The relationship between brands and consumers had been edging closer way before the pandemic, but there is no doubt that the last 18 months has supercharged Close to Consumer Commerce (C2CC).
At the risk of stating the obvious, marketing nearly always boils down to the search for people; where they are, what they’re doing and what they want. Humans can be quick to embrace new behaviours, accelerated by the ubiquity and increasing simplicity of the digital world, but our compulsions and motivations remain more or less consistent. We like to consume. We like value and convenience. We like to share and connect.
With the majority of the world having been in lockdown at some stage over the last year and a half, for many interaction — whether at work, or for play — has been through a screen. As the minutes ticked by, we sat on our sofas, at desks or on our beds and opened window after window to find new experiences and new ways to buy, sell, share and connect.
McKinsey research shows that 75% of US consumers have tried a new shopping behaviour since the advent of COVID-19: a new method — for example, delivery apps or so-called curbside pickups; a new brand; a new retailer. The intersection of digital entertainment with our everyday lives (as if we didn’t spend enough time in front of a smart device anyway) effectively means that we can shop at any time. Now we carry Oxford Street, Fifth Avenue, the Rue de Rivoli and Sainsbury’s with us everywhere we go. The delay between wanting and owning has never been so brief. Frankly, this tech has made us all into toddlers who know there are biscuits in the tin. We gotta have it.
This has opened a whole new galaxy for brands to get close to their consumer – to become one click away rather than further down the purchasing journey. It has also brought new dimensions to the customer journey that has become more random, less predictable, with influencers, social networks and advocates now being ambassadors for brands with direct-to-sell pathways.
What the rise of close to consumer commerce means for your brand
For marketers, the convergence of technology, will and circumstance has created the promised land: legions of retail-hungry consumers, anxious to try new things, constantly connected and empowered to buy in seconds. But beware: this promised land is something of a minefield. There is almost no way to control the structure of your brand promise. There is absolutely no way to guarantee the order in which your customers see your messaging. The customer journey is no longer linear.
What we’re seeing is a shift in attitudes akin to the rise of social media. Brands successfully adjusted to the always-on world. Now we’re in the always-selling world. C2CC offers opportunities for brands and consumers to maximise reach and sales by making the most of relationships. These could be between consumers themselves —- for example, by direct peer-to-peer selling —- or via brands offering platforms tailored to do the same. Some brands, like Storr, offer democratic sales platforms allowing users to create their own storefronts. And some take advantage of the increased reach and power of influencers, harnessing the new digital celebrity to achieve remarkable results.
The power of relationships
Traditional advertising still has plenty of value, and digital advertising benefits hugely from its proximity, so to speak, to the online storefronts themselves. But if we as consumers are spending more time online, giving consideration to new things and exploring new routes to shopping basket, we’re also forming and using relationships along the way that have a powerful effect on buying intent. These relationships can be with existing peers — friends and family — but increasingly they’re with the online personalities we encounter in our digital peregrinations. Influencers have evolved, both in terms of the power they wield as a part of the marketing mix and in their capability to direct spend through channels which benefit the influencer directly.
But what is the relationship between consumers and influencers vs other brand advocates? A 2018 study at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands brought some light into this association, and got some interesting insights. Consumers identify with influencers more than they do with celebrities. At the end of the day, influencers appear as “normal people” so we connect more deeply with them as we feel they are similar to us (in comparison with a Hollywood star). Hence, they trust their endorsement significantly more (interestingly, that trust existed even if the product was not directly related to the influencer’s field of “expertise”, but was magnified greatly if it was).
At this point you might be wondering what constitutes an influencer vs a celebrity? An influencer is identified as someone who has established a social media following by pursuing an area of expertise or a particular interest, whereas a celebrity has found their fame through the more traditional route of broadcast media.
We admire celebrities. We may covet their lives, their experiences, but very rarely do we feel close to them. But we invest in an influencer, regularly and consistently. We set up notifications for when the latest video drops. We get glimpses into their daily lives, their diets, their grooming routines, their wardrobes. This is emotional proximity: we think we know influencers, and so we tend to believe in their recommendations, especially because we’re hearing them from an “expert” (or so we’ve judged them). And while your friend might send you a link to a pair of jeans she loves, the influencer can give you one generated uniquely for them by the brand in question, perhaps even offering you a nominal discount, and guaranteeing that influencer a kickback in return. The loop is complete.
In short: whatever we buy and however we used to shop has changed forever. Although some might reenter into a hybrid world of commerce – shopping for groceries in real life l but buying their clothes online- it is never going to be as straightforward for brands and their owners to influence a sale. Understanding that with this more complex customer dynamic comes more opportunities is the key to untying the future purse strings. Listening to where your customers are and building your storefront there, even if temporarily through virtual pop-ups, allows not only engagement, but brand familiarity that leads to purchase and advocacy.
If you would like to find out more about how to leverage Close to Consumer Commerce to your brand advantage, let’s talk!