The Dawn of the Social Consumer

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Check-in

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Augmented reality

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What may sound like buzz words or mere hype, is actually the beginning of the end of business as usual. Welcome to the rise of the social consumer and a new era of social commerce. Look at the picture above and think about how physical and online stores can integrate the social graph into the shopping experience right now. The possibilities are limitless and we can introduce everything today.

From online to offline to online again, social consumers are checking into businesses, fusing online and offline engagement and influencing behavior and decisions in the process.  These increasingly important acts of social exchanges are gaining in value and delivering benefits for both sides. As a result, social consumers now expect to be rewarded for their role in the socialization of your brand…and rightly so.

Rumors are already swirling that the recently launched Facebook Places geo-location service will soon encourage businesses to offer deals in exchange for check-ins.

In a recent experiment, Gap offered visitors 25% off purchases in store, simply for checking-in. Gap executives realized that offering 25% off of merchandise was still profitable and also a small investment to make in social advertising via word of mouth, which extended from Foursquare to Twitter to Facebook to blogs and eventually traditional media. Yes, the same company that realized the negative effects of social media when it tried to introduce a new logo without consulting the social consumer, also learned how to motivate them to take positive action. A separate offer entitled The BlackMagic Event offered Facebook and Twitter users 25% as well as a free pair of jeans to the first 50 people who showed up in each location.

At a minimum, businesses are starting to realize that checking-in, Tweeting, Liking, and sharing are forms of social currency as well as a personal endorsement. Recognition is the least that a business can do to attract and incentivize social consumers. Introducing special offers and rewards is how we amplify these lucrative endorsements, extend brand reach and transform businesses into social objects where everyday people contribute to ongoing presence in social streams. The benefits are not only mutual, they are empowering.

Social Currency Shapes Experiences and Decisions

As discussed earlier in the series, F-Commerce, check-ins, updates, etc. are just the beginning in a rapidly evolving era of social commerce. New services such as Shopkick, introduce real-world incentives to recognize and encourage checking-in and might well represent the future for location-based marketing overall. Using mobile phones, consumers can check-in to a store to initially earn “Kickbucks.” In addition, consumers are urged to scan barcodes to increase points and also learn about special deals. The service also uses special audio transmitters that can help determine where in the store the consumer is at any moment, to lure them toward exclusive offers and promotions simply by walking around.

Experiences shape experiences. In many ways, what we purchase is also symbolic of who we are and who we want to be. When we combine the allure of social media, it seems almost natural to share our purchases and experiences with friends who define our social graph online and in real life.

Not only are consumers broadcasting their location, but they’re now willingly sharing their purchases as well.

I recently hosted Philip Kaplan, founder of Blippy, for a interesting discussion on (R)evolution where we explored the increasing volume of purchases broadcasting to the social Web. Indeed, a new genre of applications convert transactions into social objects with services such as Blippy, Swipely, and others, enabling users to connect their credit cards or e-tail accounts to their social streams.

For example, in Blippy, a purchase made on Amazon is introduced into the Blippy stream where followers can comment, review products, and share experiences. Uber users also syndicate their Blippy updates to Twitter and Facebook, sparking conversations around purchases and products across the social Web. But it isn’t just emerging companies who are facilitating the syndication of transaction in social media, major financial organizations are experimenting with social influence and commerce as well.

As my good friend Lisa Grimm pointed out, Social Currency by American Express is also socializing transactions. Social Currency is a free iPhone app built on the Foursquare platform that lets users keep a wish list, share photos of purchases, and comment on friends activities, syndicating content to Foursquare and Twitter. Launched as a complement to Currency, its portal for providing financial advice for young professionals, American Express is placing transactions and intentions at the center of social networking, encouraging interaction and ultimately action through the social effect.

But, why would someone broadcast their purchases to the social Web you ask?

I have a theory…

When a brand does its job right, it creates an emotional connection. The affinity it engenders contributes to who we are as individuals and how others perceive us. In the social web, sharing our purchases and experiences serve as social objects which are essentially catalysts for sparking conversations. At the center of this discussion is the product. Experiences, impressions, and perceptions cast bridges that link us together. As the conversation unfolds, the hub connects the product to individuals who not only respond, but also consume, where information directly or indirectly influences behavior and opinion. This form of subconscious empowerment seemingly builds confidence according to some new research.

As social capital factors into the equation, these conversations represent touchpoints where positive experiences take the shape of endorsements and ultimately c0ntribute to the overall branding process.

Creating a Persona Through Actions and Words

A recent study out of The University of Minnesota demonstrates something that sociologists have long believed, our favorite brands contribute to who we are. Services such as Blippy or Social Currency actually contribute to the cycle of social maturation and lend to the idea that brands not only rub off on self-perception, but sharing these transactions help to fortify this vision we have of ourselves. The Journal of Consumer Research published the study, “Got to Get You Into My Life: Do Brand Personalities Rub Off on Consumers?” which makes a strong case for establishing the intangible relationship a brand may have with its consumer.

