Elena Melnikova, Chief Marketing Officer, Talkwalker
The primary themes within social media conversations about fashion this spring included celebrity fashion, K-Pop partnerships with global fashion brands and the influence of user-generated content on the retail fashion and beauty industries. The importance of the social effect for brands has never been clearer.
To think about this dynamic, imagine three mirrors — the first is a physical mirror, the second is a digital mirror and the third is the aspirational mirror.
Social shopping has become the most seamless way to buy new products on the internet. Part of the magic of social shopping — or social commerce, where the whole transaction is conducted inside of a social media platform — is the spontaneity with which a user can encounter and envision a new product. The simple payment and checkout experience makes traditional fashion and beauty retailers sweat.
The storefront at the ‘physical mirror’ in an increasingly digital world
For much of the history of selling to shoppers, the customer has envisioned the product on themselves in a physical mirror, either the retailer’s or their own.
In recent years, and especially across the course of 2020, some of the most successful brands in social commerce, brands like Birchbox or GlossyBox, have forced retailers to re-examine their essential value proposition to consumers. These services offer a variety of products and simple returns. In these cases, brands have succeeded without a storefront — the physical mirror — to deliver a try-and-buy experience inside the consumer’s home. With free returns and speedy shipping, some retailers have found a creative solution to in some ways replace the physical mirror.
Using the ‘digital mirror’ to help customers see themselves
One opportunity that the technology behind social commerce affords is the opportunity for customization and personalization. Zak Kirchner, the brand strategy research team lead for Pinterest, shared that when Pinterest released makeup filters to match a variety of colors and skin tones, “we saw the number of Pinners searching for ‘alternative makeup’ increase five times, ‘cool hair color ideas’ increase four times, and ‘eyeliner styles’ increase 3.5 times. It clearly enabled Pinners to more easily take action on these beauty ideas they discovered.”
Pinterest’s goal was to help Pinners see themselves. An essential part of the customer journey is when customers see themselves in the products they are researching. This is the digital mirror. In another example, on Instagram, another shoppable social media platform, more than 80% of their users use the platform to research or discover new products.
Traditional retailers are not without tools of their own. For instance, Walmart recently acquired the virtual fitting room company, Zeekit, to enhance their consumers’ buying experience. This follows on the heels of their acquisition of Spatialand, another AR company with tech allowing buyers to envision how furniture or decor would look in their space.
With users’ homes becoming the new fitting room, Walmart had to make a move to bridge the digital mirror gap.
Focusing on the ‘aspirational mirror’ to appeal to a younger generation
The final mirror for the modern consumer is the aspirational mirror of influencer marketing. Influencers offer consumers a window into their life, their styles and fashion, and what they think is trendy. When someone decides to follow a fashion influencer they do it for a variety of reasons, and for generations Z and Alpha, they are increasingly seeking authenticity and meaning.
Victoria’s Secret recently tapped into this demand by abandoning the brand’s Angels in favor of forming a collective of aspirational women like Priyanka Chopra and Megan Rapinoe. The founding members of the VS Collective help the brand hold up an aspirational mirror for a new generation. By redefining the brand “to become the world’s leading advocate for women,” according to CEO Martin Waters, Victoria’s Secret is making inroads with the youngest consumers.
Another example is from the cosmetics brand e.l.f, which launched a TikTok influencer campaign last year that played to the platform’s strengths as well as highlighting the brand’s products. The campaign was wildly successful, to the tune of 5 million unique user-generated videos, and it attracted the attention of celebrities like Lizzo and Reese Witherspoon. The brand turned their users into the aspirational mirror through these videos. By making their consumers the heroes of this campaign, e.l.f. created a ripple effect where each video posted and shared is the aspirational mirror for the next person to view it.
Within these user-generated videos lie important signals for e.l.f. The long-term benefit of the campaign is in the consumer insights that will come from this mountain of video content. The brand can query this dataset to find out things such as which colors of makeup and mascaras, lipsticks and toners were featured in fan videos most often.
Ultimately, the goal is one of seeing and being seen. Once fashion and beauty brands can overcome the first challenge of looking great on consumers — the physical mirror conundrum — they can set about being seen and shared by that consumer, and continuing to grow their sales.