January 20, 2021

Let’s Talk Local #06: Local Social Media Marketing with Abha Gallewale

Abha Gallewale from ASICS Corporation joined us to talk about local social media:

📍How to balance brand identity & local-level personalization

📍Using data insights to refine your social strategy

📍How Asics has moved parts of the in-store experience online

Find the episode on Spotify, or search "Let's Talk Local" on your favorite podcasting platform!

Conversation transcript

Text has been lightly edited for clarity.

Welcome to Let's Talk Local. Today, we're talking about local level social media marketing, and we're joined by Abha. Thank you for being here. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

My name is Abha. I manage global social media for Asics, the running shoe brand based in Boston, Massachusetts, in the US.

There’s a distinction that we think about quite a lot at PinMeTo when it comes to social media, and that's the distinction between the brand level and the local level. I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about the differences between how to post locally versus posting at brand level, and how the marketing strategies are different for those two different types of social media profiles.

I would say that we at Asics definitely take a tiered approach. So we have a global team that kind of is in charge of managing the brand as a whole and making sure everything stays consistent across the regions.

But at the same time, we do have regional social teams in place to manage those regional pages. We do have a global brand account. For example, on Instagram, you'll see Asics as a global brand account. And that's something that I manage. But then we also have regional Facebook pages that are sort of locked to a consumer in a specific country.

If I type in Asics on Facebook, I'm automatically going to be redirected to the US page. In Sweden, you'll be redirected to the European page. And so we rely on the regional teams to be posting local content based on the priorities of that region.

Can you give me an example of what an actual post would look like, how it would be different on a global page versus a local page?

So for example, if we take the Los Angeles Marathon, which Asics sponsors, maybe on the brand page we might be talking about just the overall marathon partnership and sponsorship and maybe the history of the marathon or something like that. Whereas on a local level, if there is a European athlete that takes second place in the marathon or wins the marathon then the European page will be more focused on that specific athlete and telling her or his story. Maybe the US page will be more focused on Los Angeles specifically, and then maybe the other regions might not necessarily choose to participate much in promoting that specific marathon, but in Japan, they might focus on Tokyo Marathon instead.

And at Asics in particular, how much say does the corporate headquarters have over what these individual regions are posting, or even at the local store level?

That is a very good question. I would say the regions have a decent amount of autonomy because we rely on them as experts in their respective markets. It's hard for anybody to say – if they're based in Japan, or in the US, like I am – to say that we know exactly what goes on in Brazil, and what the consumer in Brazil would resonate best with. So we do give them autonomy.

But when it comes to things that have more of a legal play, so, for example, if it's a product, we will provide a toolkit of marketing assets that we provide to the regions to help guide in their posting. For resource reasons, it's better to have that centralized and have a single suite of marketing assets that they can use, but then they are free. Even if we give them messaging points, or the technological specs of the shoe, for example, they are free to both localize that in their language, and speak in a certain more colloquial manner if they so choose.

When it comes to things like, let's say, an event, whether it's something like an Olympic Games or a marathon, there's just a lot more restrictions in place around. If you're a sponsor, what you can say, if you're not a sponsor, what you can and can't say. So those are things that even from a legal lens, we have to be more careful about. In those cases, we do provide very strict guidelines of, for example, if we're talking about Australian Open, if we're not a sponsor of the Australian Open, we can't use even the tournament name. We have to say "Melbourne" or "the blue court" or something like that, just to refer to "the tournament."

The next thing I want to turn to is the thing we kind of have to talk about these days, as much as we would all prefer to be past it: covid. It's 2021 now, and it's still with us. And I was wondering from your vantage point, how has the social media marketing that you've done at Asics changed for your brick and mortar stores? And also, from those changes, what do you think is here to stay for the long haul, and what's just specific to these covid times?

It's definitely been a learning experience, I think, for everybody. If anything, I would say that perhaps we had less interaction or engagement with store managers in the past compared to now, just because we almost thought of social and stores operating in separate silos. Brick-and-mortar and digital were kind of their own separate pathways. And maybe as a consumer you used to think – or even as a marketer – you used to think that there are consumers that prefer to shop in store, and then there are consumers that prefer to shop online, and social is more designed for those consumers that are digitally focused for shopping. If anything, covid caused us to be more mindful of that relationship, and to make sure that there is one.

