How to 'be more Aldi' – and ride out the recession on social

Since Cuthbert the caterpillar cake made his triumphant return to UK supermarkets in June, more brands have become wise to the power of entertaining content. But how can marketers ensure engagement leads to a purchase?

Peter Martin, MD at digital commerce agency SMP, on how light-hearted communications can reach new audiences, even consumers who are still able to spend during a recession. But in order to make an impact – and a sale – content needs to be authentic and genuinely bring joy.

People want brands to entertain them on social media, and that’s a fair expectation. With deep political division and a growing cost of living crisis dominating our feeds, irreverence and wit can feel like a sweet escape for most audiences.

But there’s a business incentive for doing this too. Brands that successfully curate entertaining content that’s both engaging and feels authentic can win over even the most sceptical consumers and then inspire long-term loyalty.

Just look at Aldi’s recent tongue-in-cheek #freecuthbert campaign on Twitter, which saw the brand’s purchase consideration score grow by more than 6 percent.

So as social platforms ramp up their purchase functions – TikTok has just added video and live shopping advertising to its wheelhouse – brands would be wise to remember that entertaining audiences must remain the primary focus for their social strategies.

If brands approach social channels with the same approaches they’ve used for more traditional e-commerce platforms and assume it’s just another sales tool, they’ll soon put audiences off and lose out to competitors that better capture the cultural zeitgeist on their channels.

Why brands should focus on joy and authenticity on social

Too many brands assume that airbrushing their product onto a funny viral meme is a shortcut to driving awareness and engaging audiences. It’s not a foolproof plan. Content must boost morale, but that’s moot if it’s not authentic to a brand’s values or tone of voice and doesn’t bring like-minded consumers together.

Following energy drink Lucozade’s partnership with Xbox earlier this year, which offered free prizes to consumers, the brand teamed up with gaming-focused TikTok creator @Jake. He has created a series of short-form videos on Lucozade’s channel that the gaming community relates to, while still promoting the drink.

So rather than attempting to own the gaming trend, Lucozade – knowing that it’s usually not associated with online gaming – chose to partner with a well-established creator that key audiences already trust and who shares their passions. @Jake’s own brand conferred authenticity and allowed Lucozade to reach them and tap into current trends and interests by association.

With the burgeoning success of photo-sharing platform BeReal and the recent Ofcom report highlighting that young people are now watching TikTok more than linear TV, it’s clear that short-form relatable content resonates more with audiences than over-polished posts on Instagram.

Before brands rush to take advantage of the growing number of social commerce tools, it’s key that they ensure they’re putting out the content their target audiences want to see. After all, most are using social media to be entertained, so brands will need to deliver on this.

Once they’ve built content that brings audiences joy and that they want to return for, they can then start to integrate shoppable functions.

So, once brands have nailed their content, they’re well-positioned to mesh this with commerce tools. For example, partnering with a creator that already has the lion’s share of a brand’s target demographic for a livestream to test and review products, but including an opportunity to make an instant purchase as each product is displayed.

Speak to audiences with purchase power

Research shows that consumers have a greater propensity to buy through TikTok and that 60 percent of users aged 25-34 earn higher than the UK average salary.

Faced with a growing cost of living crisis in the winter months, which will see consumers tightening their belts, brands can use social commerce as a tool to continue driving sales from those shoppers who are still spending.

The big opportunity here for brands lies in tapping into the ways consumers now buy through social channels. 71 percent of TikTok users have made an unplanned purchase because of TikTok, while 16 percent have made an impulse one – but where an impulsive buy in a bricks-and-mortar store is usually a small add-on, consumers are more likely to bulk buy or invest in a big-ticket item to justify an online delivery.

Brands can make a real profit from consumers that are willing to spend more on social media, but they shouldn’t assume that it’s a way to make a quick buck. A social content strategy that incorporates commerce tools requires a long-term strategy and won’t always be profitable straight away.

Instead, they should use socials to reach current and new audiences through content that makes an impact, brings people together over a shared interest, and even shifts opinions.

Content that is designed solely around selling products will haemorrhage engagement and brands will struggle to sell products even with sophisticated social commerce capabilities. It’s about integrating what audiences want to see – bringing them joy and entertainment in the process – and then giving them the option to buy if they want.

Peter Martin