Three Opportunities For Retailers That Have Maxed Out What They Can Do On The Biggest Platforms 

This article is sponsored by Connexity.

The Google/Facebook/Amazon hegemony isn’t falling anytime soon, but the familiarity of ad offerings and constant swerves in consumer behavior are driving retailers to investigate new tactics.

“Google, Facebook and Amazon are obviously still important to digital strategy, but they’re becoming increasingly crowded and challenging,” according to Bob Caputo, EVP, Merchant Account Management at Connexity.

Caputo says the lack of elbow room on big platforms and the lure of incremental growth are driving many retailers to test alternative channels and strategies. Three particular opportunities lie in the areas of product listing ads (PLAs), native content and mobile commerce. But deciding where to invest requires advertisers to carefully scrutinize the ads they buy, the information those ads contain and who they’re reaching.

Below are some guidelines that advertisers should keep in mind as they approach each of these emerging tactical opportunities.

Getting specific to handle thousands of PLA options

“When you sell thousands of products with a variety of size, color and version options, it’s difficult to stay on top of every aspect of product data,” Caputo said. In principle, a generic product listing ad (PLA) for Nike Air Force 1 sneakers targeting males aged 18 to 25 won’t be as impactful as an ad for “Nike Air Force 1 Men’s Shoes – Grey – Size 11.5 (Free Shipping)” along with a few dozen variations for size, color and offer. But that’s the level of detail and audience awareness Caputo said will make the difference for retailers.

“Retailers need every opportunity to win in-demand placements where active CPC bidding is required,” Caputo said. “Product descriptions, product category alignment and offer detail can drive better pickup by publishers and the ability to compete in more bidding auctions.”

The rise of premium native content

Commerce content – including product-centric editorial with built-in shopping experiences – has gained increasing traction among publishers in recent years. (In 2018, BuzzFeed’s commerce platform generated $250 million in revenue.) Commerce content teams build product showcases aligned with a site’s content to leverage the publisher’s unique editorial focus for better targeting and audience engagement – the better the alignment between product, content and audience, the greater the conversion opportunity.

Add content patterns and recommendation algorithms to the mix, and advertisers could have a rich vein for highly targeted, contextual product offer placements – which Caputo said hold promise for advertisers as more and more active shopping experiences begin away from shopping platforms.

“They offer additional opportunities to monetize audiences while keeping them engaged with the content and help readers discover other ‘like’ offers,” according to Caputo. “Because these experiences offer features similar to search PLAs, they also become destinations for active shopping and can draw additional site traffic. Advertisers may want to align with these opportunities by building teams to manage content creation, distribution and measurement across a range of publisher partners.”

Seizing on mobile commerce adoption

eMarketer projects mobile commerce sales could reach as high as $3.6 trillion globally in 2021, driven in part by shoppers flocking to their phones during the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge for retailers, Caputo said, lies in measuring how well they’re reaching those shoppers.

“Not all retailers have figured out how to fully track and attribute the traffic,” he said. “Retailers need to establish the appropriate tracking, attribution and reporting systems to follow the journey of their mobile shoppers from start to checkout and beyond.”

On top of that, approximately half of the time those mobile users spend on the internet is spent on social media, according to We Are Social and Hootsuite. In 2019, a Salsify survey found that 72 percent of users surveyed said they’d discovered products through social media, but only 36 percent had bought directly through social channels within the past year. eMarketer reported that in the US, 2020 saw a 25.2% increase in social commerce buyers, and that number is expected to grow another 12.9% to 90.4 million by the end of 2021.

That leaves a gap where retailers can separate themselves by showing more relevant offers, making it easier to buy and leaning on social influence. Connexity, through their ShopYourLikes platform, has found that certain categories do particularly well for social influence campaigns – home and garden, fashion, and health and beauty, to name a few.

“Social should be an important part of these retailers’ digital marketing strategies and channel mix,” said Caputo. “Retailers need to make sure they are reaching consumers looking for inspiration and influenced by aspirational social recommendations.”

Caputo added that so-called vanity metrics (i.e., likes and followers) are only the starting point for retailers looking for more meaningful, measurable return on their social commerce efforts. He said that with the right tools, “retailers avoid a scenario where they are required to pay a flat fee in exchange for content creation” – the current norm for influencer partnerships and marketing.

“Connexity uses real conversion data to inform influencer pricing and campaign optimizations,” he continued, “and our proprietary CPC bidding platform ensures that retailers are only ever charged a rate that is aligned with their ROI goals to ensure that they win the highest-quality traffic placements.”

With the right tools, retailers can position themselves in front of these trends to reap the benefits, so long as they remain focused on value constantly emerging on new channels on the open web and outside the walled gardens.

“A good performance marketing partner will be able to adapt a campaign to a variety of strategies, whether the primary focus is purely on sales growth or new customer acquisition or even diversity of exposure,” said Caputo. “Recommendation networks, commerce content platforms and social are becoming an increasingly important part of retailers’ digital strategies.”

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