Few people in marketing had imagined at the beginning of last year that most organizations would have to transform in the space of a few short weeks from companies that engaged in ecommerce, to ecommerce-driven companies. That is, however, what happens when an ecommerce growth of 250% is considered “middling”.
Pandemic driven swings aside, 2020 was always going to be a banner year for ecommerce, as the social platforms were set to make serious moves on ecommerce. While social commerce has existed in the west in some form, it has never been the juggernaut it is in, say, China in part because the disconnect between the social point of sale and a brand website has been too large to make significantly scaled efforts without a host of complications – stock being diverted to the wrong channels, pricing discrepancies, assortment mismatches.
What has allowed brands to leap in with both feet into social commerce is a move to a headless architecture.
For the uninitiated, a headless commerce structure is one where the technology backend and the frontend are decoupled, and then connected via a series of APIs – this introduces a phenomenal amount of agility to the system because it allows new frontends to be created rapidly without sacrificing the integrity of a unified system. An API can connect to (almost) anything, and so it is not surprising that the first set of “heads” that brands are choosing to activate are social platforms.
While a lot of headlines in 2020 around social commerce were dominated by integrations of a social platform with an ecommerce platform (e.g. Shopify and TikTok) this in some ways misses the forest for the trees, because social commerce will be driven more significantly by brands implementing a headless architecture.
Up until this point, this has been an interesting technological choice and marketers may be tempted to defer to the CTO on this – but this would be wrong. To not unleash the full potential of a headless architecture by plugging it into the marketing decisions you make would be the equivalent of buying a Ferrari and only driving it to the end of the driveway.
Rethinking content at scale
To really use a headless architecture to deliver a step change in the way that we communicate with consumers requires thinking on a few planes. Social platforms allow us to deliver immensely personalized messaging at scale, but this has massive implications on the content you need to produce, how that becomes dynamic, at scale and cost efficiently. Many brands are still grappling with content production for a couple of social platforms, against brand KPIs which are not nearly as ruthless as the commercial metrics of sales, profit, and AOV. For a social commerce solution to work, brands need to rethink their content production plan – dynamic creative optimisation (DCO) is a step in this direction, but fundamentally that is also a tech choice, and marketers need a complete plan for addressable content, underpinned by a complex decision matrix.
Brands also need to think of content at scale, not single point solutions. Digital media can be brutal in terms of rapid judgement on whether creative is driving engagement or not – and when we take this rapid optimization to its logical conclusion, we introduce a whole new set of variables. Currently when “creative doesn’t work” we do a variation of copy rotation. In a headless structure, if the Facebook Shop doesn’t work, you don’t introduce new callouts on the carousel ads: you shift focus to your presence on TikTok, set up a store, recruit the right influencers, and produce video because that is the inventory you need. Most brands are nowhere near having this level of fluidity in their internal systems or their production and decisioning frameworks.
Single view of product to drive storytelling
One of the benefits of headless is the single view of product and stock that it can provide – this may seem like little more than a nice benefit from a marketing standpoint, but it massively changes the stories that brands can tell. With a single view of inventory, a brand could start to do inventory aware planning – if you are running low on the blue jackets, switch all messaging to red across platforms. If you have too much of the blue jacket, actively start promoting it to reduce inventory on hand.
What headless commerce does is provide brands with the opportunity to engage with their consumers in completely new ways. The technology department is already all over it…will the marketers follow suit?