Annex Cloud’s Ariel Bubb to Speak on Artificial Intelligence in Retail at

by Sean Ogino |

Annex Cloud’s Ariel Bubb to Speak on Artificial Intelligence in Retail at

artificial intelligence

We are proud to announce that our very own Ariel Bubb will be presenting on September 13th at the retail conference in Las Vegas! During her lecture “Artificial Intelligence & How it Works with Loyalty,” she will take a deep dive into trends in ecommerce, how artificial intelligence is playing a role, and how best to strategize your loyalty program around AI.

“I am so very excited to have the opportunity to speak at,” said Ariel Bubb, Senior Marketing Specialist at Annex Cloud. “We are making major strides in how artificial intelligence affects loyalty, so to be able to educate the industry on the subject is a true honor.”

According to a survey by BrightEdge, the next big marketing trends are consumer personalization (29%) and artificial intelligence (26%). This is where our efforts overlap, as Annex Cloud uses personalization and AI to create a segmented marketing strategy for loyalty. And since 77% of ROI already comes from segmented campaigns, we believe the use of artificial intelligence will raise that number even higher.

In addition to Ariel’s presentation on AI, the Annex Cloud team will be answering questions and consulting retail professionals over at Booth 501. By partnering directly with organizers, publishing informative content, and being an active part of the retail community, we set ourselves apart as thought leaders in the industry. If you have any questions about artificial intelligence or have questions about your marketing strategy, please contact us for a consultation!

Case Study: How to Build a Successful B2B Loyalty Program

B2B Loyalty Case Study

B2B Loyalty Overview:

It is very true that there is no one-size-fits-all loyalty program. Especially not in the business-to-business industry. The B2B space is such a specific market with a narrower audience, so it must be treated as such. That means audience segmentation and personalized incentives are that much more important. This study will review how Annex Cloud helped two industry-leading companies build out their B2B loyalty programs and what impact it had on those brands.

Goals of B2B Loyalty:

Though the strategies may differ, there are several common goals of a B2B loyalty programs. These businesses both needed to increase customer spend and increase customer lifetime value. This can be challenging in B2B because the market is not only competitive but niche as well. They wanted to build brand advocacy and basically create a community of ambassadors. They also needed to reduce discounts on items. We live in an economy so deeply entrenched by discounting that retailers and B2B companies alike have the challenge of migrating away from it as to maximize product return.

Our Solution:

Every loyalty solution has its challenges but B2B requires another level of personalization. Both of these companies opted for Annex Cloud not only because we have a unified marketing platform with customer loyalty, user-generated content, and referral marketing capability, but also because we work with businesses to create a custom implementation strategy.

Annex Cloud also helps companies nurture their relationships with existing customers through personalized incentives, which in turn increases customer spend and average customer lifetime value. These incentives inspire customers to become brand advocates where they’re more likely to take actions like referring a friend or reviewing an item. It’s about following the customer journey from beginning to end and building a true community around their B2B brand.

B2B Rewards:

The key to rewarding in the business-to-business space is allowing your customers to sample your products risk-free. If you offer an impressive product catalog with a great loyalty offering, they are more likely to purchase. It’s a low risk scenario if built surrounding high-margin products. This B2B model implemented by Annex Cloud has proven to help support sales and drive revenue.

Consumer Electronics

Client A: Consumer Electronics


Our client, a leading consumer electronics company, built a very successful model around selling office electronics like computers, monitors, copiers, and printers to small businesses around the world. They wanted to implement a B2B loyalty program that would sign up more users and build a community of brand advocates.

They had so many questions about best practices for strategy and segmentation. How do we best incentivize with the B2B model? How do we grow our customer base while creating meaningful relationships with our existing customer base? They chose Annex Cloud for its experience in creating very personalized incentives specific to the B2B industry.


Soon after launch, we saw major wins for the program. By designing a solution specific to our client’s B2B sales goals, we positioned them as a leader in SMB loyalty. Since initiating this campaign, we have already signed up over 100,000 businesses for the program. We also saw a 7% increase in repeat purchase rate and a 9% increase in customer lifetime value. However, probably the largest takeaway from the program has been building a community of 10,000 brand advocates. By building a custom solution with Annex Cloud and by leveraging their user-generated content, our client is seeing a huge increase in partnering businesses and overall brand awareness.

b2b loyalty

Client B: Physician Loyalty


Our other client is a large specialty healthcare company with an array of products like over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals. Their primary objective was to build a loyalty program targeting physicians, which of course brought a lot of challenges. How do we keep a physician’s attention when there’s so much competition in healthcare? How do we reduce discounting and still keep them engaged? Luckily, Annex Cloud specializes in using long-term incentives to keep attention and to help reduce discounting.


By implementing a tiered program where discounts depend on the physicians’ spend, we have been able to see major benchmarks in performance. We have now signed up 70% of our client’s current customer base since the launch of the campaign. We also saw a 6% increase in customer spend and an 8% increase in customer lifetime value. But what we’re most impressed by is the 25% decrease in discounting. For a healthcare company of that scale, to reduce discounts by a quarter is a huge plus. By working with Annex Cloud to award returning customers and by personalizing incentives, our client was able to surpass its goals in customer acquisition and discounts.

To learn more about how Annex Cloud can help your business grow, contact us or schedule a demo today.

