“Catalog Day” used to be a huge thing for consumers. You’d receive your awesome gear catalogs in the mail and browse through all the cool new gear, lusting after the latest and greatest in instruments, effects and more. When the Internet came along, e-commerce Web sites replaced those catalogs. At first available only to those with the budget to build one, such sites are now available to practically everyone through Wix, Squarespace or, with a little know-how, WordPress. Many independent retailers have strained to gain traction with e-commerce, but they’ve successfully been able to leverage social media sites like Facebook into generating some product buzz. What has my attention currently is one of Facebook’s other properties: Instagram.
For those who aren’t already using the platform, Instagram is a simple and straightforward photo-sharing app. It offers great filters to make your photos even cooler, and it easily integrates with other social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. Instagram has 500 million active monthly users, and I’m one of them.
I personally have been an Instagram user for years, and I’ve always enjoyed the platform. I never gave much thought to adopting it as a marketing tool for retail, until I started to see companies like Taylor Guitars using it regularly. Then, I realized I followed quite a few brands myself.
I thought about why I followed brands on that particular platform, and it occurred to me that the delivery on the platform is so simplified that it makes it instantly enjoyable. My friend Jessica Wagner of social media management company Jus B Media told me, “Instagram is a catalog for your brand.” Total light bulb moment.
What Instagram does best is deliver single servings of great content, which are easy to digest. Your followers can see them and enjoy them at a glance. Interactions are simple: Double tap to like or write a comment. Instagram also uses hashtags, similar to Twitter and Facebook, and it allows you to tag other accounts in your photos. Data on interactions, referred to as “insights,” is available once you hit 100 followers.
I know most of you probably already use Instagram, and a lot of that information seems remedial. So, let’s dig a little deeper. It turns out the keys to delivering good content on Instagram are simple.
Post great product images. The immediate instinct is just to post product photos every day, which makes a lot of sense. Instagram is an amazing and efficient way to show off your product offerings. If you follow Reverb.com (@reverb), Tobias Music (@tobiasmusicguitars) or Carter Vintage Guitars (@cartervintageguitars), you’ve already seen stellar examples of that. It’s probably the single most important way you can use Instagram to engage potential customers, because it’s a way to highlight your store’s unique offerings, put them in front of your customers’ eyes and make them available at a glance. The key is to focus on your unique offerings—items that are unusual or hard to find—and capture them in a single image once or twice a day.
The image must been engaging, and you want to adhere to a clear and consistent style. As with any catalog, you want to show your products and their surrounding space in the best possible way. So, try to use good lighting and minimize glare, and try to find interesting ways to display products. There’s nothing lamer than a guitar on the floor with the case lid open. Don’t do that! Take a few minutes and stage something that’s visually interesting. If you don’t know what’s visually interesting, then put the job in the hands of someone who does. At the very least, learn from the example of other great stores that are doing it right. That is what brand-marketing experts call “finding your voice.”
Show off your shop and your staff. Along with displaying products, Instagram is a great opportunity to show off your store. Spicer’s Music (@spicersmusicllc) has some stellar décor, and the store regularly shows that as it updates areas, or as the background for product photos. Many of Spicer’s displays appear to be handmade, and they’re really well thought out. We have several murals in our store, which I often feature. I also like to show off our staff, so that existing customers make a connection to people they know. That reinforces our position as a small, independent store, and it differentiates us from larger, more corporate stores, where customers are less likely to bond with staff members. We leverage our staff because they’re another emotional link to our customers, as well as another way to engage them.
Invite customers behind the scenes. Instagram is also great for showing behind-the-scenes stories and giving customers insight into the personality of your store. People love to be “in the know” and see things that aren’t normally on your Web site or Facebook page. Mason Music (@masonmusicrocks) and Ernie Williamson Music (@erniewilliamsonmusic) are some of my favorites in that department. Mason Music highlights its students, as well as new features around the shop: for example, a wall feature built of old cassette tapes. It’s awesome and eye-catching. I would go there to check that out.
Those are prime examples of visually compelling images and videos that invite customers to learn the story of your brand. They show customers the character of your staff, and they create fun, interesting, original content for customers to enjoy. You can also share premade photos and graphics on your account by simply importing them to your phone. That allows you to add graphics and logos, reinforcing your professionalism and brand emphasis.
Videos tell great stories. I’m a video guy, and Instagram is a great video-delivery device. Not only can you post one-minute videos to your regular feed but, now, Instagram also has a great feature called “Stories.” It’s an ongoing photo and video feed for your account that lasts one day. I love that feature. I recently recorded a “day in the life” type of story, detailing my day from beginning to end. It was a great way to let customers inside my life, and to give insight into what it’s like to work in my store. As a side benefit, it was also a great way to shut up all my friends who think I just play guitar all day long.
Have fun. I know marketing isn’t everyone’s department. Moreover, putting thought and time into it, creating strategies and being brand-conscious can make sharing on social media seem, at times, like a contrived enterprise. Like all marketing, it can be. However, it can also be a great way to have fun, build customer loyalty and increase customer engagement. And that, in turn, can help convert sales.
Are you using Instagram as an effective tool to build your brand? How did you find your voice and encourage your customers to engage on the platform? How has that impacted your sales? Have you found an effective means to measure the impact?
(Originally published in The Music & Sound Retailer)