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'Buyable Pins' and Instagram's 'Shop Now’ button: agencies sound off on how brands can use these social tools to improve user experience

This week, Instagram announced that it will be ramping up its ad offerings with action buttons while Pinterest said it will be rolling out ‘Buyable Pins’ in a few weeks, allowing users to buy what they see.

Ultimately, the moves by the two social platforms give brands more visibility on social sites and helps streamline the purchasing process.

What’s less clear is how consumers will react to these additions – whether they’ll be welcomed as a way to make shopping easier or be seen as unwanted distractions, particularly on Instagram where users typically go to see friends’ photos or beautiful imagery instead of shop.

The Drum spoke with US agencies to find out if these shoppable buttons will change how brands market products going forward and what opportunities they provide to help increase consumer engagement.

Scott Fogel, senior strategist at Firstborn

The release of Buyable Pins and “Buy Now” buttons has essentially blurred the line between lifestyle and consumption to a point where it’s nearly indistinguishable. It used to be that buying something was a distinct and separate activity from hanging out with friends, being on vacation, or eating at a restaurant. Now, these things are all blending into the same social feed, and because of that, the nature of the purchase process itself is changing.

In these kinds of curated environments, brands can no longer attempt to create their own experiences that are separate from one’s lifestyle. Instead, the new challenge in driving sales will come down to how well a brand can complement the aesthetics and taste of their consumers' existing feeds.

Kyle Bunch, R/GA managing director-social

By the end of the year, you'll be able to click and buy from pins on Pinterest, photos on Instagram and Google search results. Friction in the purchase process is disappearing almost as fast as digital noise is growing. The takeaway for marketers is simple: give the people something good and an easy way to buy it, then get the hell out of their way.

If the success of new social ad units like mobile app install ads is any indication, contextual "buy it" or "shop now" actions will be very effective at driving conversion. Moving to a "closed loop" model makes social an even more critical engagement layer, one of the only means to continuously nurture relationships—from awareness to purchase and loyalty—across an increasingly far-flung array of digital touch points.

In the drive to continually optimize user experience, the gatekeepers at Facebook, Google, Amazon, Pinterest and the other networks are going to force retailers to streamline their paths to purchase while embracing channel agnosticism. Retailers who focus on translating their brand value across various social contexts to provide a seamless omnichannel experience will win the day.

Victor Pineiro, Big Spaceship vice president of social media

Coming across a product in an Instagram ad is a more personal, almost intimate experience compared with other platforms, because Instagram is a hermetically sealed social network. Up to this point Instagram ads have been intermittent and links have been non-existent, so scrolling through your feed is still a very pure experience.

There is also no algorithm dictating what content you see and what you don't. Those elements have brought the platform a lot of love and trust, which halos to the brands and products that users follow. Placing a thoughtful ad that matches the overall Instagram aesthetic could lead to richer engagement than the same ad would garner on other social platforms. However, polluting users feeds with more ads and with links will potentially lead to backlash, which could sour brand perception and ad performance, at least in the short term.

The biggest shift will need to be the quality of the actual product photography. Successful Instagram photos really need to stand out, which means using eye-catching photos that often follow visual themes popular on the platform. I foresee a lot of Instagram influencers brought in to photograph products and brands so that they match the look and feel of popular content and play to visual trends.

The potential outcome for retail is similar to what we've seen happen to brand websites. Why travel to a dozen different retailers' sites when fans can subscribe to their Pinterest or Instagram handles and have the best items delivered to their feed daily? What I imagine we'll begin seeing is consumers using products posted onto Instagram and Pinterest as their gateway to retail sites, which will mean retailers will need to pay a lot of attention to the types of products that draw audiences to explore more.

Dave Krugman, BBDO creative department social editor

There are two economies on Instagram right now. There is the Influencer community- brand advocates who have built up a tremendous following on their own, who brands can tap to amplify their messages on the platform. And then there is paid media, which will now include action buttons, something that traditionally hasn't been offered.

The advantages offered by paid media have been reinforced by this addition. Beyond precise demographic targeting and analytics data, brands can now encourage their customers to engage with them directly from their paid media posts through action buttons.

I see the economy of Instagram slightly shifting...away from Influencer marketing and towards paid media. Brands want hard data, not just advocacy. But advocacy is still an essential component and should never be overlooked.

Personally, I believe the most successful campaigns will have a two-pronged approach: paid media for massive reach, backed by analytics tools and action buttons, and influencer marketing for community credibility and authenticity to the platform and environment.

Ultimately these changes will fundamentally alter the experience of Instagram, for brands and consumers alike.

Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate

Curalate has long believed that the point of purchase is moving to the point of interaction. Both Pinterest's and Instagram's decisions to make images shoppable through buy buttons is part of this larger megatrend that we believe will reshape retail and disaggregate commerce. And both of these platforms play into another megatrend that we believe in – that consumers' preferred unit of engagement is rapidly becoming pictures, not words.

That said, I think there are differences between how these platforms have chosen to approach shopping. On Pinterest, products will be buyable whether they were placed there by the brand or whether they arrived organically through consumers. Instagram, on the other hand, appears to be initially restricting this to paid campaigns.

Regardless of approach, we think it's great to see these moves taking place and it's very much in line with what we're empowering brands to do.

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