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Social Media: How new-age brands are converting stories to sales

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Having a strong social media strategy in place, these brands are creating a ripple in retail, the effect of which has forced many big brands to pay more attention to their social media footprint.

A strong social media presence which also includes engaging with customers using WhatsApp has become the new norm in retailing. In the COVID world, the power of social media is being actively used by budding new brands in roping in new customers and pampering the existing ones.

No matter how big or small a brand is today, having a robust social media strategy is imperative for growth and survival. No brand today can skip having an online presence on various social media platforms and this is something that any retail guru would vouch for. A look around and we notice innumerable brands online that are working towards building themselves using social media and after having tested the waters, taking an offline plunge. Having a strong social media strategy in place, these brands are creating a ripple in retail, the effect of which has forced many big brands to pay more attention to their social media presence.

The story of Huda Beauty, that built itself completely using Instagram and is today one of the most sought-after beauty brands in the world, is known to all. Similarly, The Souled Store – with its quirky range of products / merchandise – managed to build a strong customer base online through their own website and is today eyeing prime offline retail space across key metro cities in India. There are innumerable such brands that have gone ahead to redefine retailing purely using social media, engaging with customers, and working towards being a part of their digital lives.

One Click at a Time

Having a brick-and-mortar store is the ultimate dream of any entrepreneur who wants to be a part of the retail world. However, that’s not all they want. Budding entrepreneurs today are busy building their customer base online before taking the offline plunge. A look at some of their Instagram handles and one cannot but help wonder the miracles they manage to achieve in terms of having a strong customer base that could give tough competition to some established brands. Working on their niche, they have thousands and sometimes even lakhs of patrons who are not just one time customers but who also double as brand promoters and endorse the brand out of sheer goodwill.  For instance, the Instagram handle That Adorbs Hijab, a super niche venture by Batul Iqbal – who is in her early 20s – has close to 29,000 followers from across the globe. She has two niche launches in the category of head scarf and prayer mats, one being a tie-up with a UK-based brand as well. Having started off just 3 years back, she has built herself one step at a time and all by herself.

Talking about her store, Batul Iqbal says, “I started off 3 years ago with uploading pictures of hijabs on a new Instagram account I made for this business. I started off with limited stock and just one picture of each product as a post and uploaded them which to my surprise got sold within 24 hours. I then called for more and more hijabs, each time more in quantity than the previous ones. I also took part in exhibitions in Mumbai and then started with travelling to different cities for the same. I now have the most number of hijabs than I have ever had and it is going smoothly at a good pace. I also sell Hijab pins; magnetic pins to hold the hijab together is something I launched in India and now almost all hijab brands are selling it too.” With just 20-30 orders a month, Batul sells in 3 digits numbers and her stock holding capacity has more than tripled over the years. With a full-fledged website, professional photoshoots, content that is engaging, rewards programs, brand collaborations etcZainab. the young lady is doing that any well-established brand does today.

Another example of a good social media presence is PatilKaki. PatilKaki is a Mumbai-based food brand that is reaching out to customers with scrumptious delicacies in the category of local snacks. The brand took the online retail plunge during the lockdown and this period proved to be a boon for the eatery, requiring them to explore new territories. Vinit Patil, Founder, PatilKaki talks about this journey, saying, “The brand has been in existence since 2016 but it’s e-commerce inception was in June 2020, when we were all home sitting at the peak of the lockdown. Starting off with a website and a small marketing budget, we began to see a few customers. It took us a while to convince people to try our products. Soon, a few initial orders poured in and that was enough of a reason for us to continue. But the story doesn’t end here. We then started getting great reviews which gave us a newfound purpose to serve our lovely customers and live up to our name. If it wasn’t for the reviews and the love people had for our products, we would have called it quits.”

“Sometimes, courage is not in doing the difficult things but is in doing the simple things well. And essentially what we are trying to achieve with PatilKaki is that we want people to have the best homemade snacks experience in the comfort of their homes, something different, something that they have never experienced before. We also give 100 percent money back guarantee (No Questions Asked) on not liking our products. This helps us in being consumer centric,” he adds.

Patil says that his brand went from zero orders a day in June 2020 to orders in double digits everyday by Diwali 2020. “As of March 2021, there are days when the number of orders goes well into 3 digits orders. Marketing ads help well to get us a good reach but transparency and attachment we have to our customers and vice versa enables a strong word of mouth as well.”

Taking about the social media strategy in place that the team at PatilKaki has, he says, “We have been present on Facebook and Instagram since the start. We engage with our customers with a few posts every week. WhatsApp has definitely helped us in maintaining a more close and personal relationship with our customers. Due to the repetitive nature of our business, retaining our present customer base is as important as adding new customers to it. Shout-out to WhatsApp broadcast as well!”

