A view from Peter Wilson

Selling to the selfie generation: how to build brands with retail influence

Brands are becoming more imaginative with their efforts to sell to the selfie generation, writes Iris' planning director.

Speaking at last week’s "Selling to the Selfie Generation" event, Hayley Stringfellow, the head of the National Lottery GameStore, was honest about her biggest challenge: "The thing keeping us up at night is making a national institution relevant to young people who are not currently very engaged."

Stringfellow is not alone in this. It’s 22 years since Amazon launched, which means there’s a whole generation of customers who have never known anything other than experiencing and shopping for brands at their ultimate convenience.

In recognition of this Iris recently conducted research, "How to Build Brands with Retail Influence", designed to provide insight into how Generations Y and Z shop in a world of social media and visual search.

It’s 22 years since Amazon launched, which means there’s a whole generation of customers who have never known anything other than experiencing and shopping for brands at their ultimate convenience.

The research highlights that while young people now aren’t that different in their motivations to young people from previous generations, their behaviour is enormously influenced by social media. Traditionally, shopping was seen as a means to an end, as a straightforward transaction, but due to the influencing power provided by social channels, the new generation views it as a cultural entity in its own right.

On top of this cultural factor, young shoppers have a desire to exchange influence with their peers, using their purchases as an expression of their deeper motivations.

Research not impulse

For instance, in our research, 0% of Gen Y and Z people claimed to make impulse purchases. This was due to sharing a lot of their lives on social media, including anything they buy, and an accompanying unwillingness to open themselves up to the risk of buying something unsuitable, instead favouring considerable amounts of research before parting with their money.

The findings of the research were supported at last week’s event, held in partnership with the Marketing Agencies Association at Iris Towers in SE1, which featured speakers from the media, startup, and marketing communities – as well as yours truly.

Carin Lee, the partner manager at Pinterest UK, talked about brands such as Covergirl combining the impact of visual search on Pinterest with instore activity.

She argued that the channel’s Promoted Pins are especially powerful for the millennial audience because 75% of content on Pinterest is posted by brands. "Often people don’t realise they are seeing ads when on the platform," she said.

Looking beyond mobile

Much of the talk was about the rise of video formats on mobile devices, including Pinterest’s own Promoted Video product, but Jenny Griffiths, the founder of visual search company Snap Tech and the Snap Fashion platform, argued that brands should look beyond mobile when encouraging millennials to shop: "Instant gratification in online shopping means no more inputting search terms or using mini keyboards on mobile devices, it’s about getting people to point-of- purchase without hassle."

Griffiths said that Snap Fashion is working on branding and visual search that works both online and offline through its Snap Instore platform, which involves interactive screens in fitting rooms. "Shoppers don’t even have to take their phone out of their pocket," she said.

The value of cultural ideas

The event concluded with Hayley Stringfellow’s insights into the National Lottery’s attempts to make itself relevant to the selfie generation. Her main point connected back to the research in that the Lottery is looking to make its experiences culturally relevant to a young audience. She said: "We need experiences to drive footfall into retailers, so we’re looking for cultural ideas rather than a new game or a digital idea.

We get pitched digital stuff all the time but six sevenths of our business is traditional retail and that’s where we need ideas."

Stringfellow’s needs highlighted the overall point that selling to the selfie generation involves a combination of providing great instore experiences that are culturally relevant together with a seamless purchasing journey that enables them to enjoy buying and owning their products.

Peter Wilson is the planning director at Iris.