Why Your Ecommerce Sales Strategy is Incomplete Without a Customer Loyalty Solution

Customer Loyalty

Once upon a time, an ecommerce company could get away with just a simple website that sold products. Then one day the industry progressed to the point that we all needed to incorporate an email service provider. And now, we have Amazon,, and the other retail powerhouses creating new standards for ecommerce fulfillment, price, and service. According to TechCrunch, Amazon accounts for 49% of all ecommerce sales. The closest competitor is eBay with 5% of total ecommerce transactions. This chaotic battle for market share has forced other retailers to get creative with how they use customer loyalty to incentivize their customers.

Ecommerce SalesThe Amazon Effect:

In 2017, Amazon saw $177 billion in sales revenue. This year, they’re projected to clear $258 billion. Features like Q&A, item comparison, and peer reviews have forced smaller retailers to get creative with their own user experience.

They also built one of the most unique customer loyalty programs in retail history. With its innovative paid loyalty model, Amazon Prime has changed the way millions of us shop each year. It’s also very diverse in scope, as Prime subscription benefits can range from free two-day shipping to streaming thousands of movies. And now that Amazon has acquired Whole Foods, it’s become that much more convenient for the customer. And to think it all started with books…

The Issues:

With the dominance of the third party aggregators like Amazon, Google Shop, and, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep a consumer’s attention. So many factors come into play on why this is such a problem.


When your products are being advertised on third party sites, they’re being compared apples-to-apples against hundreds of similar products. Google Shop’s comparison tool places the most relevant goods with the best price right next to your products. Not only that, but customers are channel-hopping across various ecommerce sites, social media, and other sources to get as much information as possible about your product. According to a study done by CommerceHub, 86% of purchasers change channels when buying online. So if your reviews, Q&A, and product descriptions don’t check out, your potential customer has a lot of other options to choose from.


customer loyaltyThe cost of acquisition is currently higher than the cost of inflation, a detrimental stat for marketers and ecommerce professionals. This is attributed to lack of trust in retailers and institutions in general. “The trust that consumers have in brands is going down tremendously,” stated Al Lalani, Chief Strategist of Annex Cloud. “Customers are researching more and looking for peer reviews across many channels, thus increasing the acquisition cost of that customer.”

The Solutions:

Though there is no one simple solution to this problem, there are a few strategies that can help your brand better position itself against the competition.


It’s so vital for a brand to have a strong presence across all industry-related platforms. That includes a great ecommerce store, third party aggregators, mobile devices, and social media. Once a customer is acquired through a good omni-channel campaign, it’s important to incentivize them to return for future purchases. This is done with omni-channel loyalty. Say you’re a shoe manufacturer and a customer just purchased your shoes on Amazon. Because advertising on Amazon means more cost to you and more distraction to your customer, it’s in your best interest to convince the customer to purchase from you directly in the future. This can be done by incentivizing the consumer with offers like $10 off their next shoe purchase or offering free socks with each purchase.

Retention Through Customer Loyalty:

No matter how you acquire a customer, it’s important to make them want to buy from you again. The cost of acquiring a customer is greater than the cost of retaining a customer, so incentivizing right after the initial point of purchase is your best chance of nurturing that relationship. According to Ciceron, a satisfied customer will contribute on average 14x more revenue to a business compared to a dissatisfied customer. It’s about not only rewarding after a purchase, but incentivizing them when they take actions like posting photos with your products. It’s about breaking out of the points-for-purchase model and building a real community around your brand. When you cater to your customers, they gain a sense of inclusion and are more likely to purchase in the future.

Annex Cloud helps bridge the gap between retailer and consumer. By working with the retailer and creating a custom loyalty solution, we generally see an increased average order value and decreased cost of retention. The old days of getting by on an ecommerce site alone are behind us. It’s an absolute necessity for retailers to incentivize their customers with customer loyalty. If you either don’t have a loyalty program or you just want to get more out of your program, contact us and we’ll be sure to help you out!

Let’s Talk Loyalty: Chief Strategist Al Lalani Discusses Customer Acquisition

Customer Acquisition

We are excited to present to you a new video series called “Let’s Talk” where industry experts speak on current trends in retail and ecommerce. Topics range from customer acquisition to ROI of loyalty programs. The idea behind this series is to educate the industry on best practices for serving its customers.

Our first episode is called “Let’s Talk Loyalty,” where Annex Cloud’s Chief Strategist Al Lalani answers the questions that a lot of us in retail are asking. Why is consumer acquisition so expensive? How can we reduce that acquisition cost? How do we segment our audience and what does that do for us?

“We are constantly fighting that battle of acquiring the same customer over and over again,” said Lalani. “It would be great to not have to battle and instead build a true relationship with the customer through retention.”

Here at Annex Cloud, we are constantly bombarded with questions from retailers on how to bridge the gap between the customer and the brand. We want to use this as a platform for retailers all over to get those important questions answered. Ever wonder how to better serve your customers? Contact us or set up a consultation and we’ll be sure to help you!

Why Omni-Channel Loyalty Brings the Best ROI

omni-channel loyalty

Omni-channel loyalty can be the difference between life and death for a business. While plenty of customers will sign up for rewards, not all will return. Consumers opt for loyalty experiences that personalize, incentivize, and engage. Recent changes to the traditional points-for-purchase programs have forced companies to seek out new consumer loyalty solutions that not only meet current technological requirements for marketing programs, but also provide consumers with a consistent, quality brand experience. Implementation of such programs is a major investment for brands, which is why choosing the best type of loyalty solution is crucial. That being said, let us dive deeper into why omni-channel loyalty will help you leverage the greatest return.

