The Next Chapter in Social Merchandising

There’s no denying the important role that social influence has in consumer behavior.

As previously reported, 69 percent of consumers like to read product reviews written by trusted experts before making a purchase and a similar 67 percent agree that an endorsement from an unbiased expert makes them more likely to consider a purchase. Consumers rely on this type of trusted, user-generated content to make purchase decisions five times more than they did just five years ago.

This trend has led to the invention of social merchandising, a “relatively new marketing tool that plugs into the potential of social media networks to influence online shopper’s decision-making process.” By leveraging user reviews, social buzz and other forms of user-generated content, social merchandising personalizes a user’s experience by displaying recommendations and input from their own social networks.

Validation, or social proof, is what makes this such an effective tactic. Knowing that a fellow friend is satisfied with a particular product increases the shopper’s likelihood of purchasing, as well as reduces their chance of experiencing post-purchase buyer’s remorse.

Remember when Google started putting endorsements from your Facebook friends and Google Plus circles in line with the SERPs? That was quite possibly your first observed interaction with social merchandising.

social merchandising

How Did We Get Here?

ClickZ’s Kevin Tate predicted that 2013 would be “The Year of Social Merchandising” and traces an evolution that began with “social media” in 2007, followed by “social marketing” in 2009 and finally “social merchandising” in 2013.

Tate points out that early social media efforts at the enterprise level were focused on audience acquisition. Software and tools that seem ubiquitous today (such as Radian6, now Salesforce) started cropping up left and right to serve this business need.

Two years later, marketers started asking, “What should we do with these fans now that we have earned them?” which ultimately gave way to social marketing. The emphasis shifted from audience acquisition to audience activation (or engagement, as more commonly referred to today). Five years ago, social media was much less visual than it is now, so the majority of early social marketing activity revolved around applications, contests, and sweepstakes.

Eventually, advertising took a front seat on major social networks, requiring brands to “pay to play” if they wanted their messaging to reach the audience they’d been courting for so long. Around the same time, visual content started to become common place due to its highly engaging nature.

This led to the concept of social product discovery—essentially, a new focus on products rather than just brands. The advent of Pinterest and Instagram helped this trend reach its tipping point, giving marketers new platforms for touting product launches and seasonal collections. Suddenly, user reviews became a native element of product-centric websites. Hashtags became an integral part of campaigns. Social media streams were embedded on nearly every homepage.

This is social content marketing as we know it today, especially in eCommerce.

The Next Chapter in Social Merchandising

And now, another two years after social merchandising has become “a thing,” tools and software are beginning to emerge to once again help marketers streamline their processes and give them the information they need to make informed decisions

“E-commerce platforms often have the most useful product assets and capabilities, but are typically several steps removed from the social team, tools, and publishing,” Tate concluded in his late 2012 article. “On the other hand, legacy social media and marketing platforms have access to social teams and streams, but product data and transactions pose a particular set of challenges.”

Today’s announcement of Adblade’s acquisition of inSparq, the leading provider of social commerce technology, suggests that this crucial disconnect will no longer plague the industry. inSparq helps retailers discover and market their trending products in real time by analyzing what shoppers share on social media and what they purchase online. Brands can then instantly merchandise trending products in on-site recommendations, email marketing, and advertisements.

Combine this technology with Adblade’s massive, content-style native advertising platform and the future (and power) of social media marketing becomes clear. Marrying a proven social recommendation engine with a digital advertising platform will allow companies to tap into the passion that consumers bring to social media and easily turn it into programmatic creative for the right audience segments.

“Our acquisition of inSparq is a direct result of the need to continue to develop digital solutions for retailers and brands. We not only want to provide a solution, but one that is best in class and taps into the unique power of social media,” said Ash Nashed, CEO of Adiant (the parent company of Adblade). “inSparq gives us an opportunity to create the first-ever socially trending product ad that will have access to a base of over 550 million monthly uniques across the globe. This will allow brands and retailers to engage with their audience at a scale and in a way that they never have before.”

It’s hard to believe that just a handful of years ago, brands were only just beginning to appear on social media. Today, an eCommerce brand without a Twitter and Facebook account is unheard of. And before you know it, consumers will have the power to control what’s stocked in their favorite brand’s inventory simply by talking about, and subsequently creating social demand for, their favorite products.

How’s that for a plot twist?

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