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Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals

Eye catching facia on RIPNDIP pop-up


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The Future of the High Street

There is much debate over the demise of the High Street, with the Internet seemingly  being single handedly being responsible for the demise. In this piece I will explore whether this is the case and what we can do to try and make retail an art, like it used to  be.

Tescopoly

It was over a decade ago when Andrew Simms released his then controversial business book Tescopoly. The author told the story about how supermarkets bought up land on the edge of towns and in subarban areas and essentially stockpiled them. They then moved to  buying units in town.  Whilst single handidly changing the way people shopped by providing all  the retail services that was once the provision of the local high street. We are talking, butchers, bakers and even key cutters.

Tescopoly shows how retail changed thanks to Supermarkets

The book also explores how Tesco and the other supermarkets used their buying power to “convince” farmers and other producers to supply them and their extensive supply chains as opposed to smaller more local purveyors.

Whilst the book goes deeper, including profiting from poverty, it does show how supermarkets created waves of ghost towns or even worse as Simms states it Clone  Towns.

But why is this relevant? Well the demise of the high street and the local retailer was on its way long before the internet, seemingly took charge. In fact, a lot of the retailers that are claiming they are being hit by the internet are the exact same retailers that rose with the advent of clone towns. The same shops appearing on every high street, with no regionalisation to reflect the local area.

So it could be argued, that actually the current wave of retail issues is purely cyclical and the internet has just been the vehicle to drive the change.

Facing  the music

A while back when I ran a music  website,  I explored why the landscape of music and music consumption had changed. It could be argued a similar pattern emerged in music  with people embracing new hard formats to listen to music and moving on with the times in to eventually sales dropping dramatically and streaming becoming  the new norm.

All of that is true and technology did drive change, largely thanks  to  Apple  in the  early  days and more latterly Spotify and  the like, originally driven by platforms such  as Napster.  However, similar to what was discussed in the previous section, the selling of music went through a similar pattern.

When I was younger  I used to DJ  back in  Bristol and  the West Country, some times venturing to London or Birmingham.  However, this was so long ago, I didn’t have a laptop and software to create and mix playlists for me, I used those black bits of plastic on a turntable.

I used to go to Replay Records in Bristol, under a  subway, right by the old bus station.  It  was close enough to Broadmead shopping centre but far enough away for it to be a  genuine experience.  They had decks in the shop where you could mix and listen to the tunes you had bought.

Image result for ourprice

Ourprice Records the  turning point for indie record shops

As I was in to Hip  Hop this  was my place.  However the city was littered with  local  record shops.  Old  Market had shops that sold rock and more indie music. Park street was home to shops with  dance  music, in short they were everywhere.

Whilst the digital age definitely changed the music  landscape without a shadow  of doubt, it was originally altered by big corporates who took prime spots in shopping centres and provided just enough music  outside the core mainstream,  to make people feel they weren’t missing anything.

First HMV.  Then came Our Price and then Virgin took over Our Price.   The whole music  retail scene was being eaten up. Ring any bells?  These retailers are pretty much no more, with HMV bemoaning their fortunes, due to the internet. However, poor management in their history meant they simply didn’t keep up. Remember though, they  were originally responsible for hundreds of smaller independent record shops closing.

A similar tale  to what is currently happening on the high street.

So before we cry foul that the internet is ruining our high street, lets listen to  the lessons retail have provided us in the past and understand, the potentially cyclical pattern. We also need to recognise that the internet has provided many customer benefits/ Benefits that bricks and mortar retailers have in the main, failed to embrace or have been too slow to adapt.

Another great example is ToysRUs in the UK. Setting up huge out of town toy sheds. At first they won the nations hearts by allowing kids to experience play. As they matured every inch was allocated for selling and the experience for kids was removed, leaving  just big warehouses. They also failed to adapt for the  digital age, allowing Amazon to swallow their share under their noses. ToysRUs went from stealing the toy shop from the high street by being bigger and cheaper, to losing their place, by somebody bigger and  cheaper.

