Marketers seeking to thrive in the e-commerce arena should get back to basics, consider online retail platforms as media destinations, and ensure they do not place too much emphasis on performance marketing.

Those were the main takeaways from a session held by WARC during Lions Live, a virtual event convened by Cannes Lions – WARC’s sister company – that outlined major e-commerce trends and provided granular insights from various industry experts. (The video of this session can be streamed free here, and WARC subscribers can read a summary of the main takeaways here. )

This is a back-to-basics moment, and brand experience is key

The first recommendation for brand custodians hoping to enhance their capabilities on digital, a shift that has been encouraged by consumers looking online after the outbreak of COVID-19, is to focus on the fundamentals.

Consumer habits on e-commerce sites vary greatly from brick-and-mortar stores – such as a move to larger, less-profitable pack sizes, and a lower frequency of impulse purchases.

More broadly, the fact that online shoppers are not able to feel or touch a product means the wider customer experience is vital – especially when making big-ticket acquisitions.

Cheryl Calverley, CEO of online mattress brand Eve Sleep, told WARC that the risks for consumers are low when it comes to small-value purchases, but when buying a bigger-ticket item, the customer experience is absolutely essential.

“The effectiveness of our customer experience and the impact of that on your brand is significant. And if the investment in the brand and the customer experience is wrong, the investment will be ineffective,” she said.

Closer integration between marketing and the supply chain is a connected part of this process, as spikes in demand prompted by communications must seamlessly be fulfilled.

Patrick Miller, the co-founder of Flywheel Digital, a sister company of WARC that assists brands in optimising their presence on such sites as Amazon, Instacart and, characterised the delivery process as a “second moment of truth” for brands.

The first is the point when a purchase is made. But the process of getting a product into the hands of a consumer is another opportunity for customer delight or – potentially – disappointment.

“Unboxing moments are no longer just for Apple products,” Miller observed. “Today, it’s even for toilet paper. How does the product arrive and what’s it like to open up the product and then put it away in a pantry at home?” he asked.

Performance marketing is being transformed

Another indicator of the new synergies resulting from the shift to e-commerce platforms is the growth of these sites into media destinations in their own right.

This will clearly benefit Amazon, the biggest online retailer in the US, but brick-and-mortar players like Target and Walmart have also rapidly boosted their omnichannel capabilities.

New, shoppable ad formats are one source of inspiration for marketers to explore this space, as is the ability to immediately link a brand message and a final transaction.

The Hershey Co., the candy manufacturer, is adapting to such processes by breaking down former silos that separated off its e-commerce marketing efforts.

“It’s been an interesting, and very quick, journey to bring all of those budgets together, and to plan them together so that we aren’t overlapping each other or shingling, as we call it, one offer on top of another,” Jill Baskin, the CMO at Hershey’s, reported.

A development from China that shows where e-commerce and media can intersect in powerful ways is livestreaming, which blends entertainment, influencer marketing and retail in compelling ways.

Elijah Whaley, CMO of Chinese influencer consultancy PARKLU, suggested community is a core element of this engaging formula.

And he pointed to beauty brand Perfect Diary as an example, as it has built numerous private WhatsApp groups, and even created a virtual brand ambassador to promote its products.

“It’s really, really fascinating what they’ve done to really turn customers into long-term, loyal advocates for the brand, and keep them around by creating this avatar, this character that people really identify with, and follow, and are interested in,” Whaley said.

But the focus on performance carries a threat to brand

The heightened measurability of e-commerce comes with a temptation to focus on performance marketing, which seeks to drive short-term outcomes in favour of long-term brand advertising.

Budgetary pressures induced by COVID-19, and the looming recession, will increase the allure of this strategy, and so accelerate a pre-existing gravitation towards short-termism in marketing.

Firms like Expedia, the online-travel company, and adidas, the sportswear giant, have benefitted from reconsidering that type of approach.

Jerry Daykin, EMEA media director at healthcare company GSK, explained why performance marketing alone is not sufficient. It offers real-time data to help optimise campaigns, he said, but cannot establish the overall impact of media.

“I always encourage marketers to also take a step back to what’s sometimes seen as slightly more old-fashioned forms of measurement: brand lift studies and econometrics and slightly slower-moving pieces that ultimately will really help you understand the performance of your media,” added Daykin.

Sourced from WARC