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Fair trade retailers translate emotional connection on Instagram to sales

Retailers focused on fair trade products such as The Little Market and TOMS are successfully harnessing Instagram to communicate an emotional message and engage mobile users.

By establishing an emotional connection through images, these marketers are able to deepen their relationship with consumers and bring them into the purchase funnel. Fair trade retailers hold an advantage on the platform by conveying to the consumer the authenticity and realism behind the making of the products.

“Social media absolutely plays a larger role for non-profits and fair trade retailers,” said Justin Rezvani, founder and CEO of theAmplify, Los Angeles. “The most dominate visual mobile social platform, Instagram, is a large proponent of that.

“You are grasping the attention of an audience though images and captions, driving users into real-time engagements,” he said. “Using visuals to drive real-time engagement and purchasing is the key to any retailer’s success on Instagram.”

Mr. Rezvani is not affiliated with The Little Market or TOMS, but agreed to comment as an industry expert.

Neither The Little Market nor TOMS was available for comment before press deadline.

The bigger picture
Retailers such as The Little Market, launched collaboratively by reality celebrity and beauty and fashion enthusiast Lauren Conrad and college friend Hannah Skvarla, and Friends of Toms, the non-profit subsidiary of for-profit TOMS Shoes, enhance their brands through Instagram by photo journaling business experiences and products.

The Little Market’s Ms. Conrad and Ms. Skvarla are often traveling abroad to their artisans’ villages and sharing their findings with photos or short video clips on Instagram.

Following a recent trip to Guatemala, the brand featured a few women working in kneading factories and also included images of dirt roads and half-clothed children. Another post features a young girl, who benefitted from the brand’s initiatives and received funding for her education.

The founders also shared photos on Instagram of freshly made tortillas, prepared by the Guatemalan local artisans, Ms. Conrad and Ms. Skvarla enjoyed everyday during their visit.

During a trip to Mexico, the founders posted a photo taken with artisan Maria, a local potter, after making pottery in her home with her that day.

Another photo features a pair of hands sewing gold sequins onto a tan wedding blanket in Morocco.

The visual stimulation creates an impact on consumers and makes them want to support a good cause. In this case, Instagram gives way to a space of graphic connection between the consumer and artisan.

“Clearly consumers are making a conscious decision to buy fair trade goods, and therefore have an interest in the back-story to those products,” said Mark Pinsent, social and content lead at Metia, London. “Social media can be great story-telling platforms for any brand, so there’s a great opportunity there for fair trade brands.

“Furthermore, due to the nature of fair trade, there’s an intrinsic human interest in the story, and if this can be surfaced through social, then it can be powerful,” he said.

TOMS has been promoting its most recent project with coffee products on Instagram by incorporating the branded hashtag #TOMSRoastingCo. Among others, TOMS posted a picture of a Rwandan coffee farmer laughing and holding a bag of coffee labeled TOMS.

“Many farmers never have the opportunity to taste their own coffee or see the finished product,” the caption reads. “When we showed Nathan a bag of #TOMSRoastingCo he couldn’t believe it. He was even more thrilled to know that his coffee would help provide clean water to his country.”

Another shared photo features the hands of a child cupping dripping water, and the caption provides information about the coffee initiative. “Did your daily ritual help create this moment?” the caption reads, prompting people to reflect and react.

Again, consumers feel led to support these types of missions aiming to support those less fortunate. Adding a visual element to the mix connects the consumer to the cause even more.

Highlighting the artisans and artisanship of its products are not always facets a brand wishes to publicize, but fair trade retailers are able to embrace this quality and use Instagram to tell a story and paint a picture.

“Consumers are more interested than ever in the provenance of the goods they buy and the ethical practices of business,” Metia’s Mr. Pinsent said.

“Whether a brand is part of an overtly ethical program like fair trade or not, it should be thinking about exposing its supply chain through social to engage consumers,” he said.

“Of course any brand that chooses not to be transparent due to less than positive practices risks these being exposed in social media by others in any case, which can be hugely damaging.”

Through Instagram, retailers are able to combine a linkable location, image, text and user tags, which all work together to provide an optimal experience and successful story-telling platform.

“Humans thrive on visual experiences,” theAmplify’s Mr. Rezvani said. “Information conveyed via visual content has an exponentially greater effect than content of words alone. Images are sharable, easy to understand and far more universal than its text counterpart.

“It’s absolutely a mix of great visual imagery and a strong call to action in the captions; both are fundamental in creating a strong piece of content for Instagram,” he said. “Creating mobile experiences that lead users to click externally and purchase products will be the key for brands to capitalize on this feature.

“Instagram users are the most engaged audience on mobile; when you define a call to action correctly and capitalize on engagements, you have created a product purchasing funnel that is a streamlined mobile centric solution.”

Final Take
Caitlyn Bohannon, editorial assistant for Mobile Commerce Daily, New York