Why Is Omni-Channel Loyalty Important?

The goal of omni-channel loyalty is to allow businesses to control and smoothly integrate everything from their POS system to social media. Creating and distributing consistent branding online and offline helps create a uniform experience while reaching consumers who may never step foot into your establishment. You can advertise products while nurturing customer relationships and even help you develop a customer loyalty program that works both online and in-store. According to Nielsen, Americans spend 11 hours per day engaging in electronic media which means the digital realm is becoming increasingly important to consumers. Imagine being able to connect to your customers from anywhere; an omni-channel system allows your advertisements to be displayed for print, games, mobile, kiosks, etc.
omni-channel loyalty

Modern Consumer Behavior:

The modern consumer is used to channel hopping. As stated by CommerceHub, 86% of shoppers change channels on a regular basis. A consumer may search for a purchase on their laptop, check pricing on their phone, and pick up the product in-store. If a problem arises with fulfillment, that consumer will be less likely to return. Because modern consumers are unforgiving of brand mistakes, Iterable claims 47% of people switch to competitors after a poor customer experience. Omni-channel in this context reduces the risk of customer loss and also delivers the experience that modern consumers have come to expect.

A study by SDL shows that 60% of millennial shoppers want a consistent experience on their phone and 72% of adults prefer to receive digital communication. A typical consumer who has issues opening a loyalty email or advertisement on their phone will quickly become frustrated with their experience. Ensuring omni-channel compatibility will prevent frustrations, help you retain consumer interest, and ultimately help you increase revenue.

Core Omni-Channel Strategy:

Because omni-channel loyalty spans across all media, we’d like to review the major touch points that businesses tend to focus on and what makes up a good collaborative strategy.


The benefits of omni-channel means you can implement a single strategy that spans across your website, social media, and email campaigns. It allows you to seamlessly combine your loyalty program with your visual commerce and other consumer dependent campaigns. This gives you an easy way to gather reviews and leverage UGC for promoting your brand.


Having strong in-store signage is crucial in a retail store, just as important as basic strategies are for encouraging customers to sign up for rewards. Some companies have even included digital maps of their store to help consumers better navigate. Such maps are also convenient for shoppers who need to quickly locate items, which helps increase loyalty and decrease in-store cart abandonment.

Third Party:

Omni-channel compatibility allows your consumers to redeem rewards on products that have been purchased from third parties. The rewards serve a dual purpose: not only do they strengthen connection between the consumer and your brand, but they also help you track how your brand is performing with other stores and retailers.

Annex Cloud believes that when applied to loyalty marketing, the omni-channel approach contributes more toward outreach, sales, and data than any other strategy. Once you synchronize your message, you can help decrease consumer loss, increase average order value, and ultimately see the best ROI. If you need any help on omni-channel or how to implement it into your loyalty solution, talk to an Annex Cloud consultant today!

Annex Cloud Educates Industry at eTail East in Boston

Etail East

This week, Annex Cloud hit the open road to set up shop at eTail East in Boston! We wanted to see what the industry has to say about the current climate of ecommerce and profitability. Our fearless leader Al Lalani gave a presentation on Retention in the Age of Distraction, which explained how the use of innovative rewards boosts customer engagement and longevity. Meanwhile, the rest of our team gave demos and answered customer questions over at the Annex Cloud Booth.

“Of the many summits and events we attend, eTail East brought us the most meaningful conversations about the industry’s needs,” stated Ariel Bubb, Head of Events at Annex Cloud. “I learned that no matter how big your brand is, there’s always room for growth. It’s also great to know that because we provide such a suite of tools, we truly have something for everybody at eTail East.”

eTailThe annual eTail East Conference is dedicated to innovating and disrupting the current ecommerce model. Executives and thought leaders from major brands like Ethan Allen,, and Wayfair come from around the world to discuss future trends in the industry. Various educational workshops were held, ranging from the scalability of retail to the use of artificial intelligence in ecommerce.

During the Chairperson’s Opening Remarks, our Chief Strategist Al Lalani gave a speech about the challenges the retail industry faces regarding customer retention. He also went into the solutions to combat these issues, such as designing a more engaging loyalty program and using audience segmentation to customize incentives.

“Personalization has significantly evolved when it comes to our customers,” said Lalani. “Consumers today are becoming more and more demanding of us and our only response is to listen and become more knowledgeable of our customers.”

Annex Cloud is making strides in setting itself apart as a thought leader in customer loyalty. We are continuously asked to lecture and get involved in ecommerce and retail conferences in effort to educate the industry on consumer behavior. We are very fortunate because with every summit we attend, we are able to gain more knowledge to better serve our clients. eTail East had another amazing show and we’re so thankful to be included! Our next stop is’s 2018 Digital Summit in Las Vegas so stay tuned for more from the Annex Cloud events team!

