Imagine it. A sleek car blows through a picturesque desert landscape. The well-cued orchestra reaches a crescendo right as the driver roars around a corner, sliding at an angle stop right at the edge of a cliff. The camera zooms out as the text of the brand name fades in, and the announcer narrates some script about grace, beauty, power. Everything is picture perfect. And most consumers feel nothing.
Meanwhile, we’re in love with cats who interrupt their owners as they’re being interviewed on the news. We reshare and rewatch real moments, or hot takes of real moments, or hot takes of fake moments from the latest Real Housewives episode. We talk about digital waiting lines for Taylor Swift presale tickets, or the latest World Cup drama. We obsess over politics in real time. It gives us what we crave: unpredictability, newness and a sense of connection that informs our own identity.
The reality is that over the last 36 months digital customer experience in most of the western world has fundamentally transformed in two ways: first, to pivot toward video-first interactions, and second, to emphasize real-time engagement. Yet we find that very few brands have internalized this change and evolved their strategies for customer engagement. How can brands respond moving into 2023?
1. Reset your digital experience strategy to account for a video-first world
The number of consumers who now regularly consume live video content in the United States has grown by almost 30 million people from 2019 (129 million) to 2021 (154 million). With the increase of availability of 5G and high-quality internet, technical improvements in distributing video and voice at scale and the emergence of platforms that have begun to move the internet’s user experience towards both real-time (Discord, Twitch) and video-first (from TikTok to YouTube to traditional media outlets like ESPN emphasizing streaming), the patterns for how we engage digitally has changed. In our research across the Americas and Europe, almost 75% of consumers – across all age cohorts – say they watch live content at least once every month.
Compare video-first and real-time modalities to the most common brand-owned touchpoint: an eCommerce website or mobile app. Many retailers and brand .coms are still working on improving the basics: an emphasis on better imagery, more informative product descriptions, richer reviews or possibly curated user generated content and improving the page load speeds. With expectations being set by experience leaders who emphasize more dynamic engagement, brands have to dramatically rethink their digital experience, channel strategy and corresponding approach to content.
It is not enough to bolt on video widgets, or have irregular and haphazard ‘livestream’ events or product drops. Brands need to completely refactor their end-to-end experience strategy, inclusive of their roadmaps and investment in capabilities, to determine in their own context how to seamlessly integrate video and flex between static always-on experiences and fluid near real-time experiences.
2. Develop a human-centered content strategy
Social platforms have created a space for consumers and brands to engage bi-directionally, which has only increased expectations for brands to deliver on authenticity and trust. A category like beauty, which is highly dynamic, represents this shift better than most: a move from high-gloss campaign-led to creator-led content, which has led to a multiplicative increase in narratives, content and voices to reach select micro-communities and address a plethora of consumer needs.
Brands like Olaplex are increasing their amplification of user-driven content through elements like how-to videos and reviews, and leveraged the unique voices of their creators. As a result, these brands have seen an uptick in sales, share of voice and consumer interest. And now, web3 is expected to reward creators in a more proportional and fair way than before. With this in mind, it’s predicted that creators will find ways to quickly enter web3 platforms and bring their loyal followers with them. Brands will need to evolve existing content and social engagement strategies to keep up with new conversation spaces.
Instead of only trying to pull audiences into niche branded communities, the focus needs to be on enabling the brand to authentically show up and support existing community spaces orbiting the consumer. This doesn’t just mean working with well-known content creators: it also means unlocking the power of their own store and field associates as brand ambassadors, giving them the tools they need to communicate and engage with consumers digitally. And for the sake of brand content strategy, it means a wholesale transition of approach from a targeted monologue to a living dialogue.
3. Embrace losing control in a distributed world
Embracing a human-first content strategy can be challenging: it requires offsetting the traditional desire for control of a brand’s narrative with the imperative to amplify organic conversations happening across various touchpoints. But brands who engage with a broader constellation of sources – from empowering their own associates, to amplifying existing consumer voices, to partnering with creators and even other out of category brands who are mission-aligned – are able to achieve far greater reach.
In 2022, eCommerce seemed to be happening everywhere: social platforms – like TikTok and Instagram – are investing heavily in eCommerce marketplace models, and even media platforms like Buzzfeed are experimenting with shoppable marketplaces. From Hulu piloting shoppable advertising, to Pinterest buying AI-powered shopping platform The Yes, to South Korean search engine Naver buying the eCommerce resale platform Poshmark, “eCommerce platform” may no longer be a future category of business, and instead a characteristic of almost every major digital platform’s business model.
In our most recent research, 70% of NA consumers said they had purchased directly from social – the first time we’ve reached that threshold in our data. This increasing fragmentation in share of wallet points to what we call the commerce convergence: a world where, in two to three years, we predict almost every single platform and app on your phone will have a buy button.
For many brands, it’s impossible to scale internally to optimize their presence across so many commerce touchpoints. In some cases, the best tactic for engaging in such a complex landscape is by setting partners, employees and ambassadors up for success and letting go.