When social media met luxury retail

An Interview with Helen Keegan

bicester-villageMobile marketer Helen Keegan aka Technokitten has been blogging since the days of yore, and has been working in marketing and retail for even longer. It seems a natural fit that she's now combining her passion for social media with her passion for fashion by doing some rather interesting online projects with Bicester Village, a chic outlet shopping village near Oxford.

I had the opportunity to visit Bicester Village a while ago as part of a bloggers' day, in which Helen used word of mouth and tools like Twitter to invite a wide range of bloggers to come along and check out the place, with the hopes of getting a bit of blog coverage. While there, I thought I'd ask Helen about this and her other work with Bicester Village.

So tell me a little about today (bloggers' day)...

This is the first one, an experiment, to see what bloggers think of Bicester Village and to see what kind of coverage might come out. We've invited some people because they have fashion & lifestyle blogs, but we also wanted to reach out to bloggers whose audience was 'normal people', because 'normal people' go shopping, and we wanted to reach people that other blogs or media might not reach. This is a small experiment; if it works we want to do larger events next year.

Were you inspired by the Stormhoek campaign or other similar ideas?

I took part in the Stormhoek campaign as a blogger, I got my bottle of wine and everything... it's certainly been interesting to follow the results, but ultimately we want to reach beyond the blogosphere, beyond the influencers, to reach real people. I don't know how far the Stormhoek campaign reached Joe Bloggs as opposed to Joe Blogger.

Have you been involved in other projects similar to this blogger's day, aside from Bicester Village?

helen-keegan-quotationWhen working on a mobile launch last year, we persuaded the client to steer away from the traditional press launch and more into a blogger's outreach event. Instead of a fancy press junket, we hired a room in a central London hotel for the day, and bloggers could drop in for tea & cakes and a chat. It was that relaxed, there were no 1-1 interviews, you could just come and have a chat with the CEO or the tech team. That worked brilliantly well for them, as the people who came were actually enthusiasts, rather than journalists who just turn up because they have to, because it's their job and they have to tick the box saying they went. Sometimes for these journos to write something meaningful about it, it's a step to far, but if you've got a blogger who's enthusiastic about that particular interest, and who's flattered and excited to have been invited at all, to have been recognised for their enthusiasm, I think you get much more careful copy out of it. The result was that the coverage was very different from the usual regurgitated press release, you had people analysing it and covering it in different ways. With apologies to the really good journalists out there, and there are some really good ones, there are also a lot of people who just rewrite the press release, and there's not a lot of value-add there. I think where bloggers are more interesting, is that they want to add some value, they want to do something a bit different and have their personal take on it.

Can you talk a little bit about the handbag project, which is another strand of what you're doing with Bicester Village?

handbag-siteYes, we're really excited about this one, it's thrilling. Basically, we wanted to promote the 30 new stores that have just been built here at Bicester Village, and to get pre-December traffic. We wanted to offer people a 10% discount for registering their interest on a website. We started thinking about what we wanted the website to be, and eventually came up with the idea of 'what's in my bag' or what's in my handbag. It turns out one of the management team does handbag therapy, where she analyses people's handbags, so there's a real element of psychoanalysis going on.

We have been working with people at Tuttle Club in London to seed the campaign, and got people to empty out their bags and take pictures of them, and get them onto the website, to help people understand what was expected. And last week Debbie Percy who analyses the handbags, did some live video analysis of handbags at Tuttle and on the street. The reason for the video is so people understand what the handbag analysis involves, so they wouldn't feel too scared or shy to have it done. cat-in-handbagNow every week, Debbie chooses a few of the photos that have been uploaded to the website to analyse. Everyone who registers on the site to either upload photos or vote on handbag photos gets a 10% discount, and we've already had fantastic success with it. The results so far are already way above any promotion I've ever done before, in terms of actual redemptions of the vouchers. Not just people registering and downloading them, but actually turning up and using them.

How have you gone about setting targets and success measures for the campaigns?

For the handbags, it's about number of registrations, numbers of photos, and ultimately, about numbers of vouchers redeemed - and we're definitely on target there. For the blogger's day, "I don't know" is the honest answer, because I don't know what kinds of content or coverage we may get out of it. It's only after we know what kinds of coverage we might get, through Facebook, blogs or other, that I can start to think about how we might gauge that in terms of success criteria.

How has your client felt about going into this kind of uncharted territory without having ideas of measures in advance?

We know we want to have measurements, and this is an experiment to see what kinds of things we should measure in this area for the future. It's quite easy to measure something like the handbag promotion, because there are hard figures. But with blogging, it's more esoteric. It's more about media coverage, but what we haven't yet worked out is how to weight those different types of coverage and different audiences. I don't think anybody's really cracked it. If someone says 'I went to Bicester Village' and it's seen by 1000 people, it's worth more than if someone writes a really in-depth article that's only seen by 10. So it's quite difficult to do that weighting. And moving forward, I'm hoping to work on some blogs for all the different villages, so that will be part & parcel of working out what the actual community criteria are. But the client has been really brilliant about wanting to experiment, and they are committed to getting some learning out of it.

How does this kind of marketing compare with Bicester Village's other more traditional marketing?

We'll be comparing registrations from the handbag site to registrations from their email marketing, but we're using email to promote the handbag site as well, because not all of their audience are Web 2.0 clued up. Email marketing may seem a little old fashioned, but to people who aren't accustomed to getting 150 emails in their inbox every day, it's really nice to get an email newsletter, so we have to be careful not to alienate people by using different media for different audiences.

Which leads to my next question: do you think the people who are using the handbag site really represent the average Bicester Village customer, or do you think they are more the usual (Web 2.0) suspects?

handbag-photoWell, at first I thought they might have been 'the usual suspects' but so many of them have come to redeem their voucher. At Bicester Village, there are more than 120 shops, ranging from high end designers to high street, so it's very difficult to say who the core customer is. Also there's this myth that people who are interested in designer fashion and luxury items don't do digital. Well, that's just not true. But there is that myth in the luxury goods world that digital isn't for them, so we're trying to dispell those myths and challenge some of those perceptions.

I look forward to hearing more about the results of these social experiments, and will be following the developments so I can keep you posted. At the end of the interview, Helen & I had a nice chat about the current state of mobile marketing, web marketing and social media, so I'm thinking I might edit that down into a nice lil audio file for your aural pleasure :-)