Why There is No “One Size Fits All” Customer Loyalty Solution

loyalty program

A loyalty program can truly run the gamut when it comes to features and functionality. However, some loyalty programs limit ecommerce and retail brands to plug-and-play, one-size-fits-all models. The problem with that is every business has different products, which means different goals and sales strategies. So how can a clothing brand and an electronics startup … Read more

Shoptalk 2018: 19 Key Retail & Ecommerce Takeaways

Shoptalk 2018, Las Vegas

This week, thousands converged on Las Vegas to talk shop at Shoptalk, the world’s largest conference for retail and ecommerce innovation. Annex Cloud was in attendance, sharing our insights, meeting with customers, and learning from brilliant presentations and panels highlighting the future of retail and ecommerce. As told through attendees’ tweets, here are 19 of … Read more

How Referral Marketing Can Combat Facebook’s Algorithm Update

How referral marketing can combat Facebook's algorithm update

In the wake of yet another update to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm, marketers need to shift their focus from brand broadcasting to referral programs and word-of-mouth, earned social media. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently sent the marketing world into a flurry when he announced a News Feed algorithm update that prioritizes personal profiles and groups over … Read more

Unforgettable Customer Service Stories with Zappos

unforgettable customer service

Online footwear retailer, Zappos is venturing into new marketing territory with its True Stories campaign videos focused on delightful interactions between its customer service department and real customers. Zappos is known for its diligent customer service and they have found a way to capitalize on it even further and deepen customer loyalty through unforgettable customer service. The new ad campaign achieves that by showing how far the brand is willing to go for its loyal customers.

This unique idea to illustrate the charming stories of customer service stems from the numerous stories of customers with which Zappos’ Customer Loyalty Team encounters on a daily basis. The vibrant nature of those stories perfectly reflected the impact that the brand’s customer service can have on customers’ lives and perspectives. And considering the reach that videos are getting nowadays, there isn’t a better channel than multimedia to tell those stories. Clearly, through this campaign, Zappos is also working to generate brand awareness and ultimately more business.

In one of the “True Customer Stories”, we see a young girl who is consistently unhappy with the ballerina shoes her father orders for her. Without making her sad, Zappos keeps exchanging shoes until she reveals she’d prefer to perform her recital in a pair of black Chuck Taylor’s.


A second commercial tells the true story of a husband who accidentally packed his wife’s jewelry in a Zappos box, which he was returning, prompting Zappos to quickly intercept the package and return it to the couple.

The brand has tied the narrative of these true stories to a tagline: “Our vow is to wow”. It’s a befitting and perfect one, as videos overwhelmingly succeed in highlighting Zappos’ commitment to consumer convenience and “customer first” agenda.

Zappos is taking steps that seem obvious. We all know customer service should be a leading goal for brands. After all, people genuinely value unforgettable customer service – and thus, it shapes their acts of being loyal to a brand. Note that a Harris Interactive study suggested that 88% of customers prefer a company that offers quality customer service over a company that has the latest and most innovative products. Moreover, 69% of customers switch brands due to real or perceived poor service, with quality being cited as the reason by only 13% of respondents. Despite knowing that customer service should be a focus, many brands are failing at it. Businesses are losing $62 billion per year due to poor customer service. This unequivocally underlines the fact that being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you in the game, service helps you win. The following infographic courtesy of Provide Support will further enhance your understanding of how detrimental it can be for any business.

unforgettable customer service

The above narrative logically explains the endeavors of many brands to secure a customer loyalty through unforgettable customer service. Brands really are leaving no stone unturned in delighting and surprising their customers through extremely human and warm ways.

Frontier airlines cited a moment of crisis as an opportunity to improve their experience. Rough weather forced one of its planes to divert and land in Wyoming. Considering that it was late in the night and 160 stranded passengers must have been hungry, the pilot decided to order pizza for the entire plane on his own dime.

unforgettable customer service

Neither the airlines nor the pilot was at fault for the sudden landing. But the pilot went beyond his means to help out his desperate passengers. This doesn’t just become a prototype of an unforgettable customer service. It becomes a memorable experience which fosters a strong emotional attachment to a brand. And loyalty remains at large without it.

Another riveting example is Starbucks. One deaf customer used to type his orders on his phone screen. But much to his pleasant amazement, one day he noticed that the coffee giant has begun to use sign language to ask for his order. He even received a note from the store attendant that said, “I’ve been learning [American Sign Language] just so you can have the same experience as everyone else.”

unforgettable customer service

The customer was so moved by this warmth he shared the experience on Facebook. Since then, the post has received roughly 27,000 likes and almost 6,000 shares.

These examples are of individuals delivering unforgettable customer service, but they can be translated into a corporate culture of customer first attitudes. But the key to their success is the genuine nature. Customers need to feel like the brands that they love like to care about them, and that’s hard to fake if you’re only focused on the bottom line.

It’s also important to note, that from these examples it easy to make the mistake and only look at the big moments of crisis as opportunities to improve customer service. The smaller moments and hiccups can be equally important. Note that regardless of how much effort you put into product description and thorough messaging, customers will always have some doubts. That’s why it’s advisable to have a Question and Answer platform at your disposal. Because quickly answering customer questions is a sure way to illuminate your good customer service, as it allows you to address specific customer pain points. The best part of this approach is it can always get hyper-personalized- making the customer experience even more relatable. It’s not just helpful in ensuring greater customer loyalty through unforgettable customer service. By dispelling all the product-related doubts, it also paves a way for positive buying decisions.

