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Business Leadership Ecommerce Retail

The commerce revolution is starting – here’s how to respond

By Beth Ann Kaminkow, Global chief executive officer

VML

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The Drum Network article

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March 10, 2023 | 7 min read

In 2021, VMLY&R Commerce launched its ‘creative commerce’ positioning alongside the new Cannes Lion. Now, global chief exec Beth Ann Kaminkow says that a new revolution is here, handing power to the people.

A travelator

The commerce revolution: are you ready? / Tomasz Frankowski via Unsplash

We’re experiencing a people-powered revolution in commerce, where technology has put unbelievable power into the hands of shoppers. The ways in which consumers seek out and buy goods and services have fundamentally shifted, and the logistics involved in the manufacture and fulfillment of those products have also changed dramatically, and forever.

But that’s not the end of the story. Quite inspiringly, this is only the beginning.

As the tectonic plates of commerce continue to shift, 2023 is tracking to be a pivotal year in our industry, requiring nothing short of a revolutionary transformation in the work we produce and how we structure ourselves to deliver across industries.

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From evolution to revolution

There is always an inflection point between ‘evolution’ and ‘revolution’. My view is that what we’ve lived through to date is evolution, albeit at a head-spinning pace and over an extended period. But the dust has settled, and we’ve entered 2023 with a ‘post-pandemic’ mindset (I use that term advisedly: the health effects of the pandemic continue, but our collective global view is to cautiously move on).  

The past three years have been building to this moment. The revolution starts now.

Between 2020 and 2022, the accelerator was pumped on commerce, and the brakes tapped at the same time.  The shift to e-commerce skipped ahead at least five years virtually overnight, as locked-down consumers transformed into online shoppers. Much of this growth came at the expense of physical shopping and was a temporary (yet severe) replacement in a time of unprecedented need. 

Commerce was also enabled more effectively by social channels and aided by retail media surging ahead in those pandemic years. At the same time, though, supply chain disruptions put sand in the gears of commerce. These changes (and more) gave brands pause to consider: how do we set ourselves up for the future?

The most recent holiday period offered a taste of how shopper behavior has changed, and the ways we need to respond. In the US., a record 55% of all e-commerce sales on Thanksgiving were on mobile devices. Store traffic was up too: 17% over the period from Thanksgiving Thursday to Cyber Monday, but in-store sales increased only marginally.  Marketers and retailers got a front-row seat to the realities of the new end-to-end journey – shoppers who value the store experience, but often end up transacting on the move and across channels. 

Meanwhile, Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival showed an increase in immersive digital experiences like augmented reality, virtual reality and the metaverse, plus growth in celebrity influencers and livestream shopping. Gamified loyalty programs and purpose-driven marketing proved, more than ever, that brands can’t bore people into buying.

Shoppers want to be free to transact wherever and whenever the mood takes them. Their need to be entertained and engaged along the journey is the new creative imperative.

The realization of creative commerce

Strip away the buzzwords and our ultimate task as marketers is to sell stuff. But in the commerce revolution, brands are now invited to exploit the trifecta of impact at the moment of conversion – building a brand, engaging consumers and delivering commercial outcomes.

Manolo Arroyo, global chief marketing officer for the Coca-Cola Company, puts it perfectly: “Understanding the end-to-end dynamics that convert shoppers into buyers is a critical component to ensure that we move transactions into a value-generating purpose.”

We’ve entered a new chapter where brand and business are intertwined, and the outcome is the acceleration of creative commerce. In 2023 and beyond, the ideas transforming businesses are those laser-focused on the immediacy of turning browsers into buyers, relying on insight-driven creativity to entertain, engage and convert at the moment, regardless of channel. As one leading CMO remarked to me: “We are on a mission to be known for conversion marketing.”

This new, evolved mission is to enable brands to close the gap between discoverability and transaction. The response we are after is: “I love it, I want it, I buy it!” That goes for luxury goods as much as consumer-packaged goods.

Just look at social commerce and TikTok. Right now the de-influencer fad, ‘dupe’ meme and hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt (with 43.8bn views) are powering-up purchases and brands, so how do companies respond?

Upending traditional structures

Consumers don’t think in silos. They expect brands to behave consistently and engagingly, no matter the channel. They also don’t behave in ‘funnels’ or follow linear journeys, moving neatly from awareness to purchase. Brands cannot act in a disjointed way either.

Leading marketers are ‘blowing things up’ in the commerce revolution. The Coca-Cola Company has introduced ‘end-to-end experience strategists’. Colgate-Palmolive is uniting marketing and sales. Unilever’s top marketer, Conny Braams, dropped the title of chief marketing officer for chief digital and commercial officer, reflecting an ambition to build brands via commerce channels.

These marketers are smashing through internal walls to focus on what really matters: the consumer and their purchase journey. 

This ups the ante for agencies too. We need to be inventive, nimble and concentrated on creativity and conversion. In the era of the commerce revolution, we must be more collaborative than ever – one team; brand, retailer, and agency – enabling the right architecture that shortens the distance between ‘brand love’ and ‘brand buy’.  

The last three years have provided the foundations for the next revolution in commerce. The time is now to build the playbook for the future.

Business Leadership Ecommerce Retail

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