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In retail marketing, the phrase “meet consumers where they are” has long been sage advice, whether that means catching their eye at the mall or during their daily Facebook scroll. But as behaviors change, so must our tactics. Consumers are increasingly mobile-driven, and mobile phones are as much a source of entertainment as they are communication devices. This glut of enticing distractions has caused our attention spans to shrink, creating a real conundrum for retail marketers vying for a slice of the attention pie.
Retail marketers now have to think like television showrunners, creating brand stories that captivate audiences and keep them talking. This is why video commerce — and most recently, live selling — is taking off. Shoppable video targets audiences in the middle of consumptive behavior without being an intrusive ad. However, in order for these videos to actually be engaging, marketers must understand the core elements of storytelling.
Think about what keeps you glued to your favorite TV show. Is it nail-biting suspense? The compelling characters? The relationships and conflict? Believe it or not, you can draw on these same principles when developing a live commerce strategy.
Let’s start with suspense. For this, we can turn to the tried-and-true method of teasing big moments upfront to engage audiences. It’s a strategy that evokes the classic “don’t go just yet” you’d hear before a commercial break. But when you have savvy viewers (especially Gen Z and young millennials, who demand authenticity from retail brands), you have to be more subtle. This means starting with a plan. What is it you’re trying to reveal, and what’s the emotional impact you want it to have on the audience? Perhaps you want to intrigue them with a sale-exclusive product, or surprise them with a celebrity guest. Use that emotion as a destination to guide the flow of the sale.
Working backwards may sound counterintuitive for live formats, where the experience is real time and largely unscripted, but engaging viewers requires structure and intent. For live selling, lean into interactive elements to foreshadow big reveals, dropping tantalizing hints to keep your audience on the edge of their seats.
Of course, the latter tactic only works if you have a strong host. Live sale hosts should have a flair for relationship building, both in connecting with audiences and conveying the details of their lives. There’s a reason that reality TV is so popular, and it’s simply because people are fascinated with other people. When connecting with viewers, the stars of your video commerce campaign should communicate with audiences using a balance of authenticity and theatrics; people want reality, but they don’t want it to be boring.
And at the heart of entertainment lies conflict. For most marketers, the word “conflict” might be a red flag, but conflict in the narrative sense doesn’t always equal violence. Instead, it means a tension among elements that makes the program more interactive. In a live sale, this might occur in the chat, where the host polls the viewers on what they would like to see next, or asks them to answer a trivia question for a shot at an exclusive discount. Encouraging audience participation, especially with a little competitive flair, will see them further invested.
Your shoppable videos don’t have to be Netflix-scale productions. Rather, they’re about telling a good story and building a personal connection with your audience. By employing the elements of narrative to hold your audience’s attention, you can create more effective campaigns that drive sales and keep your viewers coming back for more.
Andrew Chen is the chief product officer of CommentSold, a live selling platform.