Murad– A Case In Point:

Murad, a renowned skincare brand, aimed to heighten the pitch of its customer experience. Along with a loyalty program, they implemented Q&A section on its product page. Since a unified platform cuts all the difficulties such as silos of information and integration, it allowed Murad to respond quickly to the customers’ questions. The whole functioning was made more efficient by directing the customers to products that addressed their concerns. By doing it, Murad was able to add a social aspect to Q&A, thereby fostering a sense of community around itself. As it widened up the chances of customers to get more accurate and elaborate answers, it put customer experience in a superlative mode.

unforgettable customer service

Key Takeaways:

1) Neither the product nor the price is going to be the next battlefield for marketing and branding. That place would be taken by customer experience/service. In fact, Walker has already confirmed that customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the year 2020.

2) Try to find out ways where you can extract customer loyalty through customer experience. It doesn’t have to be done at a larger level all the time. Even responding to customers’ questions quickly and accurately can yield substantial benefits.

3) It’s just not enough to have a great customer service record and mechanism. That needs to come in front of customers in most engaging and entertaining way without sounding like a marketing gimmick. Zappos showed exactly how to do it by converting its customer service stories into engrossing commercials.

Product Update: Visual Commerce Reporting Enhanced with Pinterest and Instagram Insights

shoppable post scheduler

Our development team has been hard at work on the latest enhancement to Annex Cloud’s Visual Commerce solution. In an effort to fully round out the visual commerce platform, we are adding comprehensive Pinterest and Instagram insights to the reporting dashboards.

The original form of our Visual Commerce solution was a straightforward visual marketing solution that gave brands the ability to collect customer content and permissions, and curate pictures with the goal of boosting onsite conversion. The development of Shoppic: Shoppable Instagram, expanded our capability by giving clients a way to monetize their Instagram traffic with a shoppable feed connected to their profiles. As well as streamline their visual social media strategy with a built-in scheduler.

This most recent enhancement accomplishes the goal of delivering a truly well-rounded visual marketing platform for our clients. Pinterest and Instagram insights give clients access to a breadth of data that can help inform and improve their visual marketing strategies. Here’s the breakdown of the insights included for each platform:

Pinterest Insights: Our Pinterest insights consolidate and expand on the information you can collect through Pinterest Analytics.

Insight: Pinterest Engagement Driven by Content On Your Website
Find the breakdown of Pinterest shares from your website, pins created from your website’s content, and which pins featuring your website content are driving the most re-pins.

Benefit: These insights help identify the content that inspires customers to share your brand on Pinterest so you can replicate it and continue to proactively drive engagement and product/brand discovery via Pinterest.

Insight: Website Traffic and Engagement Driven By Pinterest
Monitor website visitors, both new and returning, who are being referred from Pinterest. Discover which pins and boards are producing significant numbers of impressions and click-throughs to your site.

Benefit: Find out what content on Pinterest spurs customers to click back to your site to make a purchase.

Instagram Insights: We are building out a comprehensive Instagram Insights dashboard aimed at helping you improve your visual marketing strategy.

Insight: Follower Data
Find out which of your followers have the greatest number of their own followers, discover the Instagrammers and posts with the most impressions that mention your brand handle, and track new followers by post and overall follower growth rate.

Benefit: Getting deeper insights into your followers helps you understand their potential to increase your reach and offers a simple channel to discover new influencers. It also helps you gain an understanding of what content drives the highest increase in followers so you can continue to improve your Instagram posts.

Insight: Instagram Engagement
Unearth hashtags that are driving the most engagement with your brand, find out which of your posts earn the highest impression rates, monitor what content delivers the most likes and comments, and track overall user interaction with each Instagram post.

Benefit: Understanding how your content performs on Instagram helps inform your future strategies so you can collect and create content you know will continue to drive engagement and brand awareness.

Insight: Instagram Stories Data
Quickly find data including unique views on your stories, number of customers who viewed your full story, and which stories drive the highest number of direct messages.

Benefit: Quick insights into your Instagram Stories can help you regularly improve the content you put out to boost re-occurring engagement with your Instagram profile and improve brand recognition.

For more information or to learn more about our Visual Commerce reporting capabilities, contact us or get in touch with your Customer Success Manager today.

UGC, Brands & Emotional Touchpoints on Social: Key Strategies from Sprout Social’s Latest Report

social media and user generated content

Just a month ago, Sprout Social released its meticulously crafted social media and user generated content report, Moments & Milestones: Brands, Emotional Touchpoints and UGC on social.  It once again reinforced the unavoidable role that social media and user generated content play in the lives of consumers and their buying decisions and one important customer insight has been revealed. The report says that for 79% of people, social media has become the de facto medium for sharing their life milestones with friends and family. Customers are creating more content than ever about pivotal moments and disseminating it across their social media networks. And, more often than not this content features or highlights brands and products the customers love. The real question is, are brands aware of this content and are they using it to its fullest extent? We’ve broken down the key findings of Sprout Social’s report of UGC on social media and offered actionable marketing strategies for each one.

A) 51% Of Customers Turn To Facebook To Find Recommendations While Planning Life Milestones:

Milestones are the most cherished life experiences for people. They eagerly anticipate exciting, and often-times hard-earned moments and the sentimental nature means customers will put in the extra effort around these moments. They want to make sure that everything involved will live up to their anticipation. 92% of consumers trust recommendations from other friends and family and they usually look at social media for these kinds of recommendations. Sprout’s Social’s report on UGC on social backs this up and has identified specifically where customers turn when they are planning for a life milestone. 51% turn to Facebook, 42% use Pinterest, 34% use YouTube, and 35% of millennials use Instagram. social media and user generated content What is more important is, these recommendations are not just empty words. They are positively impacting buying decisions of those researchers. This social media and user generated content report confirms that 48% of consumers have made a purchase for a milestone after seeing that product, service or brand on their social platforms.

