Between admiring photos of adorable children and cats, you have probably noticed a lot more advertising on Instagram. No wonder as the number of advertisers on Instagram surpassed one million in March--doubling over a period of just six months.

Ads on Instagram are frequently gorgeously curated images and videos showcasing products and services in a way that compels you to jump on the “Buy Now” button at the bottom of the ad. When there is a “Buy Now” button, at least.

Brands on Instagram--and the savvy people at Insta guiding them--deserve credit for quickly understanding that if you offer something visually pleasing and relevant to the buyer, that they will respond enthusiastically.

L2, the research firm, reports that Instagram has the highest conversion rate of the major social media networks. Moreover, Instagram engagement--measured as likes and shares-- absolutely blows other platforms out of the water. While Insta only produces 10% of all posts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and its own platform, it is the source of a hugely disproportionate 87% of all social media engagement on these platforms.

So it’s easy to see why that number of advertisers skyrocketed so quickly.

Unfortunately, brands are missing the point in their advertising on Instagram.

Brands--and seemingly, Instagram itself--are treating this venue as a top of funnel play instead of a unique opportunity to truncate the customer journey and capture sales fast and efficiently. Instead of approaching Instagram as another form of advertising, they should approach it as distributed commerce.

Remember that the point--the ultimate goal--is always more sales. A distributed commerce approach supports this core business goal directly. It treats social media as another channel for transactions, not just another place to advertise.

Let’s look at a few examples straight from my feed to see what brands are doing on Instagram.

Brands are Missing the Point on Instagram


This tres chic photo from clothing brand Vanessa Seward is captivating. That t-shirt may not know, but I know that I want it.

But when I hit, “Learn More,” I’m in for quite the education.

The item that hooked me is nowhere in sight. And moreover, I’m quickly diverted towards a call to action that stops me in my tracks--sign up for a newsletter. This is where brands are getting it wrong. They are aiming low.

Brands are Missing the Point on Instagram

Signing up for a newsletter is a soft conversion. It moves me forward in my customer journey--and perhaps Vanessa Seward does very well at converting newsletters to purchases--but that signup is not ROI on your advertisement. It’s at best one step removed from real ROI. What brands should be doing is making it incredibly easy for me to instantly buy the beautiful product in front of my fingers.

Because that’s the power of Instagram. It’s an app that visually compels me to take action on my mobile phone, which is a device that has made me accustomed to instant gratification. So I don’t need to be ushered down the customer journey. We can skip to the end.

I saw that t-shirt, and now I WANT IT. But Vanessa Seward won’t give it to me easily. It takes me 11 swipes to find the outfit that hooked me in the first place.

11 swipes.

And when the outfit that roped me in finally shows up, it’s a different visual, so I almost miss it. Then, it’s only the beautiful golden skirt, but not the t-shirt, that I find. I’d have to go hunting again for the other piece of the ensemble. This is where my “I want it now” drive ends.

Je ne sais quoi, indeed.


Instagram is an amazing place to work up an appetite with all the delicious pictures of food on display. In this example, Sun Basket, a meal delivery service, has me hooked with an ad and does a great job telling me exactly what they are offering. There is also a clear and accessible call to action: Sign Up. So what happens when I take them up on it?



I am delivered to a nicely produced splash page that is not the call to action I was invited to take. There are a lot of positives here--a nice incentive to join, simple message and clear button. But that button is directing me to the action I already tried to take.



So let’s say I’m really hungry, and I hit **Redeem offer! **


Didn’t I already Get Started when I hit Sign Up two screens ago?

And while it’s great to know I’m only four more steps away from actually signing up, why are these form fields empty? This is my cell phone. It knows everything about me from what time I wake up in the morning to my thumbprint.

And speaking of a thumbprint, this is an iPhone, so why am I filling out any forms at all? I hit “Sign Up,” so why not just throw an Apple Pay checkout option at me and lock me in?

Maybe you’re not that hungry, Sun Basket.


Instant checkout using a thumbprint--enabled through Apple Pay for now and who knows what else in the future--is going to become the default payment method for mobile-first consumers. Fun fact: 90% of Instagram users are under the age of 35 (i.e, mobile-loving millennials).

What’s great for brands on Instagram is that instant checkout is the perfect tool to convert that “I want that right now” feeling into actual purchases.

So what would that look like? Fitness brand Equinox is getting pretty close.

Apparently, Equinox’s brand is strong enough they don’t need to tell me who they are or what they offer, they just need to tell me there is a SALE!

Brands are Missing the Point on Instagram

And I’m so ready to sign up. And that’s exactly what they make it easy for me to do.

Super simple sign up. One swipe to see the whole page. Great job, Equinox!

Brands are Missing the Point on Instagram

The ideal customer experience, however, would pull all these fields from my phone and give me the option to submit the form with just my thumbprint. Or at least have an auto-fill option.

But in the absence of that technology being available on Instagram, Equinox is showing the strength of being incredibly simple.


Remember that Instagram is part of the Facebook family and will continue to innovate and grow. It has the potential to evolve into a sophisticated, visual marketplace that rivals other online stores. It could also get displaced by Snapchat, Kik or something else entirely.

Brands need to be flexible so they can move with their customers to their social media of choice. What will stay consistent throughout all this change is the need to have a flawlessly functioning mobile website and offer an instant checkout experience to maximize the ROI on mobile advertising, no matter where those ads take place or what form they are.

Because getting more people to buy from you faster is always the point.

Follow me on Instagram at @mllemariec.