Balancing substance with style – breaking through the noise of celebrity endorsements

Patrick Lowe, area VP of business management at PFS, discusses the role celebrity endorsements play in helping e-commerce brands attract customers.

Kim Kardashian

In a world of fake news and paid-for celebrity and influencer endorsements, it seems that consumers are wising up to social and cultural influences when it comes to shopping online.

In fact, according to a research study by Oracle named ‘One Size Doesn’t Fit All’, a staggering 86% of respondents admitted that they saw through influencers or blogger endorsements. What’s more, despite the majority of consumers being active on social media, less than a quarter admitted to trusting adverts on social media.

Rather than being swayed by their favourite celebrities and influencers promoting products, it seems that consumers recognise the value of substance over style when choosing their top online brands. FMCG retailer Nespresso is just one example of a retailer that is successfully delivering on both. Whilst using A-list celebrity George Clooney as an icon for their brand, Nespresso also ensures it is delivering high-quality products, through a seamless in-store, online, order and delivery experience. It is this substance that keeps customers coming back time and time again.

Here, we discuss the role of celebrity endorsements for eCommerce brands attracting new customers, including how this role differs for celebrity-owned brands. Most importantly, we explore what happens when these brands can’t deliver that much-needed substance, and what they should be doing in order to succeed.

Celebrity endorsements – a powerful tool for growing businesses

There is no denying that the use of celebrity endorsements can be a powerful marketing tool for brands in the retail space, particularly for new, emerging brands, or companies trying to bolster their brand image in order to grow. For online retail giant, ASOS, celebrity endorsements have been key to the successful launch of the brand – with fans dedicated to emulating the style of stars like Millie Mackintosh, Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne.

People idolise celebrities, and this can be an extremely powerful tool to drive sales. According to a research report from Marketwatch, sales will likely increase by 4% (on average) following the initial signing of a celebrity. In fact, last year fashion retailer Boohoo spent approximately £80m on celebrity endorsements and other marketing costs, which saw a 48% jump in sales. The social media reach of celebrities can also be beneficial to online retailers, providing a much higher engagement rate when compared with branded ads. Most major celebrities have a few million followers at the very least, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo reaching a massive 200 million followers on Instagram alone.

Celebrity endorsed vs. Celebrity-owned

Whilst often overlooked, it is important to recognise the distinction between celebrity endorsed brands and celebrity-owned brands. Whilst both use celebrity influence to capture audiences, these two models will leverage this ‘celebrity pull’ very differently from a marketing perspective. Celebrity endorsements are often introduced by brands trying to grow and boost sales further. These brands should have already defined their identity and the celebrity chosen should be one that reflects this. Celebrity-owned brands on the other hand, have the initial pull within their existing fan base, but must ensure that both their product and customer experience live up to the hype.

Despite the differences between these models, in order to ensure sustained success through both a celebrity partnership, and for celebrity-owned brands, the brand must be powerful enough to stand on its own. After all, the popularity of a celebrity has the potential to change drastically – it just takes a controversial news story or social backlash over a comment or poor behaviour. Brands must have the staying power to overcome this. The Honest Company launched back in 2012 by Jessica Alba is just one great example of a celebrity-owned brand that has built a brand that goes above style alone, growing into a successful multi-billion-dollar brand. Aside from being backed by the famous actress, the company has earned its success through the creation of environmentally friendly, non-toxic, natural baby and health and beauty products.

Matching digital image with physical experience

In addition to ensuring the product lives up to expectations, if the quality of the customer experience, the product and the fulfilment journey, isn’t right then the chance of retaining that customer will be minimal, despite the customer’s affection towards the celebrity. To truly build brand loyalty, retailers will need to ensure the physical experience lives up to the digital image created during the online journey. But how exactly can online retailers ensure they are delivering on substance every single time?

  1. Implementing efficient order fulfilment

Customer expectation around the fulfilment of orders is continuing to grow at a rapid rate and is a key element for maintaining a positive brand image. Both the speed and condition the product arrives in will leave a lasting impression on the customer.

As an emerging brand, partnering with a distribution provider can be a cost-efficient way of keeping up with continually narrowing delivery timeframes. Pop-up distribution centres are another option – these temporary facilities can be rapidly deployed and de-leverage fixed costs of a year-round distribution centre, meaning brands can rapidly respond to increased sales through celebrity promotions, or quickly serve a specific geographical area when needed.

  1. Ensuring optimum packaging quality

Whilst often overlooked, packaging can play a huge role in the physical representation of a brand. After all, the way the product is presented is the first tangible experience a customer has with a retailer. If this packaging doesn’t reflect the image presented online, and the digital image it has created for itself through celebrity endorsements, then the trust between seller and buyer can immediately begin to crumble. For example, if a company is represented by a celebrity who is known as an advocate for sustainability, excessive packaging displays contradiction in the celebrity/brand relationship.

Ensuring the quality of the packaging is reflective of the celebrity, and what they represent, is therefore vital. For many online retailers, considering bespoke or personalised packaging options can be an effective way of keeping up appearances and maintaining a good first impression.

  1. Making customer care a top business priority

Customer care should be put at the forefront of building any successful brand. For both celebrity endorsed and celebrity-owned brands, customers often directly correlate the celebrity figure with the customer service programme so authenticity should be echoed throughout the entire experience.

Social media management should also be considered. Customers who receive an unsatisfactory experience when making online purchases, will often turn to phone, email, chat and – more importantly in the case of celebrity-owned and celebrity-endorsed brands – social media, to air their frustrations. For both celebrity-endorsed brands and celebrity-owned brands, unhappy customers can often go directly to a celebrity’s social media page to complain.

In order to resolve issues quickly, and limit potential amplification, brands must effectively track brand mentions across all platforms, ensuring they can be responsive and provide appropriate aftercare to customers.

Putting in place an effective customer care management team who are able to respond to customer feedback, queries and needs should be a top priority for any brand. Adopting automation technologies can enable brands to use tools such as chatbots and SMS services as a seamless extension of the brand, whilst automating process flows to provide more efficient and personalised customer care.

Maintaining the trust element

When building a successful brand trust is everything. If the brand experience doesn’t match up to the perception delivered by the celebrity, then the brand can open itself up to serious backlash from customers. This is true for both celebrity-endorsed and celebrity-owned brands who are under equal pressure to sustain loyalty. Whilst they may have the advantage of already having a large fan base, they too will need to consider everything from the initial order process, to distribution and the end product, in order to sustain brand loyalty.

When choosing a celebrity partner, retailers must ensure they remain authentic to why the brand exists in the first place. The bright lights of celebrity endorsements can fade over time, but if a brand is going to thrive it must have a strategy in place that sets it up for long-term, sustained success.

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