What Can Brands Do?

The message is clear. If almost half of the customers are making milestone related plans and purchases based on social media content, all brands need high visibility on social media platforms. Considering peoples’ inclination towards sharing milestones on social media, convert this natural act into a well-oiled campaign. If you are a chocolate maker, ask your customers to share the photos when your chocolate was an important ingredient in their celebrations. Hotels or travel firms can ask their customers to share photos of their delightful stays and adventures. You can then collect these images under one unique hashtag and distribute them to all the digital avenues that you have at your disposal. This enhances the visibility of your brand and gives you an easy way to collect and disseminate content that will inspire customers to include you in their next big life milestone. It’s also important to note, user generated content can also be used to learn more about your customers. Maybe your brands or products are being used in customer’s big life milestones and you aren’t even aware of this potential. Capitalize on your ratings and reviews to ask customers these kinds of questions to find out how they’re using your products in unexpected ways.

B) People Want To Share Happy Moments On Social Media Posts:

After firmly establishing that people like to share milestones on social media, Sprout’s report of UGC on social digs a little deeper to find out what sort of milestones they like to share. The report found out that some people are sharing almost every type of major milestone, both good and bad. 66% of people said they would like to post about holiday celebrations, followed by travel or vacation milestones (60%), family milestones (59%) and relationship milestones (58%). The surprising thing was 47% of people—said they’ve shared a difficult milestone—the death of a loved one—on social.

social media and user generated content
What Can Brands Do?

The common thread among all the milestones that people share is that they are all highly emotional- and they touch every stage of life. The challenge in front of marketers is to construct a user generated campaign that can touch these moments while remaining sensitive to them. For segments such as fashion, travel, electronics, automobile, and retail, it’s comparatively easy to do so, as their products can be directly connected to achievements and positive experiences. A gift seller can ask its customers to share their stories of special events such as birthdays, anniversaries, or the birth of a child. It’s a pretty straightforward campaign to ask customers to share stories when it’s related to a gift-giving occasion. Other industry segments may feel that they don’t fit into this narrative of sentimentality. But every brand can create a space for itself. This is again where user generated content and social media can come in handy. Routinely engaging with customers and finding out what role your products play in their lives is key to finding unique campaign angles. Mint, the personal budgeting software showed us how it’s done. Mint used the inherent emotion in making your dreams come true for its recent Instagram contest,#MyMintMoment. Realizing the role that money plays in fulfilling customer’s dreams and ambitions, it asked its customers to share photos of the milestones they were finally able to achieve such as purchasing a home or car as a result of good financial planning. The campaign also allowed people a chance to win $1,000.

social media and user generated content
Indeed, this is a case where a brand was able to connect a somewhat cold, un-inspiring product with a deeply emotional experience. By using major milestones, Mint genuinely demonstrated what people could achieve with its products, without the brand doing any of the talking.

C) 54% Of People Share Their Best Moments On Social Media To Invite Their Network To Celebrate:

As Sprout’s report of UGC on social is quite extensive and comprehensive, it has gotten down to the crux of the issue. It tried to identify what motivates people to share their milestone moments on social media. And it found that more than half of the people do so to celebrate those moments with others. What’s more, it also found that 43% want to inform their network about their milestones. social media and user generated content
What Can Brands Do?

As mentioned above, the two stats scream of customers’ need to pass on their message of milestones on to their network. Note that the term network here doesn’t just include friends and family. It’s a network of people who share common interests, similar product likes and dislikes, and love for specific brands. That’s precisely why the best way to be a part of your customers’ celebrations is to give them a wider audience through your user generated campaign where they can pour in the countless stories and photos of their celebration of milestones. The call to action to this insight into UGC on social is a proven method. Create stronger and bigger customer communities around your brand. Let them interact effectively and regularly. Naturally, once you link these communities to your user generated campaign, it doesn’t just ensure greater reach and engagement. It also creates more brand imprints on the psyche of non-customers, as devoted customers are at the forefront of sharing the brand content on multiple networks. When you look at the typical cost of building brand awareness through traditional advertising, this is by far a much more cost-effective way to connect with new customers. Of course, all these benefits come as add-ons after fulfilling the basic need of people to share and celebrate with more people. Walmart Moms, though it was not totally devoted to celebratory moments, was a textbook example of how user generated content can be juxtaposed with a stronger user community.

social media and user generated content
What began as an online community created by Walmart to represent this large and diverse demographic is now composed of 22 moms who write blogs and share information on raising kids, shopping, household chores and more. The blogs written by Walmart Moms can be found on the website. They have also established Walmart YouTube channel, where Walmart Moms constantly update their videos. Owing to the massive size of Walmart, the reach of this community has grown significantly. So much so, that Walmart Moms are considered a powerful voting bloc. Taking a cue from this, a marketer can create a separate thread of celebratory posts by running a special hashtag and publish them among a sturdy base of a community.

D) 50% Of Surveyed People Said That They Would Include A Brand Name In Social Posts To Recommend The Brand:

While researching why people include brand names in celebratory posts, Sprout’s social media and user generated content report found that 50% do so to recommend brands to their peers. A 2014 survey by American Express supports this, stating that 46% of American consumers say they always tell others about good service experiences. The report also found that 34% of people mention brands in celebratory posts to thank their respective brands. social media and user generated content
What Can Brands Do?