Another lockdown story is that of Mumbai’s Shubham Supermarket. With an active reach across the city using the WhatsApp medium, Kamini Rambhia of Shubham Supermarket is ensuring that a personal touch is extended to all their patrons and the SKUs at her store offer an eclectic mix of everyday to extremely niche items as well. Sharing the journey of the store’s inception, she shares, “During the lockdown imposed due to Coronavirus, we heard people complaining about not getting the things they wanted. Things such as masks, hot snacks, dry snacks were high in demand. That is when we started delivering in and around our area. This was the beginning of Shubham Supermarket. Soon we opened our store in Dadar West, Mumbai. Since then according to the demand, we started increasing our categories.”

“Today, we have categories such as organic food, diet food, organic fruits and vegetables which we procure direct from farm, healthy food items like khapli wheat, brown rice, black rice, liquid jaggery, jowar upma/idli, jowar bread and much more,” she adds.

The story of Cottington Lane is an inspiring story for brands to learn from. From just two products, today they have more than 25 SKUs with an India reach yet with a one-on-one rapport with their customers. Krishna Murari Ishwar, Founder – Owner – Cottington Lane shares, “We began our journey in March 2019 with 2 products in our portfolio – Baby Swaddle Blankets and Printed Bedsheets. However, within 2 years of span, we managed to increase our portfolio from 2 products to 25+ category products. We are currently exclusively available on Amazon.in. Since our inception we have served more than lakhs of happy customers.”

Ishwar explains, “We started with a 5-member team but now we have team of 150+ members. We have 2 manufacturing units in Indore (Madhya Pradesh) and Bhiwandi (Maharashtra). Our brand reaches more than 500 customers daily, all from different parts of the country.”


Getting the Strategy Right

On the social media strategy put in place for her venture, Batul Iqbal shares, “I only use Instagram and Facebook but to be honest, I am most active on Instagram. I regularly post stories and pictures on my feed and now reels are really in trend, so I make those too! I do it all inhouse. I make sure to:

  • Use good quality pictures
  • Not make typos and spell check the captions
  • Using only my original work
  • Not screenshotting other brands’ images
  • Not over editing pictures and being consistent in uploading content.”

On the importance or necessity of indulging in paid promotions, she adds, “I rarely do paid promotions. I had tried it in the past and did not receive as much engagement as I had expected. It was all about just increasing the ‘likes’ of a particular post that is promoted and that is it. I would rather collaborate bloggers and promote through them.”

Patil’s take on paid promotions differs here. He explains, “Ads are essential for the growth of any business in current times as organic reach is poor unless you have killer content. Creating content is hard because it involves creativity, is tedious, requires a lot of time and you have to keep up with the trends. Unless you have someone who is purely investing their day in creating content, it is difficult to achieve. So, paid promotions, definitely a yes. I would also like to add that knowing when to kill an advertisement is important. It is something you pick up with experience. Apart from that, we do often host giveaways every now and then. Although having tried it once, we now do not believe in paying someone to promote our products. We feel our products are good enough to market themselves.”

Ishwar reiterates Patil’s stand on the importance of paid promotion saying, “In this era of continuous competition, it is very important to get one step ahead of our competitors. The paid promotions give that boost and opportunity to specifically target potential audience. Get the sales and improve the ranking so organically too, ranks improve.”

Sharing her social media journey, Rambhia reveals, “We have been on social media since the first day of our journey. Our main target audience is the millennial and the health freaks. They are the ones who are mainly on social media. And hence social media is our core medium for promotion. We are present on every possible social media like WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook. On WhatsApp, we use WhatsApp broadcast lists and WhatsApp status. Similarly on Instagram, we not only keep our audience posted through posts but also on stories.” On the strategy in place to ensure customer satisfaction, Rambhia says, “The social media is managed in-house at our store. We make sure that our audience is not harassed with unnecessary posts. We also ensure proper grouping so that the post reaches the exact audience. It is important to share proper and crisp content.” To hear Rambhia’s view on the necessity of paid promotions, “We operate in a low margin field and hence look out for promotions which have a reasonable share. We do not mind indulging in paid social media promotions if there is a good option. At the moment, we have partnered with Dunzo for the same since they are sharing a comfortable and reasonable margin. Paid promotions are important and moving forward, we are open to it provided the profit sharing should be reasonable enough to sustain the partnership.”

Ishwar adds, “We do most of our social media business through Facebook and WhatsApp.  We have enrolled on WhatsApp Business which helped us manage catalogue and easily communicate with customers. With the facility of WhatsApp payments and other UPI channels, payments get easy.” Highlighting on the advantages of social media in reaching out to the TA, Ishwar states, “Social media is a powerful tool to reach thousands of potential customers in just single click. All the information is shared quickly, and customers can reach and purchase products anytime. Social media also provides quick analyses of how money is spend on advertising and get the result without delay. Easy to analyse the market and customer’s behaviours. Easy to understand as well.” According to him 16% of their traffic generation comes from various social media campaigns.

