Social media is creating a revolution in retail. George Guildford of digital PR agency Punch Communications reveals how news technologies are changing the nature of the customer journey

With an increasing number of retail brands aligning their social media activities with traditional online PR and marketing campaigns, it is no surprise that we are also now starting to see more and more companies integrating social media into their real world in-store experiences too.

The significant uptake of smartphones, hand-in-hand with ever growing levels of engagement via social media platforms such as Facebook, is presenting a new way for brands to connect and interact with fans and consumers alike. In many ways though it’s also pointing to a change in the very nature of the consumer journey as we know it.

One of the key ways that brands are benefiting from an integrated approach to social media campaigns is in the opportunity that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter present for extending the reach and impact of more traditional campaigns.

Through the use of features such as QR codes, location-based services, and more recently Near Field Communication smartphone technologies, retailers are able to connect with consumers in a way that was previously unavailable. For example, the use of a QR code within a magazine or billboard advertisement now brings a previously static medium to life, extending the consumer journey at the touch of a button.

We have already seen QR codes within magazines unlocking exclusive content such as behind-the-scenes film trailers, promotional coupons, and even mp3 downloads. Some car brands have even added QR codes to their billboard advertisements, enabling passers by to instantly download a video trailer, a digital brochure and even book a test drive at their nearest dealership – all from the comfort of their smartphone.

In addition to this, we are now seeing that brands are also integrating this idea as part of their in-store experience; utilising QR code technologies to enhance their in-store point of sale displays, window displays and as part of their product packaging.

Scanning a QR code in-store can now create a personalised listening post in a record store, a Facebook “Like” in a clothing store, or even launch an interactive interior design application when visiting your local DIY store.

When looking at the successful integration of social media with the in-store consumer journey, those brands working alongside a social media agency that are able to effectively integrate rewards for social media fan engagement and present their customers with that “little bit extra” will often see the most success.

In light of this, many companies have turned to the use of location-based services apps such as Foursquare to create loyalty-based rewards programmes, rewarding fans and customers with exclusive offers, new products, additional content and discounts via check-ins in-store.

Starbucks, in particular, has continued to reward customers this way for the past year, presenting fans with a wide range of exclusive offers when checking-in to a selection of Starbucks locations and creating limited edition brand specials. Starbucks even took it one step further earlier this year, setting up a Foursquare 40 Year Anniversary promotion giving away $40 to fans checking-in on Foursquare.

The key consideration with the use of location-based services apps is that where Facebook and Twitter remain for the most part online, apps such as Foursquare can be used to draw fans from Facebook into their local store. As long as brands are able to offer something unique, exclusive, and of benefit to the consumer when checking-in, apps such as Foursquare could serve to bridge that all important gap between using social media to create engagement online and using social media to create actual footfall and sales in store.

Additionally, with the arrival of Near Field Communication smartphone technology, and apps such as Google Wallet, it won’t be long before we start to see more and more people using their smartphone to pay for their morning coffee, or the latest new product display integrating real-life Facebook “Likes” in the same way we saw with the recent Diesel “Like” campaign.

Interestingly, the use of social media and smartphone technology, when integrated successfully with both traditional marketing campaigns and in-store set-up, really can provide fans and customers with a much more complete and connected overall brand experience – an experience that not only develops long before a sale is made, but one that can now extend for many months and years after.

George Guildford of digital PR agency Punch Communications represents a range of clients, including Sony Ericsson, Clinton Cards and RatedPeople.


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