This finding is easiest when it comes to drawing an unequivocal learning opportunity. It clearly suggests the need to connect user generated campaigns with a strong referral marketing strategy. Customers are already recommending brands through their celebratory posts, built in referral opportunity will make these kinds of recommendations systematic and measurable. They also represent a defined opportunity to increase sales. That’s mainly due to the trust that people have in peer recommendations. 77% of consumers are more likely to buy a new product when learning about it from friends or family. Besides, another point that the report makes in this regard is that reasons for mentioning brands in posts aren’t completely altruistic. 45% of people mention brand names in celebratory posts to receive discounts and incentives. It’s much easier for a referral program to meet this expectation, as rewarding customers for referrals is its primary objective. A referral program, thus, would look like a natural extension of your user generated campaign. To get this symbiotic relationship perfect, first, come up with a user generated campaign focusing on celebratory events and then link it tie in your referral platform with relevant referral calls to action. Monitor it thoroughly and reward people based on the total number of brand mentions and referrals they make.

Key Takeaways:

1) 79% of surveyed people wanted to share their moments of celebrations on social media. It’s a sign that milestone marketing is all set to arrive with a huge force. The creative and effective ways of using user generated content to incorporate this trend is a must.

2) People want to share their most cherished moments on social media. Try to find out how your products are playing a role in these moments and encourage customers to share those using specified hashtags.

3) A celebration is a social act. Keep a space in your user generated content campaign where an influence of community can play a role.

2018 Retail Predictions: How You Should Be Prepared

Retail Predictions

Digitalization, ultra-connectivity, and ever-shifting customer expectations are causing seismic shifts in the retail landscape. Staying on top of these changes are key to making the most of the coming year. Here are our 4 major 2018 retail predictions and ways you can amp up your marketing strategy.

A) Purpose-Driven Partnerships:

Strategic brand alliances will be the core currency in 2018. It will allow retailers to think beyond monotonous and too-common one-off collaborations and in-the-moment engagements. By collaborating with multiple partners, they can come up with unique values and exclusive benefits. Capitalizing on this trend will ensure a unique competitive edge, as it will put retailers in a much better position to satisfy the newly-formed customer experience.

In fact, a few retailers have already moved in this direction. Home Depot has joined hands with Laurel & Wolf, an online design company. Laurel & Wolf have created an exclusive, multi-platform design consultation and installation service called Home Depot Pro Referral Service. Home Depot customers can work with Laurel & Wolf designers to create custom interior design plans.

What You Can Do

Put a focus on strategic partnerships in 2018. Venture into alliances with a specific aim such as enhanced customer traffic and brand reach. But, make sure you’ve backed up your goal by finding out what your customers really want. Run surveys to find out what pain points they’re facing that a strategic partner could potentially help solve.

Have a holistic and studious approach to partnerships. Identify various possibilities where a strategic alliance could solve customers’ needs and improve the overall brand experience. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Unique partnerships can not only build better customer experiences but they can also add a lot to your PR strategy in the coming year.

B) Ever Shortening Shipping Windows:

Just like we’ve seen in the last decade, Amazon will continue to play the disruptor role in 2018. That disruptive effect would be more palpable in changing consumer shipping expectations. The online retail giant often delivers the same or comparable products as other retailers at a lower price- in a much quicker time frame. And looking at the efficiency that it has pulled it off, Two-day shipping has now become a new normal. With ever developing shipping technologies and methodologies like drone deliveries, shrinking shipping windows is indeed among one of the most important 2018 retail predictions.

What You Can Do

If you don’t want to (or can’t) eat a bunch of overhead expenses to drive shipping costs down, you can think about a ship-to-store option. It is beneficial from all conceivable angles. Customers receive free shipping, you’re bringing them in store and keeping costs low, and there are no return costs if it’s not what they want.

C) Connected Environments:

The line between physical and digital world is blurring, making integrated scenario the future of retail. In the coming year, customers will seek robust interactions that seamlessly connect multiple devices, environments, and technologies. Retail will move towards more immersive and distinctive shopping experiences.

What You Can Do

Think about pairing tools such as voice commerce applications like Google Home and Alexa, RFID, beacons, mobile applications, Internet of Things and wearable devices to create a connected ecosystem to own up this key point of 2018 retail predictions.

Identify which devices your customers use most commonly, and integrate emerging technologies into moments and immersive experiences that complement and enhance day-to-day life.

D) Transparency Will Matter More Than Ever:

With increased environmental awareness and health-conscious customers, transparency will be a big factor. Note that in an age of information overload, they have more than enough resources to know the truth about your products and brand. Customers want to know where their products come from, and the brands they buy really stand for. It’s then not surprising that one study found that 86% of millennial moms reported that they would pay more for a product with full transparency.

What You Can Do

As transparency is a constant undertaking, it needs to be looked at contentiously. Make conscious decisions about your sourcing. Be able to defend the things you sell, the prices you sell them at, and the way your business runs. If transparency in your sourcing, manufacturing, and employee satisfaction makes you nervous, you may have a bigger problem on your hands this year.