Elaborating on the importance of collaboration, Patil adds, “We have been featured in 91 Springboard’s HUB magazine and also tied up with a few local sellers to push our products. Collaborations help you get a wider reach and fuel your growth. We have not been able to achieve huge results in this parallel but if a business can cut a deal with one of the big industry influencers / peers, it sure does help.”

The 5-Step Social Media Plan for Retailers

Omnichannel Presence: Retailers need to be available on all top social media platforms, and not just pick and choose one.

Photoshoot: Get a professional to do product pictures.

Keep it Simple: Clear calls-to-action to entice customers

Influencer Marketing: This is the online version of word-of-mouth. Retailers must use influencers to spread the word about their product.

Personalisation: Retailers must invest in getting the analytics behind retail social media trends so they can know their customers better and personalize accordingly.

From Exclusive Website to Offline Space

Majority of the brands that have grown using their social media presence have their own websites too. Though most of them engage with the customers personally on Instagram handles, WhatsApp or on Facebook to seal an order. Just as challenging it is to run an offline store, maintaining a website and keeping it updated is equally challenging and most of the players in the industry would agree to this though again, a website remains important to understand how a customer behaves while at the brand’s exclusive online place. This does give a sneak peek into what it would be like having the customer in front of you at a physical retail store.

Patil talks about the experience of running their brand website, “Yes, we do have our very own website too. The most epic site ever built – www.patilkaki.com No jokes. Daily we have around a couple dozen abandoned carts, often times the same people every once in a while. This goes to show the undying love our ghost customers have for us! Having a website is a huge challenge in itself but if you manage to build a good website that has the necessary functionality, it gives huge convenience to the customers (not to forget, the online shopping lovers). It gives you, the owner, a few tools which save you time and make things faster.”

On her website, thatadorbshijab.com Batul Iqbal has her entire collection uploaded and her mantra for getting more clicks is to, “introduce new collections every month to keep clients interested.” And just like any other well established online retail portal, she offers various modes of payment and delivery which includes card payment, UPI payment and COD as well. On her offline presence, Batul Iqbal has been reaching out to customers through various expos across the country. She even offers her customers to visit her place of residence cum office to check on the collection and carry the scarfs and accessories back with them and return if they don’t match with their outfits. No questions asked! So that’s all about building customer trust and relationship!

On the payment and delivery options available at PatilKaki, Patil shares, “As a customer first company, we have ALL payment options available. Debit card, Credit cards, Netbanking, UPI or wallets, you name it, we have it all, along with Cash on Delivery and Pay on Delivery. Our delivery timelines differ from location to location. We have a 24-hour express delivery option currently available for Mumbai and surrounding areas only.”

As far as offline experience goes, Patil says that his brand had experimented with local sellers towards the end of last year but due to the virus, the response wasn’t great. “As of March 2021, we do not have any offline stores yet. But we are very close to tying up with local sellers and having our own stores in the near future. We are working towards it at meteoric speed. We sure will make it happen very soon. Once the vaccines are out and people start going out like they would before, that would be the best time to execute it.”

Though Cottingtonlane has no exclusive website as of date, they do plan to open multiple offline retails stores starting with Indore city. Ishwarshares, “And then we would open at various metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Noida, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, etc.”


Creating & Sharing their Stories

Long after everything is forgotten, it is the stories that remain with us and in retail, the brands that manage to create memories through stories are sure to win. Young brands understand the power of visuals and words and little wonder majority of them design their social media campaigns using content that is designed to grab eyeballs. Be it on Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter, the budding brands have quite well understood the pulse of their patrons and with close interaction, they are moving ahead – one step at a time.

Quotes

Vinit Patil, Founder, PatilKaki:  “The brand has been in existence since 2016 but it’s e-commerce inception was in June 2020, when we were all home sitting at the peak of the lockdown. Starting off with a website and a small marketing budget, we began to see a few customers. It took us a while to convince people to try our products.

Batul Iqbal, Founder, That Adorbs Hijab: I started off with limited stock and just one picture of each product as a post and uploaded them which to my surprise got sold within 24 hours. I now have the most number of hijabs than I have ever had and it is going smoothly at a good pace. I also sell Hijab pins; magnetic pins to hold the hijab together is something I launched in India and now almost all hijab brands are selling it too.

Krishna Murari Ishwar, Founder – Owner – Cottington Lane: “We began our journey in March 2019 with 2 products in our portfolio – Baby Swaddle Blankets and Printed Bedsheets. However, within 2 years of span, we managed to increase our portfolio from 2 products to 25+ category products. We are currently exclusively available on Amazon.in. Since our inception we have served more than lakhs of happy customers.”

Kamini Rambhia, Founder, Shubham Supermarket: “During the lockdown imposed due to Coronavirus, we heard people complaining about not getting the things they wanted. Things such as masks, hot snacks, dry snacks were high in demand. That is when we started delivering in and around our area. This was the beginning of Shubham Supermarket. Soon we opened our store in Dadar West, Mumbai. Since then according to the demand, we started increasing our categories.”