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What Can We Learn from Brands on Instagram?

We’ve all heard of the so-called “Insta brands”, and while that namesake is often used in a derogatory way, it’s accurate in that some of these brands have made a name for themselves and have found success primarily on Instagram.

There is no need to sell you on the necessity of having a social media presence and what that can do for your business; that is something you already know.
But what I can help you with is to show you what other brands have done right in their use of social media. What can we learn from successful Instagram brands? And how can you apply those lessons to your own small business?

Why Is Instagram so Valuable for Marketing?

What was originally just a place for regular people to pictures quickly turned into not only one of the most popular social media platforms, but also one of the most profitable for companies.

With 70% of people searching for companies on Instagram, it is undeniable that this is a valuable resource, especially for small businesses that are working on establishing themselves and increasing their customer base.

Instagram is a visual platform, which works beautifully to your advantage if you’re an e-commerce business. You can use this medium to display your products and even create a narrative surrounding them, just like you would in a traditional shop window.

That alone can grow your following and the popularity of your business and help with brand recognition. But with new developments of the app, Instagram is now an even better fit for businesses – big and small.

What Can You Learn from Brands on Instagram?

Instagram brands have perfected their use for online retail purposes, and while every brand on this list has an extremely lucrative presence on Instagram (and on social media, in general), each of them excels in one particular area.


1. Transparency

As taught by: Everlane

Everlane is a fashion company that occupies a top spot in the “ethical” fashion niche. While its ethics and the “radical transparency” they claim are up for debate, one thing is certain – they found a niche to exploit and were able to disrupt the fashion scene as an online-only brand.

They have since “graduated” to a few physical retail locations, but they found success online, partly because of their clever and effective use of social media.

What they did right: What Everlane did right is that they took full advantage of the capabilities of social media, particularly Instagram. They are especially good at using features like Instagram Stories to showcase the behind-the-scenes of their business, thus fulfilling their promise of radical transparency, at least on the surface.

What can you implement in your own business? The takeaway from this model is that you should not be intimidated by the different features that platforms like Instagram put at your disposal.

In addition to regular posts, you’ve got Instagram Stories, Instagram Live, and IGTV, which can all be used to your advantage, either to provide some insight into your production or other behind-the-scenes content or to establish some relatability to your brand.

Extra tip: Instagram posts and Instagram Stories are shoppable, giving your followers a quick way to add to cart as soon as they fall in love with the product you’re featuring. They will be sent directly to your website in one single tap or swipe.


2. Branding

As taught by: Glossier

Glossier is a cosmetic company that specializes in makeup and skincare, with a focus on a “fresh”, youthful, glowy look that is very appealing, especially to Millennials. Like other similar brands, Glossier started out online-only, but has recently opened retail locations.

What they did right: Glossier stands out because of their incredible marketing. Their rapid growth is a masterclass in building a brand based on an aesthetic and taking full advantage of social media.

Their “Millennial Pink” minimalist, dreamy aesthetic is aspirational, and that is what attracts customers. Instagram is their platform of choice, because it is primarily visual, and they are able to construct this highly curated, carefully studied aesthetic that creates extremely strong and recognizable branding.

What can you implement in your own business? With this example, we see the incredible value of branding. Customers are attracted to the image the brand created, and the idea that if they, too, are a “Glossier girl”, then they are part of that aesthetic.

Strong visual branding on a platform like Instagram ensures that people will recognize your name, logo, and aesthetic. You don’t necessarily have to build a company based on a color, but there is no denying that a strong – and most importantly, consistent – aesthetic choice is a winning move.


3. Appealing content

As taught by: GoPro

GoPro is a tech company that specializes in cameras, video editing software, and apps, but it’s best known for their action cameras. In fact, they’ve done such a good job at establishing themselves as the top brand that people use “GoPro” as a shorthand for “action camera”.

What they did right: One would not expect a company like GoPro to excel at social media, and especially not Instagram. However, what they’ve done is used the capabilities of their products to their advantage – as well as user-generated content.

The GoPro Instagram page is a perfect example of the kind of dynamic, visually appealing content that attracts followers. It not only makes for a great strategy for visual purposes, but it is also the ideal way to showcase their products’ capabilities.

It also encourages followers to post their own content created with a GoPro and tag it to be featured on the official GoPro Instagram page.

What can you implement in your own business? There are a few different lessons to learn, here – first, making your content visually appealing pays off, and creating this kind of distinctive look can do a lot for branding, on its own.

Second, showing off your products in an appealing, highly curated manner increases their desirability. Take every opportunity to feature and showcase your products. You do not have to be selling aggressively; sometimes, a strategic photo is enough.

User-generated content can also be a very valuable tool because it contributes to relatability. You are showing your potential customers how others are using and enjoying your product.


4. Community engagement

As taught by: Starbucks

One would be hard-pressed to find a person who is not familiar with Starbucks. Their coffee is legendary, and their locations can be found almost anywhere in the world in droves. While they aren’t an e-commerce business, there’s still a lot to be learned from them, social-media wise.

What they did right: Where Starbucks excels is when it comes to audience engagement and responsiveness. Engagement begets engagement, and Starbucks understand that.

If you go to their Instagram page (and any other of their social media pages), you will notice that they respond to a lot of comments, like and follow, and always have a conversation going.

That keeps their audience interested and active on their page. The more activity you’ve got, the better.

What can you implement in your own business? According to statistics, 68% of Instagram users engage with brands, compared to just 32% Facebook users. The lesson to learn here is that using Instagram to engage your following can translate to a major boost in popularity.

By becoming a brand that people can effectively communicate with online, you are not only lending legitimacy to your business, but you are also aiding transparency, brand trust, and encouraging a larger following.


5. Influencer Marketing

As taught by: Anastasia Beverly Hills

Anastasia Beverly Hills (ABH) is a cosmetics company that has grown tremendously in popularity over the past few years, particularly owing to their exciting color cosmetic launches and great use of social media.

What they did right: Harnessing the power of Instagram isn’t just for your brand page alone. It’s also about how you use it for marketing. Influencer marketing has proven to be an extremely lucrative kind of collaboration for both brands and online personalities.

Cosmetic companies adopted this type of marketing early on, with Anastasia Beverly Hills (ABH) being a representative example. Spots on their PR list are very coveted and those who are lucky enough to receive press packages from the brand repay the favor tenfold – they feature the products on their own Instagram pages, usually with rave reviews.

What can you implement in your own business? Taking advantage of Instagrammers’ reach can make the difference between remaining a small start-up and becoming a household name.

Small businesses will have a harder time breaking through on the market compared to someone of ABH’s caliber, but it’s still worth reaching out to online personalities and sending them products to try or even offering to sponsor content.

That way, your name and products will be exposed to a completely new market and that does wonders for brand awareness.

What is the takeaway about Instagram brands?

Social media has rapidly become a must in marketing, particularly for e-commerce businesses.

While all platforms can be used to your advantage, Instagram is a particularly valuable tool for your small business.

Other companies have done it right before you, and there is something to learn from their success.
Transparency, branding, appealing content, community engagement, and influencer marketing can all contribute to your growth and success not only on Instagram, but on your chosen market.


DeAnna McIntosh is a trend-setting, results-driven Retail Business Coach and Consultant with 16+ years of experience helping brands drive sales, conversion, productivity, innovation, and engagement (10 of those years being inside Fortune-ranked Retailers). Work directly with her via www.deannamcintosh.com.

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