The past 18 months have been transformative, for brands, businesses and consumers too. A seismic shift saw consumers flock from bricks-and-mortar stores to social media platforms, e-commerce apps and streaming services at staggering rates, which meant that brands had to completely rethink strategies and optimize their marketing mix to meet consumers where they were in the moment.
The way consumers engage with brands has irrevocably changed – and as brands and retailers gear up for the holiday season, marketing must adapt too.
According to a recent report from Smartly.io, which surveyed 1,000 US-based consumers to gain a greater understanding of current shopping behaviors and sentiment towards brands, it’s unlikely that the pendulum will ever swing back to what it was pre-pandemic times. Of those who already shop online, 87% plan to continue doing so even as restrictions ease and physical retailers open again, suggesting that affinity to online channels is here to stay for the long-term.
Impulse spending has become the norm as consumers look to make up for lost time and buy items they weren’t able to during global shutdowns. Indeed, Bloomberg estimates that US consumers have approximately $1.5tn in savings coming out of the pandemic last year – and they’re ready to burn it.
Smartly.io found that more than half (53%) of US consumers have been motivated by loosening restrictions to buy items such as new clothing and travel accessories online that they can use right now, with 87% of respondents expect to make online purchases in at least one of the following categories: apparel/retail (59%), food/beverage (44%), travel/hospitality (39%), entertainment (39%), home improvement/décor (38%) and automotive (17%).
Not only are consumers ready to spend but they’ll continue to spend online, making impulse purchases for items they can finally use, and this sentiment will last at the very least through the remainder of 2021.
The role of social media in the shopping mix too has changed. eMarketer forecasts that the number of US social commerce buyers will grow 12.9% to 90.4 million in 2021, highlighting an evident need that digital advertising on social platforms will continue to play an increasingly critical role in driving consumers to make purchases. After all, nearly four in 10 (38%) respondents to Smartly.io’s survey reported making an online purchase based on a digital ad they saw on social media in the past 30 days, while 44% discovered a new product or brand.
The stats point to a confident outlook from consumers on online shopping and product discovery through social advertising, but brands can’t afford to delay their attention on respecting consumers’ data. Consumers are more privacy conscious than ever, with 85% of US consumers prioritizing their personal privacy data more than they did a year ago. They want to see that companies are prioritizing privacy too, with 91% of US consumers more likely to purchase from a brand online if they feel that brand is trustworthy and has transparent data practices and 74% more receptive to digital ads from brands when it is clear how their data is being used.
Differentiate with creative
In a privacy-first world where consumers dictate the experiences they desire online, brands must evolve how they approach ad personalization, with the agility to adapt and leverage new tactics to build trusted connections with consumers and audiences. How? It’s all about creative.
“Brands need to rely more on relevant, personalized creative delivered in the right place at the right time, with privacy-friendly contextual targeting,” says Riikka Söderlund, director of marketing at Smartly.io. “The best performing target audiences can’t be the sole focus any more as they’ve become more opaque. There is also a need to be more iterative, scaling creative production in a faster, more agile way to ensure there’s enough creative to find the ‘one’ that resonates.”
Advertisers will need to use creative, rather than specific targeting, to highlight what is unique, what stands out and what is relevant about an offer – and do this across the buyer journey, making creative compelling at every possible conversion point.
That’s easier said than done. Content demands are increasing and design teams often lack bandwidth to manually produce the amount of content they need for the vast channels and formats.
Smartly.io says it’s all about volume, velocity and, quite simply, producing smarter ads. That means giving advertisers the creative tools to quickly produce and launch creative variations across markets, channels, products and more, ensuring creative resonates with audiences.
“By uniting design and performance from start to finish, advertisers are empowered with the speed and agility to iterate and scale creative production, breaking down creative and data silos, while at the same time providing deep insights to test what’s resonating in the market and optimize campaigns, both in-flight and future, to drive engagement,” adds Söderlund.
The current environment might seem challenging but it’s also an opportunity for brands to stand out. There’s appetite for online shopping and social media advertising, but to meet consumers’ needs for convenience and privacy, brands must build trust and be clear how data is being used.
As marketers gear up for a future without third-party cookies, the focus turns to getting creative to reach wider audience pools. This often untapped and overlooked function can serve as the silver bullet to differentiate going forward – especially as creative optimization gets more sophisticated.
The future of social advertising will be a winning combination of creativity, data and insights. The brands that will come out on top will leverage creative insights to serve ads that drive sales across platforms, while keeping a watchful eye on privacy. Overlook any of these components and consumers may overlook you.
For more insights on how consumers will shop this upcoming holiday season, check out Smartly.io’s social advertising trends report here.