Holiday Referral Marketing Strategies to Bolster Sales

User Generated Content during holidays

Even though the holiday season is a once-a-year window of opportunity to give a serious boost to revenue the truth is owning the holiday season completely is not an easy feat. This is especially true for largely commoditized products that operate in an extremely competitive market. Customers are eager to spend more around the holiday season, but breaking through the advertising noise is getting consistently more challenging. That’s where the importance of holiday referral marketing strategies sneaks in.

Referral marketing offers a number of unique benefits around the holidays. First and foremost, because customers are focused on buying for their friends and family, it is an excellent time to put an emphasis on referrals. It gives customers an easy way to share the brands and products they love with their friends and family and in turn hint at what they might want for gifts. It also offers a channel for friends to share product recommendations with people in their network who are struggling with their holiday shopping. In fact, during holidays, 77% of surveyed female millennials will turn to family and friends for recommendations before making a gift purchase,

A) Activating Your Most Valuable Customers

Most marketers aren’t thinking beyond discounts during the holidays. This not only puts a strain on the financial muscle of a firm, it can also cheapen a brand and only works to attract bargain hunters. Holiday discounts don’t serve to attract the most valuable customers, but this can be nullified through the activation of loyal customers, as on average, loyal customers are worth up to 10x as much as their first purchase.

Referral marketing comes with the flexibility to tailor offers, which gives you the opportunity to give your customers rewards that build loyalty and brand engagement. Come up with an offer for your existing and best customers to give them something exclusive such as a chance to win an exciting holiday package or special access to the most talked about products if they share with their friends around the holidays. Brand-centric gifts and access to exclusive products or opportunities break through the noise to drive more new and higher value referral customers. Note that non-monetary and experiential rewards are increasingly popular among customers. If that’s not feasible or possible, then you can fall back on a monetary reward. The following example is a case in point here.

Most Valuable Customers

B) Riding the Wave of Social Media and Mobile Marketing

The avalanche-like growth of e-commerce has changed the way people shop. And its fervor gets even higher during the holiday season when people are constantly searching for better deals. That’s why there were over 1.4 million tweets referencing Black Friday last year, up 15% from the previous year. Referrals fit perfectly into this new customer habit, as some of the most successful channels for referral marketing campaigns are social media networks.

One more thing that rationalizes the use of holiday referral marketing strategies is the ease of making them mobile-friendly. This is of grave importance in upping the ante during holidays. According to Adobe’s Marketing Cloud Digital Index, last year on Thanksgiving, $639 million in sales came via mobile devices; and on Black Friday, mobile sales reached $905 million.

A well-oiled and structured referral program makes it easy to capitalize on social media fervor and mobile shopping habits of customers around the holidays.

C) Generate More Customer Engagement:

Your marketing efforts may suffer a premature extinction if engagement withers away. You need to add a hook to keep people anchored around your brand. This is specifically necessary during the holiday season, as you need to extract more revenue in a relatively short period of time. With a slight tweak, referrals can keep you in the game during the holidays.

As opposed to a point based reward structure, a referral program can take a shape of contest. Due to peoples’ wish to grab better products during holidays along with the natural urge to win, contests can avoid freezing up of customer engagement. Huckberry did the same with a magnificent widget creation. It ran a short referral contest prior to holiday season offering the customer with the highest number of referrals the opportunity to win a first class ticket home, with a pack of Huckberry swag.

Though this is a big ticket item, you can easily replicate it by offering referrers a special holiday-themed product or mini service for referring another customer to your business during the holiday season. If you want to stay away from rewards, you can also try the concept of social gifting. It’s a nice way to be generous and offer your winner a free trial.

D) Have An Impact Beyond a Single Day:

The impact of most holiday strategies often winds down as soon as the holiday season ends. That’s because a lot of strategies take a transactional approach that fails to put an emphasis on lasting loyalty or the quality of a relationship with customers. We have observed that a lot of potential customers hold off purchases because they’re hoping they can pick up a last-minute bargain. Strategies, thus, fail to pounce upon the immense possibilities of future purchases.

Holiday referral marketing strategies insulate marketers specifically from this fatal strategic flaw. Referrals marketing’s ability to deliver a personal, data-driven and targeted approach enables marketers to establish a rich and concurrent engagement with customers. By rewarding customers for sharing your referral link on a special event such as Black Friday in the weeks leading up to Christmas, you can initiate a virtuous circle whereby the customer is rewarded and comes back at another key time. Referrers and referees may buy that specially priced product and return in the lead up to Christmas to purchase other items.

It’s then easy to comprehend why customers who have received a referral reward are 54% more likely to buy again than someone who hasn’t become a referrer. It can certainly paint customer lifetime value in a much brighter light. And thus, it’s necessary to create an event calendar which shouldn’t just include Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but other important shopping holidays such as the 4th of July, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. It sets off a cascading effect. By referring their friends, holiday customers introduce new customers (boost #1). When those friends purchase the original customer (referrer) gets a reward, which acts as an incentive to another purchase or referral (boost #2).

Key Takeaways:

1) Use holiday referral marketing strategies to marshal the troops of your best customers by offering exclusive rewards and experiences for their act of referral.

2) Your marketing efforts may hit the wall if they fail to fuel a steady customer engagement. Referrals in the form of contests can save you from that common pitfall.

3) There is no doubt that you should make the most of the holiday season. But it is prudent to consider Black Friday as an integral part of your wider strategy. Referrals, when they are at their best, can create a cascading effect on important days. If amplified and optimized properly, they can heighten the lifetime value of your each and every customer.

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