No longer a platform for just sharing vaguely hipster-ish photos of meals, #OOTDs and selfies, Instagram has undergone a sea change since its launch in October 2010. Both from the inside, by famously getting rid of its distinctive feature of confining photos to a square in 2015, and the outside, with the buzz about its potentially game-changing new newsfeed algorithm just about abating.
Brands slowly caught on to Instagram, once they realised the immense potential the platform’s 400 million plus monthly active users provided as a captive audience – generating 80 million plus photos and 3.5 billion likes daily. In 2015, less than 30% of US companies used Instagram for marketing activities. That number is expected to cross 70% by 2017, edging out Twitter for the first time.
The numbers clearly make for a compelling case as to why brands need to get on to Instagram. So the big question is, how do you turn all those followers and likes into marketing ROI?
Brands need to have a clear business objective in mind. They can use Instagram to increase brand reach and awareness, drive ad recall and recognition, increase purchase intent and build a community of advocates and brand loyalists.
South East Asian e-commerce giant Lazada was already investing heavily in Facebook ads, when Instagram’s Marquee option and self serve ads rolled out in Asia. Lazada saw an opportunity to test if running a parallel Instagram campaign could help boost brand metrics and sales, both online and via its mobile app.
It used Marquee ads to create category and panoramas and supplemented it with mobile app install ads, capitalising on the mass reach gained through the Marquee ads. Within a month, Lazada was able to boost in-app purchases by 6.5%, and achieve a 20 point lift in ad recall — providing a clear business case to continue investing in the platform.
Brands also need to develop campaigns that provide value to Instagram users and don’t interrupt their social experience. Looking at the UX of Instagram, it is clear that the focus is on viewing and engaging with user-generated content. As users of the platform, we expect brands to play nice within that paradigm, making it integral that their ad messages and formats work within how users see the platform.
Paper Boat already owned a well-loved niche in the Indian beverage industry, when it decided to drive brand awareness further by positioning its drinks as the perfect mocktail mixer for Indians aged between 25 and 35. The creative strategy leveraged the natural inclination of Instagram users to use the platform as a source of inspiration. By creating aesthetically shot images featuring nostalgic Indian symbols, Paper Boat was able to drive an 18 point lift in brand awareness and ad recall.
The ultimate measure of success for a campaign is defining the return on investment (ROI) that it brings. Without a pre-defined and well planned measurement framework in place, the investment is for naught. Beyond simply measuring the uplift in social engagement (increase in followers, likes, comments etc), brands also need to invest in brand tracking, conversion tracking and sales measurement to be able to quantify the impact of the advertising campaign.
Ranging from on-demand brand tracking studies provided by agencies like Millward Brown and Nielsen, down to integrating analytics and tracking platforms ranging from Google Analytics, Adobe Social, SiteCatalyst and sales and CRM tools, companies have a wide variety of options at their disposal.
While Instagram is a much loved and heavily used platform by digital natives today, it is still in its infancy as a brand platform. To successfully leverage it, brands need to be willing to invest in the platform as a long-term marketing channel, running repeated ‘test and learn’ campaigns until they can uncover the tactics that work best for them.
In news that will surprise no one, Vogue has begun attempting to monetise their Instagram account, partnering with rewardStyle, one of the most popular affiliate marketing companies. The program operates by sending product links to user inboxes, when they like Instagrams tagged with a ‘LiketoKnow’ link.
The program is still in its infancy, and Digiday reported that currently Vogue makes up to 20% commission on each item sold from its Instagram account. That may sound like an impressive ROI, until you crunch the numbers. Vogue’s inaugural ‘LiketoKnow’ Instagram of a Steven Alan scarf made around $290, which is hardly enough to pay for a Steven Alan dress, let alone become a major source of revenue for the magazine.
But where there is a will, there is a way. Instagram represents the next frontier in the marketing world. And with more and more brands entering this space, marketing on Instagram is rapidly becoming less of an art and more of a science. The question remains: how will you conquer it?
The author is director, client solutions, VML, SEA & India