Instagram is the only major social network lacking a click-through mechanism, but it sure has established itself as a game-changer in the retail world.
It's a channel ideal for retail brands--if they use it well. Though the grey-area in click-through trackability leaves some sceptical, the platform has too much potential to be ignored. And savvy retailers realize click-through isn't necessary to drive engagement and brand awareness.
With more than 200 million users, 60 million posts per day, and 70% of users logging in daily, the audience and engagement is there (DMR). 90% of Instagram's users are under the age of 35, making it a popular and promising platform for retail brands focused on the 18 - 34 age range. 68% of these users are women (Digiday). And "Young women under 36 years of age outspend their male counterparts almost 2:1" (Nielsen).
The numbers tell a very clear story here, and if used optimally, Instagram can be quite an influential source, especially for retailers targeting women.
These are some of our favorite retailers out there killin' it on Instagram right now.
What we love: Their hashtag game spurs fan engagement
Poler is the favorite outdoor brand instagram feed around here. Don't get me wrong - We like the other open-air, big-adventure accounts as much as any other office desk dweller, but none of them bring their hashtag game as strongly as Poler. They've found this refreshingly brand-less balance somewhere between the hipster society-can't-tie-me-down mentality and the ad agency big-idea meeting. They've commandeered hashtags that actually feel natural and cool to use. And it really shows - Users are uploading a LOT of photos with Poler's hashtags. So much so, that poler can post 5 or 6 fresh photos daily on their account.
They're focused enough to belong to the brand and set them apart from the rest, but non-corporate enough to actually work. You know you've struck gold when hipsters WANT to use your brand hashtags. As a result, their account has no end to awesome fan-generated imagery.
2. Free People
What we love: They treat their account like an art exhibit
What sets retailers apart on Instagram is the investment they're willing to put into a platform that has no trackable reward. Retailers' instagram accounts cannot merely be an echo of their Facebook and Twitter content. There's no real value there, and the platforms are expected to be used differently: Facebook for communication, Twitter for news, and Instagram for visual interest.
Free People accomplishes this beautifully - through a plethora of imagery experiences - spoken through clothing, scenery, words, moments - all strung together to form a beautifully wrapped atmosphere. There is an art to this type of account which takes thought, and the thought screams through the simplest of touches, speaking to over 1.5 million followers.
What we love: Their product-centric strategies
Madewell knows their denim. So much so that they are self-proclaimed Denim Obsessives. Since they've been studying jean-etics (see what I did there?) since 1937, I won't question whether they wear the pants in the denim family. And no one else does. So, they held an Instagram contest this past Spring for their lesser-known specialty - Totes.
Instagram is a powerful platform for awareness and perception shifting. Users were challenged with posting photos of what was in their Transport Tote for Madewell's #totewell contest. And nothing quite spurs participation like a $1,000 gift card or three. This encouraged other Madewell fans to get their own totes so they could play along - driving sales and building a fanbase all within a simple ask that aligned tightly with the Madewell brand. They had Instagram contest success in the bag, if you will.
It takes a gutsy retailer to focus a strategy around one singular product. But if you do it right, like Madewell did, it can really pay off and broaden your fans' perception of your brand.
What we love: The all-access backstage pass
Burberry are the masters of capturing their behind-the-scenes of retail through their Instagram account. Even from the placement of the camera of many of their shots - seemingly peeking over a shoulder, from behind something, or from the perspective of a team member. It feels exclusive - a secret invitation just for me (ok.. and for nearly 2 million other fans). It's like in the movie The Polar Express when the kid gets to go to Santa's hood- not only does he visit, but he is thrown into a backstage adventure. He sees the workshop, the elves wrapping up presents and wrapping up work for the season, and, in the end, he gets to talk to Santa himself, who gives him a present - anything of his choosing, for Pete's sake.
In short, Burberry's Instagram account is like the retail version of the boy's trip to the North Pole.
5. Michael Kors
What we love: Points for personalization
Beyond the fact that this account is visually stunning and detailed to the T (hey, nearly 3 million followers don't lie), Michael Kors has also been known to go above and beyond for their fans. And when you're already a sought-after product, that kind of "surprise and delight" (as we call it here at redpepper) can turn a fan into a walking ad(vocate).
Instagram Direct arrived in December 2013 - a welcome gift for retail brands to play with in the midst of the holiday rush. Michael Kors posted this image with "An early gift from @instagram! The first 50 people to post a pic and tag it #MKDirect will get a special message from Michael Kors tomorrow."
"Michael Kors is taking it slower, and bets on this extended timeline to let the buzz build itself. By announcing a gift delivery to 50 people tomorrow, they're making sure to get mentioned a lot beforehand. Sending a message only to a few doesn't mean it won't reach many people by getting reposted," says Totems, an Instagram Marketing Blog. (Totems)
I just highlighted 5 retail brands who are using Instagram very well. And they understand that it isn't a metric-driven channel.
Instagram users aren't looking to be sold to. They're there for the experience. As Instagram's agency whisperer P.J. McGregor told Digiday, "The areas that will have the most impact are on upper-funnel brand metrics - creating awareness, driving changes in perception and changes in consideration."
It's really anyone's game in Instagram right now - users who had no real presence before are creating beautiful accounts that people want to follow, and brands are conforming. In the end, those with good, quality, thoughtful content are generating awareness, owning their perception, and excelling.