Authors Deborah Roedder John and Ji Kyung Park of The University of Minnesota set out to answer critical question, that is actually paramount in social media, “Why are brands such as Cartier, Harley-Davidson, and Nike so well-liked by consumers? One of the reasons is that they have appealing personalities.”

As part of their research, women were given bags to carry around a local mall for an hour. Several were given Victoria’s Secret bags, while others toted plain pink shopping bags. The study surfaced an interesting connection. Those women who carried Victoria’s Secret bags felt more feminine, glamorous, and good-looking. On the contrary, those with the pink shopping bags felt indifferent.

These studies represent a harbinger of the importance of personal relationships and how they’re fostered in brand experiences. Businesses must bring their companies and products to life. As other studies show, social networking is incredibly emotional. As I wrote in a recent post, “Once More With Feeling,” some experiments show that as we Tweet, our levels of oxytocin rise.

As brands become more social and in turn, as experiences are socialized, the ability to forge emotional connections is instrumental in cultivating community development, loyalty, and advocacy.

Everything starts with intentions. Brands must now define the pillars of character, mission, purpose, and persona in order to foster desired engagements and outcomes. No brand is an island and we must now build bridges in order to connect our value proposition to customers and the people who influence them. The socialization of commerce begins with recognition of the social consumer and an understanding of what inspires them. It’s then our responsibility to earn attention and establish relevance within their communities in order to also make them our own.

Update: Facebook introduces Deals for Places…empowers businesses to rewards patrons for checking-in.

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  • marklongbottom

    Excellent to know that emotion, community, loyalty and inspiration are sourced from customers by large organisations that for many years just pumped out over the top advertising that didn't connect. Taken time but at last reality shows we are online – they are online – we are offline – they are offline and they all work well together.

    It was always independent designers and producers who really understood the market but never had the leverage and so needed bigger companies to buy in and then reproduce weaker products for mass markets.

    Now independence is sort as well as inspiration for development through community.

  • barbaraling

    My. As if there already weren't enough ways to engage the customer….

    I've been following augmented reality displays for one's phone (first thing I thought of when I saw the image above) but didn't realize the geo-location aspects were being that fine-tuned for the overall customer shopping experience as a whole.

    Going to create a new feed reader category for F-commerce and Social Consumerism/currency now. One can never be too informed…

  • Kevin

    Excellent post. More of my clients are experiencing and evaluating this idea and are welcoming its new customers and enjoy the exposure and prospecting this offers. Great way to especially stimulate trial.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/internetmarketingnickstamoulis Nick Stamoulis

    This is the way of the world these days, and it is so important for brands to have an understanding of the social consumer, and what drives them or inspires them. Connecting with the consumer is the key to success, not just advertising to advertise but really putting thought into your consumer, their preferences and what is going to get them to convert!

  • http://twitter.com/AllanDouglasDgn Allan Douglas

    This boggles my brain. But then I don't own a cell phone and feel i need to be 'in touch” with every one at every moment about my every whim. But, I'm sure yuo're right; this is the wave of the future… I'm just a social dinosaur!

  • http://twitter.com/AllanDouglasDgn Allan Douglas

    This boggles my brain. But then I do not carry a cellphone and have no desire to be “in touch” with everyone at every moment about my every whim. But, I am sure you are right; this is the wave of the future. I'm just a social dinosaur, mired in the tar pit of privacy.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Allan, for the time being, the social consumer is just different than us. The question is, can you “check-in” to the tar pit of privacy? ;)

  • http://www.vibrantmedia.com/ Jonathan Gardner

    absolutely on the money, and the final sentiment will hopefully echo thru the marketing community: “It’s then our responsibility to earn attention and establish relevance within their communities in order to also make them our own.”

    It’s about the relevance, baby. About relevance, context and selling cars: http://bit.ly/9QOYxO

  • http://www.sandraponcedeleon.com @sandramp

    its amazing to think how consumer behavior with regards to discovery, intent and purchase is constantly being reinvented – and how the products we love contribute to building our social personas the ultimate reflections of how we want to be seen.

    and now with mobile – our urges, desires, and need for instant retail therapy / gratification can be instantly satisfied and shared. Now on to the buy!

  • Lynnie

    Just got your url from the Constant Contact Webinar – Was wondering if you blogged about the 10 Tips you mentioned??

    Ps: Loved the presentation

  • davevandewalle

    At last, a post about Gap and something their doing that isn't about the logo. Nice stuff.

  • http://www.LinkedMediaGroup.com Linked Media Group, Inc.

    Brian, your usual stellar job and very timely, when you factor in what Facebook announced today about leveraging their Places. Your “social consumer” and “social commerce” now has a much broader world to shop and interact in. Brands need to heed your advice or get left in the digital dust.

