March 14, 2019: (While Instagram was down) #SXSW2019 recap; Instagram’s new branded content ad format; Pinterest rolls out new shopping features; More than 5,300 retail stores set to close in 2019; YouTube releases AR filters for Stories
Here’s what’s worth knowing this week:
#SXSW2019: Biggest Influencer Themes and Takeaways
So many panels, so little time. Another year of SX interactive is coming to a close and there was no shortage of discussions around trust, consumer privacy, AR/VR/XR, AI, diversity, inclusion, sustainability, and politics.
The most exciting examples and discussions of influencer marketing didn’t happen in the “influencer marketing” panels, but rather, in conversations about how shifting dynamics in trust are elevating influencer marketing’s role, and how brands like Mastercard are working with influencers to expand their brands into new channels and use cases. And really, is JKatz’s Quibi the next big thing?
What We’re Talking About
Building Trust in Distrustful Times. Neil Pasricha, New York Times bestselling author, and Frank Warren, PostSecret founder, broke down three factors that drive how we seek to build trust today:
(1) In an era of infinite choice, the value of curation skyrockets.
(2) In an era of bots, we trust brains.
(3) Go all in, show all in.
Each factor underscores why consumers look to influencers to inform their decisions, and why influencer marketing continues to grow as a core strategy to marketers’ businesses. The best influencers use their expertise to curate experiences and products for their followers, and they continue to grow that trust by showing what they stand for and demonstrating the insights that they possess.
With more touchpoints and channels in the consumer journey, marketers can no longer rely on traditional advertising (including digital) to break through the noise. Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Mastercard, discussed the transformation from storytelling to storymaking, specifically how Mastercard has evolved its brand for emerging audio channels like smart speakers, most recently debuting its sonic brand identity.
Mastercard tapped famous musicians and local artists to serve as strategic advisors, partners, and content creators to ensure that the Mastercard melody would resonate with people and experiences globally. These deep cultural understandings, paired with a consistent brand voice, allowed Mastercard to create a fluid yet distinct and memorable melody that was able to transcend across cultures.
The next influencer marketing landscape is audio and sonic brand collabs. It’s also something that Reesa Lake, EVP at Digital Brand Architects, hinted that her company’s practice is working to disrupt.
Tech Bets & Politics
Conversations around tech and privacy dominated SXSW, in part stemming from Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up Big Tech. Panelists in media, tech, and politics were asked to comment on Warren’s proposal and the broader topic of regulation.
In one of the most talked about sessions of the week, Instagram’s co-founders expressed disagreement with Warren’s proposal, with co-founder Kevin Systrom stating, “Breaking companies up is a very specific prescription for a very specific problem. If you want to fix economic issues there are ways of doing that. If you want to fix Russian meddling there are ways of doing that. Breaking up a company doesn’t fix those problems…being big in and of itself is not a crime.”
As it relates to how influencers impact the economy, Systrom also noted, “You can regulate it. On the other hand, you let it go unregulated and let it flourish. What’s going to happen? My biggest fear is that Instagram has become less authentic because of it.”
Speaking of authenticity, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman unveiled the concept of “Quibi” (short for “quick bites”), the next short-form video platform promising to merge the best of Silicon Valley and the best of Hollywood. The platform is kicking off with a new series, Frat Boy Genius, about Snap founder Evan Spiegel. which seems both meta and cruel considering that this concept is straight from Snap’s playbook (h/t to Hubspot’s Amanda Zantal-Wiener).
Instagram’s Branded Content Glow Up
Instagram has rolled out a new ad format that will allow brands to sponsor influencers’ posts and then promote them as if they were their own ads.
Previously, influencers could amplify a non-tagged sponsored post, a brand could amplify a brand-tagged sponsored post to its followers, or a brand could repurpose an asset in an ad unit to promote beyond that audience. With the new tags, Instagram not only opens up the tagging feature to micro-influencers (yay!), but also allows brands (not influencers) to amplify posts to audiences beyond influencers’ followers. It’s a win-win for both parties.
This is game-changing. By easily allowing marketers to scale influencer campaigns to their target audiences via paid, more emphasis is put on the creative and less on the followers. Also, it’s a move towards greater transparency and monetization. You can assume that brand-tagged sponsored posts receive less visibility in the feed and almost all will require paid amplification.