During covid, again, we've definitely had to rely a lot on our local regional teams to sort of be that ear on the ground, and operating based on their respective country limitations and safety protocols and things like that. I think the other thing that we've had to think about is how can we help our respective stores' traffic while also positioning them for the greater omnichannel landscape. So whether it's things like – I know that different countries refer to it in different ways – but in the US we call it "buy online, pickup in-store," for example. In other places they call it "click and collect." So definitely I've definitely learned a lot about the regional differences in somewhat similar behavior.

I think omnichannel – which is something that we had started thinking about even before covid – has really accelerated as stores are in varying stages of re-opening. How can we enable – whether it's using social media, even in general, whether it's our store hours or store listings – how can we enable consumers if they want to take advantage of those types of opportunities, as well as more of those in-store experiences where it's safe.

In pre-covid time, you could go into one of our stores, and you could get a gait analysis done on a treadmill, where they look at the way you run or walk. And then based on that, they recommend shoes for you. That's something we used to really play up as a big plus point of visiting a store. Now, in most countries, even if the stores are open, those types of activities are still pretty sharply curtailed, or non-existent at this point. So some of those sort of plus points of reasons to visit a store are kind of limited.

But then on the flip side also, we can leverage some of the features in our stores to explain our technology for digital. These types of things that really showcase the way the running technology works in an individual shoe, whether it's a diagram or it's something more interactive where previously people could see how, you know, a diagram a woman's foot versus a man's foot and how running shoes have to be shaped accordingly. Those are things that make us think, now if stores are currently closed, is there a way that we can leverage those types of things and tell those stories on our social channels to try and translate some of that experience?

It’s definitely something we're still trying to figure out, and not something that I've solved the case on.

In terms of the stuff that's here to stay, I think just having a seamless way to really delineate store hours that may be irregular – whether it's due to covid or anything else – I think having a system and mechanism for that to be in place and being able to do that efficiently with partners like yourself will be important. Just knowing that every country moving forward is going to have very different policies. Even within the US, every state has different policies. So setting up that type of infrastructure, I think, is definitely here to stay and extremely important.

While we're on the subject of trends, are there any other trends you see that you think would be interesting to talk about, now in the beginning of 2021?

We just came back to work yesterday, but I've tried to use this time to learn about these sort of trend and consumer insights reports that are coming out post-2020. It's just so much to analyze and figure out how that shapes 2021. I think it's also going to be very different in different different regions and cultures, too, and how that changes depending on their digital landscapes and digital saturation before versus now.

I think for more digitally developed markets like the US, it becomes more about things like awareness and action. So whether it's brands needing to take more of an issue on racial inequality, or people being more interested in local government. And that that goes back to the local versus global approach, something that people probably didn't think about as much before. And just general advocacy. I think in the US, people are really looking to brands to be those advocates and not just relying on individuals. I think that's really important.

I think from a retail perspective, the Zoom calls, the casual culture is really big. I think being part of a fitness brand is in some ways good, because people have to keep focused on staying fit as much as they can, whether we're in isolation or going to work every day, but also just when it comes to casual culture, you can sometimes use some of your more athleisure wear for your work as opposed to previously if you were purchasing high heels or dress shoes or something.

I'm dressed up for this interview. I'm actually wearing jeans, but normally it's yeah, it's the running pants. So now you can say you're making office wear at Asics.

I know! I'm typically wearing maybe an Asics shirt, but I had to put on a sweater for this interview.

But yeah, stuff like that. I think in maybe previously less digitally saturated markets, just expanding connection has been really instrumental, like you said. I'm originally from India, and I’ve been reading some of the reports of how much mobile saturation and penetration has made a difference in their landscape. Not just for retail, e-commerce makes a big difference in being able to deliver to those types of more rural regions.

Whether it's EdTech or watching Netflix or other things like that, I think all of those things have still permeated how we consume content. And then also, I'm not as up to speed on it, but even financing. Thinking about people that might have been in more cash-heavy economies are now looking at digital payments, and making sure that our e-commerce platforms are set up for that type of thing, whether it's in-store or or on e-com, just making sure we know whatever current credit systems are in place in that country, because consumers have very limited patience. If even an e-commerce site doesn't support the latest digital currency methods, they might be less likely to use the site to convert for that reason. So I think those are some of the key trends that I've noticed.

This time of year, your email inbox gets filled with "2020 summary" or or "2021 trend forecast." So thank you for helping contribute to that. I'm sure we'll send this out in an email that says "Abha from Asics has a 2021 trend forecast"

Thank my partners at Facebook and Instagram that helped collect that data. It's not just me!

On the subject of data: when I was doing my background research for this interview, I noticed that you had a math degree, or what sounded to me – who studied writing – like something very mathematic. Economic, quantitative something…

Quantitative economics, but close enough.