Convenience

Whether we like it or not, as a nation, we are more time poor than ever.  With this in mind, no wonder convenience is a massive factor in helping  shape our shopping habits.   What internet retailers have been great at, is trying to ensure we can not only buy things from their online stores that may not be readily  available from the high street, but larger online retailers have been obsessing over convenience.  Next day delivery. Order tracking. Pick a time slot for delivery. Same day delivery.

Even online retailers that haven’t obsessed over customer service have been effected, proving its not all plain sailing. Look at the different fortunes that somebody like, my former employers, boohoo had over some of its competitors.  When I was at boohoo, we would try to find ways our delivery cut off time could be extended. We would look at ways we could cut the cloth differently with couriers to make it cheaper for our customers.  Whereas if you look at somebody like Maplin who provided quite specialised equipment, but  failed to invest in service, its UX  or an eCommerce application that really added anything to its standing as a multi-channel operator, showing that a digital presence isn’t the be all and end all.

As our lives change and the world moves on, we need convenience. The beauty of the way the internet and online retailing has developed is that it can deliver this. Not just from a delivery aspect but also from a UX perspective. Hours of research and testing is  spent on improving customer journeys on retail websites. Yes some of that is for pure commercial reasons, however it also aids us as customers.

Improved technology means the imagery that is seen on sites and the quality of video has increased astronomically and again,  retailers that don’t adapt to this need for high  quality content, could be the next victims of the retail cycles.

Its all about  science

Whilst there are many experts in customer experience. Jobs  exist now that were even conceived a couple of decades back, a lot is down to the reams of data processed by big machines. Testing  platforms that can optimise on the move. Of course all supplemented by hugely intelligent data scientists and analysts that provide information to marketers and eCommerce professionals alike.

The early and perhaps, still, the best proponents of this are Amazon.  The digital retail goliath grew from selling books online to the huge retailer, broadcaster and hardware company you know today. This all started from neat algorithms that identified trends and helped to improve customer experiences online, but all based on speed and convenience.  As Amazon develops every sector it is unusual for them to spend much on  trying to make sticky content, they are effectively the Google of retail.  All built on strong data driven decisions that  power the entire existence of the organisation.

Going  back to convenience. Amazon realised a long time ago, that providing a great  delivery proposition could engender loyalty.  It worked and Amazon Prime is one of the most successful  subscription services today. Not only do they generally (unless you  live in rural Bedford) provide fast and accurate delivery, they have convinced you to pay upfront for the privilege. Yes they make you pay up front a quite healthy sum for deliveries you may make in the future. Genius. Remember, with all their data modelling,  they would have already worked out the numbers. Yes you  may order smaller and more frequently, but equally you are more likely to make more purchases to ensure you  “get  your money’s worth”

This commercial acumen and understanding of customer behaviour and value is  something that the majority of bricks and mortar retailers would only dream of. They all have the opportunity, but they have preferred not to invest to the level needed in their technology and spent the profits elsewhere.  This has come back to haunt them.

Retail isn’t dead

The simple truth of the matter is, retail isn’t dead. As with the comment of cyclical retail patterns, that  is the current trend. Brands such as Apple and  Nike are throwing up shops in key retail environments. However, rather than just putting up stores with shelves of their boxes, thy have  reimagined  what retail means. They  have looked at  their customer base and  created retail experiences that  will appeal to their  customers. There is that combination of customer and  experience again. The same terminology  that  eCommerce professionals use, but translated to physical retail.

The  successful retailers of today look  at their retail offerings as more than the confines of their four walls. They  also look beyond just the physical products that they  sell in the actual store.  They see their stores as experiential platforms and useful marketing and brand tools.

Basketball activation at Nike, The Grove in LA

Basketball activation at Nike, The Grove in LA

One of my favourite executions of Nike’s retail presence is at The Grove in LA.  The  store has had several experiential areas, that in theory allow the customer to try before they buy, but in all honesty, it provides that element of theatre thats needed. They used to have an immersive basketball simulator that challenged users in their b-ball skills. They  had a football (soccer) court where people could have a kick about and latterly, they have a  running machine  which expertly crafts for an individual to help aid their running.

