There are a few converging global forces at play that are creating a new marketing and business opportunity, unlike anything we have seen to date.
Call it, "The Instagram Economy," or whatever, but Kickstarter's ability to help entrepreneurs fund their business initiatives by developing a direct relationship with their potential customers, may be usurped by an even easier way to connect an existing product or service with a customer: Instagram. Kottke, recently reported about Kuwait's booming Instagram economy, where anyone with an Instagram account is simply putting a price on whatever is in the photograph, and selling all of these unique, used, new or slightly altered products and services to those interested in the photo sharing online social network. Everything from Manga, make-up and more is being sold in this very simple and direct platform that pushing beyond the borders of Kuwait, while leveraging additional free technology (like WhatsApp for customer service to PayPal and/or Square to handle transactions) to make the business infrastructure as simple as possible. Ultimately, Instagram, WhatsApp and other technologies have scale - in terms of people using it and sharing in these channels - and the trust of the platform in terms of stability and deliverability from the vendor's perspective create the perfect storm for a viable marketplace.
Is this the future of business?
It's doubtful that those in the upper echelons of the massive consumer packaged goods companies are going to care about this, or that Sephora and Walmart may see this as a competitive threat, but the barrier-to-entry for someone to start and market a new business continues to lower and become cheaper (or next to free). Yesterday, we needed a sturdy e-commerce site with analytics, and a robust hosting facility with a Web team to create, design, merchandise, market and more. Today, we need a couple of free accounts on some of the major online channels along with the persistence to to keep at it. Some may see this as the digital equivalent of a garage sale, while others might see these burgeoning entrepreneurs as the next generation of eBay power sellers... or the next generation of business.
Is this the next big thing?
These Instagram businesses may not be the next big thing, but they could well be the nascent stages of what is the next big, small thing in business today. On April 23rd and 24th of this year, the American University of Kuwait hosted the Insta Business Expo, that featured a slew of new entrepreneurs that built and grew their respective businesses through Instagram. Yes, a two day conference, featuring case studies, how-to's and networking for those wondering what it takes to build a business on Instagram. While this may seem small and inconsequential in the grander scheme of global economics and business, consider the global reach of Instagram, the burgeoning ability to use 3D printing to create or augment existing products, a desire from consumers for more unique products and services, local marketing, and the rise and interest in indie brands (more on that here: Rise Of The Indie Brand). There is also a potential play for more traditional brands to try moments of commerce with those who might be interested. Be it selling digital goods or physical ones, an Instagram "pop up store" for a brand could help them validate everything from ancillary products to defining the viability of a new product line, by simply putting it out there and seeing if there are any takers.
Pushing beyond Instagram.
This Instagram economy can also be a powerful engine of marketing. Many individuals (and brands) tie their Instagram accounts to their Facebook and Twitter feeds, allowing those interested to connect more directly with the images, as they get easily syndicated across multiple social media platforms. Because of how this content is delivered - both within Instagram and on other social media channels and newsfeeds - the products can get a pretty effective impression and engagement level within these channels (doing something that most social media advertising fails to do). Pushing the marketing of this Instagram business further, smart marketers can also follow, create and leverage the power of hashtags in these channels to better focus their marketing on the right audience. Ultimately, this is not a ownable space (Instagram can alter its terms of service, the popularity of the channel could end, etc...), but until then, these Instagram businesses have uncovered an easy way for brands to quickly share new inventory across many channels and a very simple way to conduct business from a smartphone without much technical integration (they're doing it directly on Instagram). And, if your brand has the goods, you can now easily share and sell your new inventory across multiple digital channels while easily testing the market interest. The insights alone might be reason enough to try out an Instagram store of your own.
Testing, learning and selling with shutter speed.
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Harvard Business Review. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here: