The importance of storytelling on social media | Coffee & Conversation: Alin Dobrea
The Golden Rule of Social media is engagement and storytelling.
It's giving customers stories that they can relate to. Be it that you're a brand or a person, at the end of the day its all about the storytelling.
Shashank: Hello, and welcome to Coffee and Conversation on BTCN, I'm your host, Shashank Bengali. I'm here with Alin Dobrea, he's the Head of Brand Partnership for ZALORA, one of the biggest fashion ecommerce platforms in the region. Alin, thanks for joining us.
Tell us a bit of what you're hoping to achieve here at the conference.
Alin: I'm here just to connect with different tech providers as well as fashion brands and also non-fashion partners just to understand how they're looking at ecommerce and marketing in the region.
S: You're working at one of the biggest fashion platforms in all of SEA. What has it been like for you to tap into these big and emerging markets with the ecommerce credibility that ZALORA has?
A: It has been a very exciting journey. We're seeing amazing growth across the region and all of the markets in Asia, especially in SEA. We can see a huge boom. We've seen it in China, a couple of years back. And now its spreading across markets like Indonesia and Philippines, they have a huge middle class that's booming and we're seeing very good growth in these markets.
S: You came from Marks and Spencer. You used to work in London for Marks and Spencer, venerable bricks and mortar retail business, and now you're working for a digital business. What has that evolution been like for you? To see the changes in marketing from one to the other?
A: I think moving from a bricks and mortar focus business to a pure play digital business has been super exciting. Even in M&S we had an online business which was still quite big. In some departments it was already 30% - 40% of the sales.
S: Do you feel like in Southeast Asia, for example you mentioned Indonesia and Philippines and some of these big markets that we have here, that customers particularly in the second and third tier cities are leapfrogging into digital technology. Are they more comfortable buying fashion online than perhaps consumers in other parts of the world that are used to traditional bricks and mortar companies?
A: Absolutely. From what I've seen, moving from the UK and looking mainly at Europe is that customers in these more evolved markets will mainly shop on desktops. Everything you do here has to start with mobile. You've to think about every single interaction and making sure that the customer journey is spot on on their mobile devices. Like you mentioned, customers in these markets have leapfrogged so there was no desktop for them. They just went straight into a mobile first world.
S: And then the issue is that some areas still have connectivity and 4G access (issues). How does ZALORA ensure that the app is optimised for people all across the region?
A: So that's a very valid point. We look at that as well and we look at how to constantly optimise the app. From that point of view, we're basically tweaking the app to make it as small as possible. One, it doesn't take up a lot of space on the device of the customer, and secondly, we optimise the in-app experience so that loading time is fast, and there's no lagging behind.
S: You've seen tremendous growth in this business, and of course we know that ecommerce allows companies to collect so much more information about their customers. In what ways do machine learning and other technologies help ZALORA better target products to their audiences here?
A: We see ourselves as being a data-driven business – a data-first business. If you want to look at it that way, so really understanding our audiences and making sure that we use the data properly. Just to give you an example, like you mentioned, we might be using some machine learning in our advertising, and we might be having attribution, for example, that tells us, “Oh your paid search is doing really well. You should narrow down on this channel rather than investing in another channel.”
That's great, but I think we're trying to get to the next level of that, where we look at paid search but then we go even more granular than that where we would look at paid search, this specific creative targeting this specific demographic is doing fantastically well, let's hedge our bets on that one. So its that level of granularity that we're looking at in terms of when we're planning our communications, and when we're planning our marketing.
S: In a way, it seems your customers know ZALORA really well as a brand. At the same time, they haven't had the experience of going into a physical store so what are the challenges for a purely ecommerce play to create that kind of social media presence or marketing presence to be sort of seen as human or create that authenticity that consumers kind of want from their brands?
A: I think if you ask me, the Golden Rule of Social media is engagement and storytelling.
It's giving customers stories that they can relate to. Be it that you're a brand or a person, at the end of the day it's all about the storytelling. Some examples could be like giving customers access to backstage product launches or fashion shows. I think they really want to understand what's happening behind the scenes, and kind of giving them exclusive access to these things.
S: So how does that work in the case of ZALORA? Do you feel like you can replace your traditional brick & mortar stores or will there always be customers who want to shop for fashion both online and offline?
A: I think customers are going to shop for fashion anywhere and everywhere. That's how I see it, so customers are not going to just shop offline or online exclusively. I think its one of those things where you're constantly on the go, meeting people, doing things and you might be purchasing from an offline store, and you might be going online later in the evening and finishing up just after you visited the store.
The role of the store may be slightly evolving. Its just maybe rethinking what is the purpose of the store. Is it becoming more of an engagement channel? Is it becoming more of a place where you tell your stories? A really interesting example is the Burberry store in London where they were able to create really immersive experiences. So I feel like a lot of the stores that are opening these days or a lot of the brands that are trying to do new things, they're re-purposing the store just to be able to engage the customer a bit more.
S: When you look ahead at the next five to ten years, what are the sort of advances that you hope to see either in AI or in general tech innovation that will keep disrupting and changing the ecommerce market for fashion?
A: There're quite a few things here. One of them is visual search. In the ZALORA app itself, you're able to search visually and the conversion rate is much higher than normal text search or voice search.
Then I'm thinking augmented reality here. We're looking at a lot of tools that allow you to try on outfits, visualise yourself wearing a pair of sunglasses, trying on different types of makeup.
And then if I were to think about what's happening now, and what we're going to see more of, the third point would be video platforms. We've seen the emergence of Tik Tok in recent years across the world. It emerged from China, they did a massive acquisition with Musica.ly, and now they're really becoming a powerhouse. I think they're here to stay and it just shows again the power of visual storytelling and the power of being able to engage with your audience. I think that sort of technology where you can bring video to the forefront, that's going to be here to stay.
S: You've worked in London and Southeast Asia. What's different about the consumers in this part of the world compared to other places that you've worked at?
A: Here we've seen emerging consumers in some of our markets. If you think about Philippines or Indonesia, the population size is huge over there, and now we're seeing this consumer that has quite a considerable spending power as compared to previous years. They do want access to high quality products as well, we're seeing a growth in demand in these regions.
This is very exciting times to be in these markets because you're part of the growth and you're able to connect these customers to the limitless world of fashion. Its super exciting to be part of that and see how consumers here are transitioning and having this disposable income and access to not just fashion ecommerce, but also travel, entertainment and so on.