As we kick off 2012, one of the most prominent online trends is an increasingly diverse array of content curation platforms. While sites like Digg and reddit have been around for years, a new crop of sites like Polyvore, Svpply and, most notably, Pinterest are allowing people to organize their favorite discoveries from around the web into themed collections that friends and contacts can follow.
Marketers are excited about the trend’s subsequent opportunities, as it appears to be an evolution in online influence. (Consider that Pinterest, with only 5.3 million active users, drives more traffic to Real Simple than Facebook.)
Shoppers are turning to these curated experiences to help filter the Internet’s overwhelming amount of content down to manageable collections of products centered around shared taste. Unless you know specifically what you want to buy (in which case, search is the weapon of choice), browsing curated collections can be the most interesting way to discover new products and retailers. As an example of the power of human curation, just compare the results of a Google search for gloves with the same search on Pinterest. Now ask yourself which search makes you want to buy something?
With a little practice, shopping curated collections can be a lot like shopping in a real-life boutique — a boutique where the goods are selected and stocked to meet the needs of its best customer: you. And because these collections are created by real people (in many cases, friends from within the shopper’s own personal social network), the resulting shopping experience is authentic, powerful and hugely influential on purchase behavior.
The trouble for retail brands? Consumers often prefer curated collections, which tend to be absent of overt branding and promotion. They don’t turn to curated communities to learn about the Gap’s winter line or the latest sale on Macys.com. No, what drives both curators and the consumers who enjoy these experiences is discovering and sharing “products on the verge.”
But that doesn’t mean established brands and retailers can’t leverage this trend and capitalize on the powerful influence curated collections can generate. Try these three ways that brands and retailers can leverage curated commerce.
1. Look for Your Brand ‘In the Wild.’
Just because curated collections don’t often feature bigger brands doesn’t mean these retailers don’t show up at all. And when they do, it presents a huge learning opportunity for brand and store managers to see products in a new context — the way influential tastemakers see you. By understanding which other brands or products surround yours, you may discover a new dimension to your merchandising strategy.
A simple Pinterest search for “Brooks Brothers” yielded this visually rich and focused collection called “Preppy Cool.” Perhaps the Brook’s Brothers site could benefit by creating similar visual appeal, leading customers to purchase items that naturally fit a targeted style preference.
2. Bring the Outside In.
If you find that your brand has been included in a curated collection, take pains to identify the curator, explore past collections and try to gauge her influence and audience. If you can’t find yourself in curated collections, you can still look to identify tastemakers that share your aesthetic or ethos.
Once you’ve identified the right individuals, encourage them to consider adding you to their collections. Better still, invite these curators to create a collection on your owned site and in stores, thus giving them a new platform for expression and self-promotion, and you a fresh take on your merchandising. For an example of a brand that understands the power of bringing the outside in, check out J.crew’s partner-curated collections and brand partnerships.
3. Go Off Property.
Sure, you can curate a collection on your own website or other digital properties, but you’ll tap entirely new tastemakers and audiences by integrating your products within an existing community site. Just be sure not to focus too much on your own brand, or else you risk being labeled a shill and, thus, lose customer-valued authenticity. Your brand should be the garnish on a plate of freshly discovered “products on the verge” — never the main dish.
For example, check out how a few Sephora products benefit from a widened context on this color-themed Svpply.com set.
Leveraging the effects of curated commerce will require extra time, effort and imagination. However, it can have an extremely powerful impact on both shoppers and your brand. When it comes to influencing consumers, the human touch is everything.
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