Brisbane visual merchandiser Ashleigh Jackson has never met Kmart boss Guy Russo, and she’s not even on the payroll despite all the hard work she does promoting the discount department store’s homewares.
The 26-year old is responsible for The Kmart Forecast Instagram account, which boasts more than 140,000 followers who appreciate Ms Jackson’s carefully curated images of the chain’s latest homeware merchandise.
It’s a powerful marketing mechanism for the Wesfarmers-owned retailer and it’s already attracting commercial interest.
High-profile paint brand Dulux recently reached out to Ms Jackson and she’s now running an interior styling competition for its Duramax spray paint through her Instagram account.
The popularity of The Kmart Forecast still surprises Ms Jackson, who set up the account to indulge her love of replica designer homewares.
“The only reason I started was I was really bored with my social media page,” Ms Jackson said.
“Kmart released all these replica designer pieces. I love design and I’ve always loved interiors but like a lot of people I couldn’t afford to buy the originals,” Ms Jackson said.
“I tried to make The Kmart Forecast look like a really nice Pinterest page, I shot some of it in my home and upload some of the images from the #Kmartaddictsunite.”
From that hashtag, Ms Jackson said her following snowballed to over 140,000 people in less than a year, putting it on the radar of companies like Dulux.
“It’s just exploded when I didn’t think it would,” Ms Jackson said.
“I was very picky with what I posted, I like everything to be uniform and I was very strategic with what I posted and who I followed and now I have a number of popular interior stylists and brands following me.”
The ultimate goal is to turn The Kmart Forecast into a commercial venture and follow in the footsteps of fellow social media success story Sam Jockel, better known as the “Aldi Mum“, who is now paid by the German discount supermarket chain to review its products.
Ms Jockel will not reveal how much Aldi pays her, but Hugh Stephens, director of the social media consultants the Dialogue Group, said partnerships with businesses were common in the social media space particularly in the fashion world.
“As people start making money from the fashion blogs, we’re going to see this across other industries as well,” he said.
Mr Stephens said that each Aldi Mum post was probably worth a few hundred dollars in equivalent digital marketing spend.
One analyst said Ms Jocke’s agreement with Aldi was potentially based on a combination of cash and product.
The success of The Kmart Forecast fits with the rise of the visual platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest as marketing tools.
Tech analyst Steven Noble said more than 80 per cent of marketers had a Facebook account, but the biggest growth this year has been in the uptake of Instagram and Pinterest.
He said about 32 per cent of companies were now on Instagram and 27 per cent on Pinterest, based on research with lead marketing executives from large Australian organisations
“The biggest growth has been in the sites with a visual feel,” Mr Noble said.
Social media mix
The shift away from Facebook as a marketing tool does not diminish its role in the social media mix, but points to its power as a complaints-and-review platform, said Sam Shennan, managing director of Clicks2Customers Australasia.
His digital marketing company counts some of the biggest retailers in Australia among its clients, including Wesfarmers, Westfield, Top Shop and Pacific Brands.
“For the younger demographic, Facebook has become a complaints channel, for Millennials and Gen Ys, if you have a issue you don’t ring up, you jump on Facebook and have a rant,” Mr Shennan said.
“The big change that we’ve seen … as a retailer you need to have two arms, one which is your marketing team, which uses those social platforms as an advertising vehicle and you have create bespoke creative [material] for each of them.
“And then you’ve got someone else, who looks after social from a more community perspective and that’s about managing the brand, how do I position the brand and engage with my customers via social platforms.”
Mr Shennan said these two areas were very different, and businesses needed to make sure they understood that difference.
“If you get too sales-y in your community social stuff, you’re going to get shut down.”
While in the past companies were aiming to collect as many “likes” as possible on Facebook, they are now increasingly using social media as a sales channel, he said.
Social sales platforms
Instagram and Pinterest are quickly evolving into purchasing platforms, Click Frenzy founder Grant Arnott concurred.
While the social media sites’ users can still only click through and buy things from a limited number of e-commerce platforms, this would rapidly become more prevalent as companies draw on the potential of social media to generate sales, he said.
“Channels like Facebook and Twitter are great for communicating, but they are less effective for engaging and inspiring people,” Mr Arnott said.
“And a lot of people use a company’s Facebook page as a bit of a dumping ground for complaints because it’s fully transparent and you can’t escape that.”
Ironically, some negative feedback or poor customer reviews can even support a brand in social media as they strengthen the credibility of its users, he said.
It’s not just about having a social media presence to build an identity and community around a brand: Businesses also needed to appreciate the spending power of social media users, said retail consultant Brian Walker, citing research that shows shoppers were 29 per cent more likely to make a purchase the same day they accessed a company’s social media accounts.
“We are living in this world where everyone is a consumer, authenticator, publisher and disseminator of content,” Mr Walker said.
And social media plays a crucial role, before, during and after sales: “When I talk to clients, we talk about omni-channel marketing strategies, we talk about creating an ecosystem which includes bricks-and-mortar stores, online and social media platforms.”
One of the companies that harnessed social media early and used it to develop and nurture a community was activewear company Lorna Jane, according to Mr Walker.
The secret to its success, or that of supermarket chain Aldi, was the link between their company brands and a clearly defined cause, something they stand for.
Lorna Jane’s slogan “Move, Nourish, Believe” runs through everything the activewear maker does – from in-store wellness classes, cooking recipes to motivational material on social media – and it’s far more powerful than a passive advertising message, he said.
Retail analyst Steve Kulmar said Lorna Jane got into social media early and fostered a massive following that is loyal to her ideas as an “active living advocate” as much as her products.
Lorna Jane’s online sales reflect the operation’s digital profile, accounting for up to 20 per cent of its total revenue.
“She has massive profile and she’s achieved that because she got in early and understood the value of online sales and Facebook sales,” Mr Kulmar said.
Similarly, Aldi has set itself up as a champion of supermarket shoppers and turned the image of major retailers – as big, impersonal businesses that don’t respond to their customers – on its head, Mr Kulmar said. The Aldi Mum fits perfectly into this image, sharing her experience of products and inviting other mums to provide their feedback as well.
Retail analysts expect companies will increasingly link up with such brand advocates in social media, realising they come across as more authentic than traditional advertisements.
Traditional media is very good at making customers aware of products, but it’s not as good at persuading people to buy them, according to Cummins&Partners global chief strategy officer Adam Ferrier.
“We are much more likely to believe something from a friend, because it comes from a more trusted form of communication,” he said. And this was the power of social media as a marketing tool.
“Aldi has taken on a consumer champion role and they’ve found an authentic reviewer and given her a voice,” Mr Ferrier said.
“Traditional media builds brand awareness … but social media skews towards building brand credibility and intimacy.”
Getting the balance right between building your brand and boosting sales was different for every company and he said consumers reacted strongly when companies got it wrong.
But he said “social commerce” was on the rise.
A lot of this activity was driven by brand advocates who loved a brand before they had any relationship with the company behind it.
First published on SMH on 21/11/15