How can fashion and retails brands best engage their audiences online? Can listening to what customers are saying help to drive sales? And how can brands integrate customer reviews and user generated content (UGC) into their branded content on digital, social, and mobile channels?
I spoke to Richard Jones, who is CEO of EngageSciences to get his best advice about how fashion brands can use social commerce to grow their market. Listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary of our conversation.
Plenty of show note links this time: The How Fashion & Beauty Brands Use Social eBook, LinkedIn’s first ever TV commercial (hosted on SlideShare naturally), Amy the AI personal assistant and our social media analytics event on 24 March in London.
Tell us about EngageSciences and your role there?
I’m the CEO and founder of EngageSciences. And EngageSciences is a software as a service platform for marketers and agencies to be able to engage audiences across a variety of digital, social, and mobile channels, and then find the best of also what they’re saying about a brand’s products and services, and then actually curate that, and actually get it into the purchase journey, to lift conversions for other people that are viewing that brand.
How do fashion brands use social commerce to boost their exposure to new demographics?
That’s a great question, and I think it does vary greatly, whether you’re looking at top end fashion brands, all the way through to how fashion is then driven out through the retail journey. And there is, I think, a difference. So having worked with some very high-end fashion brands in campaigns with media clients, folks like Marc Jacobs, etc., it’s more around curating what’s going on at major events like London Fashion Week and actually putting a brand stamp, if you like, on what’s the buzz and excitement around major fashion events and trends. I think as you move down through to the retail environment, you’re actually seeing user generated content as a way to help people make decisions about fashion. And that’s largely because we’ve now moved into an era where people very much trust other people more than glossy shots, brand generated content.
And everybody, they don’t just want to see how clothes look on a perfect-looking model. They also want to see how clothes actually look on other members of the public. And so what we’re seeing is in a more retail environment, leveraging user-generated content as people are trying on new fashions and styles and mixing-matching them and sharing them on Instagram, Twitter, Vine and other channels, that the fashion brands, the retailers are picking that content up and actually putting it into the purchase journey to help other people make decisions about what fashions might suit them.
Fashion brands and retailers use user-generated content to drive sales and awareness. How would you do that tactically?
Yeah, so it’s pretty simple, actually. So say you’re a fashion brand and you’ve got a set of products in a new summer range that you’re launching, for example. As you launch that and get that out there and get it into the shops and into the online stores, as people are actually purchasing that product they are naturally sharing photos and videos of themselves with the new fashion items. Basically, you can use a platform like EngageSciences to effectively listen for that fashion brand content as it’s being shared by consumers on social channels. And then you can basically have that brought into the platform, and then you can automatically collect rights from people to be able to then use their pictures of how they look in that particular fashion item and actually publish that onto the correct product page on a website, for example, to help others in the purchase journey. So it can be all managed for you via the use of technology.
How exactly do you go about gathering these usage rights?
Yeah, so there’s a couple of different options that typically people will use, and it depends on how stringent their legal department actually are. The most simple way is to just get people to respond, kind of approve after you’ve messaged them with some sort of approve at brand X hashtag, for example, and the system will then store that. Or if you want to be a little bit more stringent about it, for example, there was a great picture on Instagram of someone wearing a great top from a brand. Our system can then automatically message that individual with a custom message of your choice, so they see that as a comment underneath the Instagram message. Then they’re given a URL to go to. They go to that URL, it’s a branded URL of whatever that brand is, and they could log in with their social profiles and it’ll show them the content that the brand wants rights for with any kind of information about how they’re going to use their content. They can then click approve or deny, and then the system will automatically publish that content onto the website and to the purchase journey once we’ve got approval. So couple of different options together.
Now having said that it all does depend on the terms and service of the networks. If you share content on Twitter, based on the terms and services of that network you’ve already given rights for other people to access that content by feeds and display it in other places. Instagram, it’s very different. As a user of Instagram, you own the rights to any content that you create and share on that platform. So there is a bit of difference between the various different networks.
What’s in it for the user? Do they get discounts or promos?