Pinterest’s New Shopping Features
Pinterest has rolled out a number of updates aimed at helping retailers to drive more sales via the platform.
We’ll take it directly from the source:
- Shop a Brand: A new dedicated section from retailers below Product Pins. Pinners will be able to explore a brand’s catalog by clicking “more from [brand].”
- Personalized Shopping Recommendations: Next to style, home, beauty, and DIY boards, Pinners will see in-stock ideas related to what they’ve been saving. They will have the option to add Pins to their board(s) or go straight to checkout on retailers’ sites.
- Catalogs: Brands can now upload their full catalogs to Pinterest and easily turn their products into dynamic Product Pins, which means more shoppable Pins across Pinterest. A new dashboard allows businesses to organize their feeds so their products can be discovered and purchased by Pinners.
- Shopping Ads: The ad units are now available to all businesses through Pinterest’s self-serve tool Ads Manager. Once products are on Pinterest, brands can easily promote items from their existing product feeds with Shopping Ads.
- Shopping search: With more in-stock Product Pins, there are more products to search. Just search for a product like “midi skirt,” “mens watches,” or “outdoor furniture,” and shopping results appear on top of the home feed. To start shopping, click “see more.”
That sounds like a lot.
That’s because it is. As Pinterest gets closer and closer to filing for its IPO, it has become laser-focused on making the platform more appealing to retailers. Just last month, Pinterest announced that it’s using AI to remove the human element from the “Shop the Look” Pins.
The product page experience was not designed for the Digital Age. We all know catalog-style shots stand out like a sore thumb on Pinterest. Why not create a better user experience? With Pinterest streamlining marketers’ abilities to directly upload their product catalogs to the platform, marketers have the opportunity to recreate and disrupt the current product page experience by adding influencer-generated content to product catalogs. This will assist in generating more native content when dynamically generating ads on not just Pinterest, but all social platforms.
The Future of Retail
According to a new report from Business Insider, more than 5,300 retail stores are expected to close in 2019.
That’s a lot of stores.
Yep. Just last week, Charlotte Russe, Family Dollar, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Chico’s announced more than 1,100 store closures. Two weeks ago, Gap, JCPenney, and Victoria’s Secret announced more than 300 store closures. Payless has said it plans to close all of its 2,500 stores in what could be the largest retail liquidation in history. So what in the world is happening?
Retail is having a moment. No, “brick and mortar” hasn’t died; it’s just growing up. The rise of e-commerce has forced the industry to rapidly innovate to meet consumers’ expectations. It’s up to retailers to create digital-first, personalized retail experiences. Retail leaders like Apple and Amazon are radically transforming the in-store shopping experience through experiential design.
Given the rising importance of experiential design in providing an immersive experience for consumers, marketers have the opportunity to rethink physical experiences and retrain in-store employees. In addition to unique, digital-first in-store experiences, employees must also be trained to assist consumers in the content creation process, whether that means helping with lighting or providing styling advice. Going the extra mile through thoughtful employee involvement will serve to optimize influencers’ (and consumers’) in-store experiences.
YouTube Adds Snapchat-Like AR Effects
YouTube has rolled out augmented reality (AR) selfie filters to its Stories.
TLDR: Google updated ARCore, its software development kit for AR experiences, with an Augmented Faces API that lets creators add animated masks, glasses, 3D hats, and other digital overlays to their selfies.
Remind me about YouTube Stories.
YouTube Stories are short, mobile-only videos with text, stickers, filters, and music that expire after seven days. Originally launched as Reels in 2017 to about 100 creators, YouTube Stories expanded in late 2018 to creators with more than 10,000 subscribers.
YouTube Stories aren’t the only Google product set to receive an AR upgrade. Google is also working on new technology that will enable users to overlay directions on top of real-world imagery via Google Maps, and a new “creative mode” on the Google Pixel camera called Playground.
Although YouTube may still be playing catch-up to Instagram and Snapchat with AR filters, the platform is making serious plays in the short-form video space. YouTube creators, which the platform defines as having at least 10,000 subscribers, are the first people to have access to the AR filters. Marketers looking to test these new features will need to partner with creators, as they’re the only ones who will have access to the new features.