Right. And that sounds like a lot of numbers. So I was hoping you could tell me what numbers should brands be keeping an eye on for their social media marketing insights? What are some KPIs to watch for, to know if your social media marketing is working or not working?

I think it differs by organic social media initiative versus paid, of course. wWhen you get into advertising that has a whole slew of other metrics that are available. So I'll probably touch more on the organic side, because that's more of what I manage. I'm really excited, actually, just to see how much the social media platforms are doing to encourage shopping, or any type of consideration or conversion.

Looking at awareness KPIs, you have consideration, and then you have conversion, and it's like a funnel. And social media tends, in the past, to have been much more influential in the awareness side, at the top of the funnel. And we would have to justify all of our initiatives by saying, "Well, you can't always guarantee conversion, these are meant to be more of awareness-driving metrics." As a numbers person myself, that’s frustrating to say, and I can imagine for leadership to hear. "You're telling me to invest all this money into these types of platforms, and all I can get are impressions and reach?" So I'm really excited to see social media move toward conversion as well.

I think covid definitely accelerated it, as you said, but I think social platforms have been focused on trying to enable more commerce and more conversion on their own. For example, when you think about product catalogs and the past couple of years, Facebook, Instagram, and those types of platforms have done so much to enable shopping, even organically. So even without adding any paid support, it really democratizes the landscape. Even a very small mom and pop brand can upload their catalog to Facebook or to Instagram and then start tagging their products and, assuming that they have some sort of site that they can lead to, people can browse the products, look at them, read the product descriptions directly on these platforms, and then eventually get taken to to the landing page if they so choose. And that really helps to drive consideration, I think, and give people more KPIs to say how many product clicks did you get. You can directly attribute website visits this way, in a more robust way.

And now in the US specifically, we've launched something called Instagram Checkout last year, which takes it even a step further and allows US consumers to check out directly with an Instagram, so they don't even visit e-com. So it's interesting because it really takes away a lot of the barrier to purchase. If you are browsing on your feed, and you see an item that you really like, you can immediately browse different colors, you can look to see if they have the sizing available. Once you enter your payment information, it's basically a one tap checkout.

The first barrier is having consumers trust social platforms to store their payment information. And that's something that all brands are going to have to grapple with. But once they do, I just think it's going to be a game changer because once consumers as a whole get comfortable paying and checking out directly on social, the social platforms can make a case to really stand alone as their own marketplaces, similar to an Amazon, similar to an eBay.

In my opinion, when it comes to KPIs, then you can kind of look at it as a standalone similar to those. So if you're in Google Analytics and you can see somebody visited this landing page, then they went to this product page, this product page, this product page, and then they left, that’s considered strong consideration metrics. And maybe they'll come back and convert after two days, or four weeks. I'm really excited to see now, with these types of launches, that social platforms can do the same. If you're browsing these product tags, that should be the same as looking at a product page on an e-commerce site. And it shouldn't just be considered an awareness metric.

So in my opinion, the platforms have done a great job with launching these in certain markets, and hopefully more, like Europe and Asia, will follow. But I'm really excited to see how the metrics can catch up to that. I want them to have that sort of robust analytics capability, to say not just how many product types there were, but you can really look at a funnel and say, how many products is an average user looking at before they purchase? What's the breakdown of male versus female? What are the different categories? Whether it's kids shoes versus adult shoes, whatever it looks like, to be able to really slice and dice that data, I'm really excited, hopefully, that they get there so that we can really make the case of social being a genuine conversion vehicle, and tracking that.

It's interesting to hear your take on it, as someone who works at a company whose website may be getting less visitors because Instagram, for example, will be holding on to this traffic that might have otherwise come through your webshop. I could see a case for you being annoyed and saying, hey, we want those people to come to us.

I think that's a really good point, but that goes back to the need to make that case. Me, as a social media manager, I care more deeply about making sure that we're showing that social can drive genuine revenue conversion, order size, that type of thing. But in order, as you said, to prove that that is the case, and make sure that our we can say to our global leadership that even if you might see site traffic coming from social decreasing in this region because of X, we're actually seeing revenue from this specific channel quadrupled, because of that lower barrier to purchase.

In order to prove that, like you said, we need those robust analytics capabilities. Otherwise, like you said, we do risk "E-com traffic is down by 10 percent from social, why is that?" So, yeah, great point. And definitely something on my radar.

I think we've covered everything in my notes. And you gave us some really fantastic, valuable information, and a lot to think about. So thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun.

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