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  • http://alshaw.blogspot.com alshaw

    Fantastic and insightful article.Thank you.

    The development of social currency is also reflected in the growth of on and offline bartering and local currencies. There are also obvious connections with services such as Blimee.

    The nightmare scenario, I suppose, is that shopping starts to resemble Minority Report with real time intrusive and personalised marketing, with the attendant issues of security and privacy.

  • http://www.youintegrate.com Kneale Mann

    Another great post, Brian. All too often, business owners fail to realize their own behavior is similar to their customers' behavior. We reside on both sides of the counter and the social consumer today is the service provider later today. The other issue is business owners who feel they can create a brand and we know that is what happens between consumers who will tell you about your offering through their actions. However, still too many companies refuse to pay closer attention to said actions – on and offline.

  • Craig

    Great article, loved the destination that QR code went to if scanned… One big differentiator that has not been mentioned here is that giving away deals for merely checking in doesn't really help the merchant all that much. If you take a look at what we are doing at Pushkart you will see that we take the check in and turn it inside out. Users saving and redeeming deals using Pushkart need to actually go into the store and redeem the deal, they only get the deal if they share another deal with their networks. Checking In is more of a game, checking out is the end game. That coupled with our Social Networth index we feel that we have developed a platform that caters to merchants and the way they need to do business and what they expect in return for deals and a non disruptive consumer experience that doesn't exploit their whereabouts but allows them to get and share deals via our geo location Android and iPhoen apps. Check it out: http://www.pushkart.com

  • http://twitter.com/Zavee Zavee Team

    Great post. However, I think you may have overlooked the aspirational component in sharing purchases. I would add to this sentence, “In many ways, what we purchase is also symbolic of who we are”, the words “and who we want to be”.

    For a loyalty-based application that provides greater engagement between local merchants and their customers, please check out zavee.com, a community based social shopping platform rolling out in South Florida. Shoppers on our site can share information and experiences with other shoppers, share, recommend and review the merchants they have done business with, and (soon) share and recommend specific offers.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Ah yes…I had every intention of ending that sentence that way. Will have add now. Thank you…

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  • http://twitter.com/Zavee Zavee Team

    Great post. You say that “what we purchase is … symbolic of who we are” to which I would add, “and who we want to be”. Some brands – probably including Victoria's Secret – are built on predominantly on aspiration.

    I completely agree with you about that brands need to form emotional connections if they hope to form relationships that yield constructive engagement. That is a message we try to convey constantly to merchants we speak with as we roll out the Zavee social shopping platform.

  • Anonymous

    Insightful article Brian. As a retail and technology executive, I’ve spent the last year researching and interviewing senior executives in retail who are the leaders in social media, mobile and social/mobile commerce. They all understand this branding philosophy but there are still too few leaders in a world in which the consumer is now in charge. Just introduced the first retail industry focused book, Branded! on this topic including detailed interviews with the best. If interested, please see http://www.brandedretailer.com

  • http://twitter.com/rickyyean Ricky Yean

    Great post, Brian.

    Your first photoshopped picture got me thinking about what a retail store owner would need to manage in the future. Facebook, Twitter, email list, Foursquare, Yelp, Youtube, Groupon… AND update each and every barcode / QR code to have the latest information about the product and deals associated with them. The store owner would also have to run events for influencers while making sure that all this fits together to maximize the experience. We're not even talking about inventory, staffing, bookkeeping, and all these other things that the store owner needs to do to operate the store. I think most of these guys right now don't even do any of the “social” things I mentioned above. I guess for forward-thinking companies with resources, they will begin to adopt SMMS's, but how long do you think it would take for us to see an average retail store owner to begin operating at the kind of social efficiency you are describing here?

  • http://www.phoenixonesales.com/marketing_solutions/index.html Bill Simmel

    Solid info on the migration into social commerce- For all the obvious reasons, all marketing and prospect interface must reflect this new direction.

  • http://twitter.com/davidpartain David Partain

    Great post, Brian and great insight Ricky- what is interesting is not only to think about what technology the local store owner will need to deploy but what technology the consumer will want to use while shopping and at point of purchase. Would it benefit a store owner to “loan” a limited smart phone/ Ipad to everyone that that doesn't have one who walks through the door that would allow them to log in to their various accounts and even make the purchase through that device? Does the store owner then only need to put one of every item out for display with the consumer leaving through a “delivery” door with their purchase waiting for them? What happens to physical shopping carts and even to cashiers? Wouldn't it be great if you could just walk around a grocery store and pick what you wanted and have it all bagged for you on the way out? The ramifications for real estate could be significant as well. It is exciting to think about the changes and the innovation that will drive all of our lives due to following your analysis above.

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology. A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. Solis is also globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. His new book, What's the Future of Business (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold and flourish in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. Prior to End of Business, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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