All providing the theatre but  creating real customer value. Showing for certain that  retail isn’t dead, its just that businesses need to  catch  up.

Pop-ups

The fact that many  digital retailers are clamouring  for  a physical presence is further evidence that retail isn’t dead. The likes of  Amazon, boohoo, RIPNDIP  and adidas  with its launch of NMD in London all created  pop-up retail experiences. Brands like Amazon and Missguided are securing  slightly longer term placements.

Eye catching facia on RIPNDIP pop-up

Eye catching facia on RIPNDIP pop-up

The more successful of the  pop-up shops share a few commonalities. Perhaps the most  common is  creating an installation that will be  talked about and perhaps more importantly provide photo opportunities for content hungry  grammers.   Whether thats  with  a cool frontage, urban interiors or just some  cool  people that provide a crowd with  an interest point, again  something way  beyond the realms of  standard retail.

Government

Above all of this, even if the internet  isn’t damaging retail, or isn’t the complete cause, one thing is for  certain. If we want any  form of retail experience on our high   streets or in our town centres, local and central governments  need  to act.  Something needs  to  be done  to  encourage both shoppers and  retailers back  in to the spaces before  they are filled with  charity  shops or coffee shops.

The end  (is not) nigh

Hopefully this  piece has helped paint  a slightly  different  perspective on the current retail landscape. Its not all down to internet retailers. Retailers just need  to  get good again. Perhaps they key  is  also to stop relying on chains and  help  local shopkeepers get  back  to connecting and selling quality products to  their friends and neighbours.

The crux of  how  retail needs to  shape up, is surely by getting closer to the  customers again. Identifying  the customer wants and needs. Understanding  a customers desires and  what  will  attract somebody to visit your  store. Offer something  different and  dare I say it unique. It doesn’t have to  cost  the earth. Above all, embrace digital and make it a part of the customer experience and buying journey, then the whole retail perspective is modernised

I  would  love to  hear your views. Feel free to comment on this article, even  if you  disagree or perhaps agree,  let me know

 

 


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Blendtec – Will it Blend

Will it Blend?

Blendtec is not really unique. It isn’t a particularly inventive idea. It isn’t even particularly well produced (although that is the point).  So why am I featuring it?

The simple truth is that Blendtec founder, Tom Dickson, took one of the 5 F’s of Social Media and used it to bring to life, a quite frankly, dull subject, blenders.  While most manufacturers were trying to make the products either sound like a must-have or focussing on key features, Blendtec took the unprecedented step of trying to make the topic of blenders fun.

What is it?

Blendtec was created after Tom first tried to blend a box of matches.  The mess created, inspired Tom to kick-off his unusual marketing campaign, which has turned into a viral success.  Blendtec now has its own sites with regular videos being placed on the site.  Tom Dickson still stars and utilises his inane grin as he subjects the items to the blender.

The campaign took off from almost day one.  The fact that the episodes offered shock value was enough, but the fun factor hasn’t tired.  Each episode centres on an item that really shouldn’t be blended, lighters, cans of fizzy drink and even a 6ft garden rake.

Part of Will it Blend’s appeal however is the fact that Tom normally offers up a reason for things being blended.  A common request from fans of the show is to blend a crowbar.  In one episode which appeared to bow to viewer demand it appeared Tom was going to attempt to blend a crowbar.  Completely by chance, this was interupted by a mobile phone.  Tom’s response was to blend each and every phone of the crew.

He has also earned money by doing shows based around the superbowl, blending in relation to movie launches and a disc of GTA IV.  Perhaps the standout feature was when Tom blended his iPhone citing the reason that he needed to upgrade.  The shock value in one of the most in-demand products being destroyed in front of your eyes made this episode one of the most watched in the series.

Fun

For me this is a perfect example of a campaign that just works.  It strikes a chord with people as it demonstrates a rather dry subject and creates theatre, involving something that the general public wouldn’t consider.  The main underlying theme for me is that the deliberately cheesy set-up and low-cost production values make the whole thing, a lot of fun.  This is truly one of the most successful viral/social campaigns there has been.  Not purely because of the buzz created.  Not purely because of the sheer volumes of views it has received.  This campaign has delivered real commercial return.