It’s funny because I get that question a lot from when I go around and speak to fashion brands and retailers. And they ask me that question. “Well, do people ask for something in return? Do you have to give them a discount or money off or whatever?” And actually, a simple answer is no, that’s not being asked currently. I think people because this is relatively new over the last couple of years, people are generally chuffed that some brand has reached out and likes their photo, likes how they look and is wanting to share that on their platform. So there’s that little mini-celebrity status, if you like, from being asked. However, having said that, one of the things that we have suggested to some customers is to think about potentially also rewarding those, because these tend to be people that are advocates. They’re creating and sharing great content about your brand.
So for example, if you take that purchase journey of clicking through to our little-branded site where you can log in and see which pieces of content the brand actually wants to get rights for, there’s nothing to stop you using our platform. Put in a chance to win a trip to the fashion HQ to meet some of the designers, for example. You could also collect some data from those people and some marketing options and the dress details, etc, is part of that experience. Or give them coupon, money off for the next range that’s coming out. So there’s definitely ways that you can add into that rights management process, a reward for people that are creating and sharing great content for you.
About 60% people will actually approve the rights to use their content, that were those that be asked by brand. But I think as more and more retailers and brands do it, I think some of the smart brands will perhaps provide a little bit more recognition and a little bit more value exchange back through to those customers that are sharing that content.
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What are shoppable reviews and how do brands integrate these with their own platforms?
In terms of the way that we look at shoppable reviews is probably a little bit different from others. So for starters, we believe that the concept of a review is extremely broad. Going onto a site and actually leaving a formal review on a Trustpilot or through Bazaarvoice, one of those recent review systems that a retailer might put onto their site or a fashion brand, is one way of actually creating reviews. But anybody that’s creating and sharing content on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and various other places, by nature, that is a review of sorts. It’s real time affirmation and confirmation that they like that particular product. And so what we do is we’re actually curating all of that content from the social channels. But we also bring in content from ratings and reviews systems, like Bazaarvoice and others, and then mix up the user-generated content with the more formal ratings and reviews into much more visually engaging and immersive experiences that can be put onto product pages. And we also actually use our system to go and engage people on various different social and mobile channels asking them to make very simple choices between questions that a brand frames. Some very simple, very, very quick reviews, but suited for mobile. So people are just clicking on two or three options, circles with content.
And that then feeds our platform and we can then deliver stats, as well as the user-generated content, as well as the ratings and reviews about any subject a brand wants to get information about and display to other users as part of the consumer journey. So it’s a very, very broad concept about advocacy and making all of that shoppable, because if you click on any review or if you click on any bit of user-generated content, we can actually add…say you click on a particular bit of UGC that’s in one of these advocacy areas on a product site, it’ll bring up the Instagram photo. But you could also add a price, an image, etc., on the right-hand side of that pane with a call to action to buy now. And people can click through from that piece of user-generated content from that advocacy or that review off to a particular commerce storefront to continue the purchase journey.
Tell us about owned and branded social networks with shopping reviews?
This is actually something that a number of folks have actually done in the industry. AVON Cosmetics here in the UK does as well, where they’re actually are creating their own community actually on the site, which is an area where people could go in, they can share content between each other. People can like bits of content that’s being shared by other people. They can put forum posts, etc. There is a company that actually creates that technology. It’s actually Lithium, certainly powers Sephora and AVON cosmetics and other sites, which allows you to build that community on your own site.
And actually, EngageSciences has an integration through to Lithium. So that as well as actually having forum posts and people sharing content, we can also bring in the best user-generated content from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and put that into that community with the forum posts, etc., living on the brand website. And then we can also take the best forum content on those communities on the website and actually publish that out into social channels with the best UGC and any activations and engagements you want to drive to connect with a user. Yeah, so we integrate, too, to those kinds of communities.
I think it’s probably useful to comment on this, because I think for certain use cases, it absolutely makes sense to provide that kind of forum community on the brand website. But at the same time, you also need to do that with a strategy which integrates out to the wider community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc. And technologies and tools like EngageSciences will make that bridge between the community tools and the social networks and vice versa, and I think that’s important.
Tell us about the rise of the buy button over the past year?
