The internet is abuzz with pundits hailing the end of social media as a sales channel. In reality, most consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies do not have a sales and marketing strategy that incorporates social. However, social media is here to stay as a channel and moving beyond “like” to “buy” is no small task.
Successful CPG companies need to recognize the importance of social buying and create an integrated approach in order to fully leverage this channel. But it’s not about offering customers the same buying experience they receive through traditional e-commerce. It’s about redefining it for a new medium, clearly owning the customer experience and managing social just as one would manage any potentially profitable sales channel.
Buying, with today’s arsenal of digital technology, should be effortless. With smart “buy” buttons, social buying can eliminate much of the hassle consumers perceive. But, simply creating a channel that eases the buying process will not bring the business growth CPG companies desire. That growth requires a rethinking of online sales, an approach tailored for the social shopper. Designed correctly, social media as a sales channel takes buying one step closer to seamless. Buying becomes less of an intentional act and more like a link in an experience chain.
A consumer’s path to purchase is currently less deliberate on social media. He or she has not launched Facebook or Pinterest to buy anything, but rather to connect with others or find information, inspiration and new ideas. However, a “buy” button allows them to act immediately on a trusted advisor’s find. Social media increased its share of e-commerce referrals nearly 200% between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015. The savvy social seller is a master of digital analytics, pushing just the right product or service at just the right time based on data gleaned from social engineering, recent purchases, stated preferences, affiliations and the like.
Social as a sales channel is not an add-on in successful organizations. Astute management teams recognize that social can disrupt the path to purchase, putting brands in close touch with their loyal followers. Look at Nike and how it fosters conversations amongst its triathlete customers about the latest training techniques from a top coach. According to our Global Consumer Pulse Research, more than half of purchasers rely on other people’s experiences or reviews to inform buying decisions. Forward-thinking CPG companies like Nike capitalize on social media to bring like-minded buyers together online—turning a potential sale into likely multiple potential sales—and it seems to be working as $30 billion of global e-commerce sales were generated from social networks in 2015.
To help enable a seamless consumer experience in terms of published content and purchasing process, social media must be co-owned and managed by sales and marketing in close collaboration with other functions. Marketing traditionally sees itself as handling communication with the customer—not sales. And yet, to manage social as a sales channel correctly, marketing and sales functions will have to work together. The goal is a seamless blend of communications and conversations that convert into sales. This seamless attribute will only result from the right concoction of brand image, tailored content, customer analytics and sales techniques developed for social to make a sale feel like anything but a purchase. Instead, it should feel like part of the experience the brand offers.
CPG companies need to make critical investments in their social media strategy now to ensure it is not just a by-line activity, but a real source of top-line growth opportunity. Immediacy is the competitive advantage right now, but will not remain so, since discerning first movers make significant inroads.
• Social media presence must be understood as a new digital storefront and supported by interlinked areas of the organization, from marketing and sales to finance.
• Every brand is a publisher and should leverage bloggers and influencers to provide engaging content that is not only relevant and shareable, but also actionable as a path to purchase.
• Manage social media as a dedicated, integrated channel. Use social buying to streamline the online shopping process and shorten the sales funnel.