It is rumoured this very low budget viral has delivered up to 500% sales growth.  Proving that impact campaigns can deliver real commercial benefit.


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The Internet Landscape

NetImperative.com published a number of latest stats on internet usage this week.  But what does it all mean?

Rise and Fall of the Internet

So you probably thought that everybody that wanted to use the internet at home probably already has access.  Well according to the latest numbers from Nielsen (featured on NetImperative) there is still room for growth in major markets.  The US and UK saw significant growth, 10.4% and 3.1% respectively.    There was also growth of over 1% in Australia, Italy and Germany with more modest growths in Japan and Brazil.  Most startling isn’t the fact that some markets have continued to grow, more that some major markets have declined, including France, Spain iPhone 3GSand Switzerland. 

Whilst I don’t think the numbers should be read in pure black and white terms, it does demonstrate the issues of using data on such a small time frame and not looking at longer term trends.  The data was based only on May 09 Vs June 09.  If you were to read this on face value, it would seem USA is leading the way on the internet whilst some mainland European counties are turning their backs on the Internet, which obviously isn’t true.  I am not 100% certain but I can’t imagine the numbers Nielsen uses takes into account convergance and the growing move towards accessing the internet on mobile devices such as the Apple iPhone or the HTC Google phone.  This is also set to continue with newer style netbooks with mobile broadband capability built-in.

Top Social Networking Channels

So Facebook are the kings of social networking.  That is the widely held view and judging from the Hitwise numbers featured in NetImperative show that it represents 47% of all UK visits to social networking sites.  Interestingly Bebo has twice the traffic of Twitter and MySpace.  Another dark horseSocial Media Pic that many people completely ignore is Yahoo!Answers with 1.19% of all traffic. 

Whilst these numbers prove that Facebook cannot be ignored by marketeers, it does demonstrate the next tier isn’t as obvious and clear cut as many think.  All Marketeers should look at their target segments and choose which channel best suits their needs.  They should also consider what they have to offer each network and create firm reasons for being involved.  Despite Bebo‘s claims within their advertising sales packages, I doubt they are as big in the 25+ market as they would lead you to believe.  You must therefore determine if you have anything to offer a younger audience and if you brand belongs.

Top UK Online Retailers

Once again on NetImperative they list the Top 50 Online Retailers within the UK (listed at the foot of this post).  The list published in conjunction with IMRG and using Hitwise data is based purely on visits.   The list is fine as a benchmark but to label its output Top 50 Online retailers is somewhat over the top.  The numbers fail to recognise usability, conversion, online SoV or the obvious benchmark of turnover and profit.  If all these factors were incorporated, I am sure there would be some differing positions and maybe even some change of faces in the Top 50.

Withstanding the rationale of creating the list, the top 10 is made up predominantly of names you would consider when talking about Top 10.  Amazon (1st and 5th), Argos, Play.com, Next, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Thomson, Expedia and EasyJet.  OK so the final few wouldn’t be in my list of Top 10 online retailers.  Despite this list IMRG claim a massive rise in spend online, largely driven by the fashion sector (none of whom really appear at the top of the list, with the exception of Next and M&S)

The most interesting element of the top 10 is that all are recognised brands.   This shows that Internet Marketeers also need to recognise the importance of brand and cannot base every business decision purely on immediate ROI or DM metrics.