So it’s certainly an interesting point, because I think we’ve got to be careful around how we think about content marketing and the immediate drive to commerce. From my perspective, I think the most successful brands are those that are able to actually build up a community of people that are actually interested, engaging, connecting with that brand on a variety of different digital, social, mobile channels. Net-A-Porter with their community on their website, The NET SET and the way they engage with people in different social channels, are an example of a company that is actually looking to broaden and build that community and engage on a variety of different social channels. And I think one has to be careful about just disseminating content with a buy button. It can be counterproductive if you’re not really building that community. So there’s a difference between using channels as purely paid media content distribution channels with buy buttons, and actually building that community. It’s a fine balance, and you need to take a view of what that balance should be.
Who are the best brands out there on social and digital?
I think from a perspective of folks that are doing a good job, if I look at retail, I like what ASOS has done over the last few years in looking to innovate, to bring user-generated content into the retail purchase journey, to try and build up a community, to do things a little bit differently from others. I think they’ve been pretty successful. I like what Clarks is doing in the way they actually have been driving out lots of activations to engage the community on multiple social and mobile channels, and then harnessing user-generated content and making it shoppable as people are sharing photos of their kids wearing shoes, etc., that they’ve bought, going to school. They’ve really driven that emotional connection with the product that they’re buying. It’s not just a pair of shoes. It’s a pair of shoes for a loved one, for a child. And they’ve created a community around that and made user-generated content work for themselves, with also having a great frequent calendar of activations and campaigns to engage the community and build that. So those are two brands that I think have done a very, very good job.
What are the best social channels for fashion?
I think Instagram is rapidly turning into the king of the channels for fashion, and for beauty channels, and also for retail. But I think leveraging instant video, as well as the photos on Instagram, is key because there’s some great video content now with all the filters that are provided. I think Vine is interesting as well, and people shouldn’t forget to bring in the Vine content. Twitter does provide a lot of reaction, when you’re actually thinking about that real time piece, if you’re trying to get that immediate reaction to a product launch, etc. So definitely, shouldn’t be forgotten. And YouTube is a massive, massive platform for video sharing and distribution, and has to be key to a lot of people’s plans as well, no question. And also certain demographics, you would be looking at in spending on what you’re selling and what demographics you’re after, you might have a different view of different channels, that’s for sure.
How do you use social as a CEO and as a brand?
Well I have a simple strategy both in terms of creating content and pushing it out. As a CEO that’s looking to market his products and build relationships with people, talking about content that’s relevant to the company. But also as a CEO, as a buyer of services, my LinkedIn profile, I make sure I tell people, “If you think you’re going to get anywhere by cold calling me, think again. I don’t want spam. I want you to create content about your product and services that I might be interested in reading. Get it out into channels and into spaces that I’d have it and I probably will see it. Strike up a relationship with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and various other places. And at the point that I’m ready to buy your products and services, you’ll be a step ahead of the competition.” And that’s the same for me as a CEO trying to build connections with companies that might buy my products. It’s about creating great content and getting it out there across Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, primarily for us and actually building relationships with people that are in discussions around that content on those channels.
Be a Dedicated Follower of Fashion with User Generated Content https://t.co/LQkOmczlWd
— Richard Jones (@oldstriker) February 22, 2016
What’s the next big thing for social in the fashion and retail industry?
So I think the next big thing is perhaps a bit of an old thing if I can stay that. And that’s because what we’re seeing is a big change in the way people buy fashion, which I think is going to have quite extensive ramifications over the next five or six years. And that is people are buying curated fashion on a subscription basis. There are so many new companies that are set up in order to do that. So rather than me have to think about what’s the latest trends, etc, I pay a company a certain amount of money a month and then they send me, having known my style preferences and my sizes, they send me a curated set of fashion for me to be able to wear. And there’s people doing that from everything from casual to smart to people that are doing things just around ties, selling you the best ties every three months, etc.
And that curation by service providers around fashion that people subscribe rather than have to go and find the fashion themselves I think is going to have an increasingly important impact on the fashion industry. And because of that, you have to start thinking about your abilities to curate products, and experiences, and to actually build communities that actually believe in your ability as a curator to deliver a great service to them. And that’s, I think a fundamental change in the way people are buying fashion.
And you have to put that with the content that you’re putting out there and the way that you’re talking about the fashion industry, and how you’re selecting the best styles and looks for people as they’re sharing that on user-generated content. You have to prove yourself as the curator of styles and content. And those that do will win, I think, in the future in this new subscription economy that we’re moving to.