s online and social media activity to their real purchases should be the goal of any new media program,” says Ben Sprecher, Founder & President, Incentive Targeting, Inc, a firm specialized in targeted marketing. Although the usage of social media as a marketing tool can advance customer intelligence, Sprecher says the efforts have to influence shopper behavior for optimal results. “Without the shopper-level purchase data, you will never be able to tell if you are really changing shopper behavior. Even if you can get users to download and use your widgets, follow your Twitter feeds, forward your viral video ads, and ‘friend’ your Facebook page, you need to know whether all that activity translates into more purchases or not.”
“Both self-reported information in people’s social networking profiles and the implicit interests they express through their online activity can be excellent ways to hone in on the individuals with whom you are most likely to make a sale,” says Sprecher. “And by using unique coupon codes, text message numbers, microsites, widgets, and other tracking tools, you can often trace the online activity directly to the resulting purchase.”
Reaping the Benefits—For Free!
Analysts agree that one of the biggest treasures in social networking for retailers is the simple fact that they are free. “Retailers have a great opportunity to tap into the millions of users on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are free utilities,” says Nancy Hill, Consultant with RealTime Communications, a strategic marketing firm. “Twitter offers many benefits – in addition to communicating online or in-store sales and promotions to followers, Twitter is a great way to monitor and track what people are saying about the brand. Some companies also use Twitter to address customer service issues and internal company communications. With Facebook, retailers can create groups or fan pages, which have significant viral marketing benefits—and Facebook is another channel companies can use to communicate news, promotions and other items of interest to constituents.”
Hill notes the shift in demographics for social networkers. “Many baby boomers are flocking to Facebook to keep up with their friends and families around the country and see the latest family photos. There are also many social networking sites being created that target a particular demographic or hobby, like sites for pet owners, gardeners, knitters, wine enthusiasts, etc. Companies that target a range of demographics can leverage these sites to their marketing advantage.”