Top 50 Online Retailers List  – August 2009

Source: NetImperative

1 Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/
2 Argos http://www.argos.co.uk/
3 Play.com http://www.play.com/
4 Next http://www.next.co.uk/
5 Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/
6 Marks & Spencer http://www.marksandspencer.com/
7 Tesco.com http://www.tesco.com/
8 Thomson Holidays http://www.thomson.co.uk/
9 Expedia.co.uk http://www.expedia.co.uk/
10 easyJet http://www.easyjet.co.uk/
11 Apple Computer http://www.apple.com/
12 Ryanair http://www.ryanair.com/
13 ASOS http://www.asos.com/
14 Tesco Direct http://www.direct.tesco.com/
15 lastminute.com http://www.lastminute.com/
16 Thomas Cook http://www.thomascook.com/
17 B&Q http://www.diy.com/
18 John Lewis http://www.johnlewis.com/
19 Debenhams http://www.debenhams.com/
20 Littlewoods http://www.littlewoods.com/
21 HMV.co.uk http://www.hmv.co.uk/
22 River Island http://www.riverisland.com/
23 Currys http://www.currys.co.uk/
24 Ticketmaster UK http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/
25 Topshop http://www.topshop.co.uk/
26 Odeon Cinemas http://www.odeon.co.uk/
27 New Look http://www.newlook.co.uk/
28 LOVEFiLM http://www.lovefilm.com/
29 O2 Shop http://www.shop.o2.co.uk/
30 Cineworld Cinemas http://www.cineworld.co.uk/
31 TravelRepublic.co.uk http://www.travelrepublic.co.uk/
32 Comet UK http://www.comet.co.uk/
33 Vue Entertainment http://www.myvue.com/
34 The TrainLine http://www.thetrainline.com/
35 British Airways http://www.britishairways.com/
36 ASDA http://www.asda.co.uk/
37 First Choice http://www.firstchoice.co.uk/
38 Dell EMEA http://www.euro.dell.com/
39 Halfords http://www.halfords.com/
40 Screwfix Direct http://www.screwfix.com/
41 PC World http://www.pcworld.co.uk/
42 GAME http://www.shop.game.net/
43 IKEA http://www.ikea.com/
44 Travelodge UK http://www.travelodge.co.uk/
45 Homebase http://www.homebase.co.uk/
46 Sainsbury’s http://www.sainsburys.com/
47 Boots http://www.boots.com/
48 ASDA Direct http://direct.asda.com
49 The Orange Shop http://www.shop.orange.co.uk/
50 QVCUK.com http://www.qvcuk.com/


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Monkey Sphere

 

monkey in marketing

 

 

 

 What on earth have monkeys and their brains got to do with Marketing? Hmm, absolutely nothing?!

Well as interlinked to marketing and advertising as sociology is, so is the monkey sphere. But what is the monkey sphere? The monkey sphere is a concept, some consider abstract, others think derived from science, that outlines how many people we can establish meaningful relationships with. Still not sure what this has to do with Marketing?

Well look at community sites. They are there literally to enable individuals to connect with one another. Facebook, MySpace and Bebo were literally set-up for people to meet, connect and speak to others. Twitter has in a way evolved to a similar realm, with people counting the number of followers they have.

The monkey sphere is a number that outlines how many people we can ‘genuinely’ connect with. Why is it called the monkey sphere?

 Scientists ran a number of tests to establish why monkey’s stayed in specific communities and seemed capable of only caring for certain other monkeys. In pursuit of the answer, they cut up so many monkey brains, that they could actually take a brain they had never seen before and from it they could accurately predict what size tribes that species of creature formed. Most monkeys operate in tribes of 50. But to test the scientists hypothesis a slightly larger brain was presented and they estimated the ideal group or society for this particular animal was about 148. The human number varies (due to variances in brain sizes), and if you research monkey sphere around the net, it is invariably rounded to 150.

front_monkeysphere

Essentially, similar to monkeys, this number is the critical number that humans can form meaningful relationships with. As a human you come into contact (either passively or actively) with hundreds of people every week. How many do you care about? And I mean, really care about. Very few! These feelings are normally reserved for family, friends and in some instances work colleagues. Very few brands have really connected with people and entered their monkey sphere. Some times brands can enter and then go equally as quickly. Others just click with some individuals and can do no wrong, no matter what (Apple?).

So for all the organisations grappling with social media or community marketing, just remember, the odds are very few people will actually really care about your organisation. Don’t enter the environment, thinking you have a god giving right to be there. Provide content and materials that the audience actually want. Communicate on their level. You may, just may enter their monkey sphere. But don’t get too down heartened if the base aren’t communicating with you day in, day out. It doesn’t mean you have failed, it just means you aren’t in their monkey sphere.

OK, so it was slightly off-topic, but interesting nonetheless.