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Social Influence: Turning sales into marketing

September 15 2015

Kacha Azema

If you’re like most companies, your sales are a quiet affair. Your customers move through the purchasing process privately, making decisions and buying products without broadcasting it to the world. Take Josie for example. She’s attracted by your latest ad campaign, explores what you have to offer, decides she wants your widget and then—silently, invisibly—she makes the purchase.

What if you could make this individual sale an attention-getting moment that generates more sales?

Welcome to the world of social influence

The dominance of social media in millennials’ lives has introduced a new form of currency in the marketplace: social influence — the influence that everyday people like Josie have on their networks. When they tweet, post, or share a selfie featuring your brand and products, they’re signaling to their tightly-knit social tribe of friends and family that they like you. That’s worth something!

As I wrote in a previous post about User-Generated Content (UGC), millennials are far more influenced by what others have to say about a brand than by what the brand or paid spokespeople say about it. That peer-to-peer influence is even stronger when it involves endorsements and recommendations from people like Josie who they know personally. And influence is what we’re after when we’re looking to turn one sale into a million more.

How can a brand leverage social influence?

Right now you accept dollar bills in exchange for your products. But what if you accepted a different form of currency? What if you accepted Josie’s social influence as “legal tender for all debts public and private” instead of the dollar bills she usually pays with?

By leveraging her social influence, you could turn that individual sale from a private transaction into a public declaration of support — and generate more sales in the process. If you ask her to post that “purchase” to her followers, you’ve just reached a group of people with Josie’s same tastes and interests. You’ve unlocked a new audience for whom you’ve paid very little, but who are like-minded with Josie and therefore highly likely to purchase just as she did.

It’s a relatively new concept, but several established brands have already upended the traditional business model, rethinking the kind of currency they accept and successfully transforming sales into marketing. Take these examples:

  • Walkers Crisp – UK Frito Lay brand Walkers Crisp recently installed bus stop vending machines that dispensed a free bag of chips when the user paid with a tweet.1 Each of the three vending machines gave out 260 bags of chips per day during the two-week promotion. Considering that the average Twitter user has 208 followers,2 Walkers Crisp was able to become a recommended brand to a new audience of 2.2 million people!
  • Nike – Nike Mexico took a different approach by giving people the chance to purchase their next pair of running shoes with miles.3 Users who recorded their run on the Nike+ app could use their miles to bid on a pair of shoes via a companion Facebook page, essentially broadcasting their endorsement of two Nike products. With this strategy, Nike generated far more interest and enthusiasm for the shoes than they would have through any single sale. And they did it by finding the intersection between athletes’ regular training activities, their own Nike technology, and the currency of social influence.
  • Urban Degree – This South African clothing retailer recognized a trend: users were sending dressing room selfies to friends, looking for advice on which outfits to purchase. Leveraging that existing user behavior, Urban Degree’s two-week #urbanselfie promotion gave $10 and $20 coupons to users who posted their dressing room selfies to the brand’s Facebook page.4 The brand has an almost exclusively millennial audience, so with an average of 319 friends each,5 those users’ #urbanselfies reached more than 34,000 like-minded shoppers.6

These are great examples of the different strategies brands can use to take advantage of a medium millennials enjoy. The individual sale used to be silent. But by considering a different form of currency, brands can flip the script and leverage social influence to give that sale a megaphone. For example, here at Skidmore we’ve recently been working with one of our brands to use Instagram’s hashtag-emoji feature as a marketing tool that drives new sales. We love this kind of creative thinking and we love brand partners who do, too!

Interested? Get in touch and let’s talk some more about how a different perspective can generate extraordinary results.