We’re often bombarded with marketing speak talking about “local”, but it’s mostly just that, speak. Remember when HSBC used to refer to itself as the “The world’s local bank.”, it meant nothing more than operating in lots of different markets and countries. Local became more about geography than anything else. It joined the group of words, such as luxury, modern and sustainable, that get used all too often, but have become meaningless.
Trying to balance the idea of a much loved local, independent retailer and the scale of a larger chain is the dream of any contemporary brand or retailer. According to CACI Consulting Group’s ‘Location Dynamics” engine, 75% of the UK high streets have the same brand profile. They say “The concept of clone towns is well known, but we believe clone stores are the real issue.”
Left - Welcome to clone town - Can brands decentralise and empower its people on the ground to make decisions?
It’s boring and in a saturated market many cookie-cutter, anonymous chains are no longer appealing to consumers and as such we’re seeing those with too many stores close or reduce their footprint.
“In a market where consumers are seeking localisation and engage in brands that mirror their values it is essential that a store is part of the community in which it sits.” says Alex McCulloch and John Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.
“Customers can buy generic product sold in a uniform way online, they seek out stores for the personal, curated, local and engagement. Brands that therefore dictate homogenous stock and store fit out regardless of the local customer will not deliver that experience and as a result fall away.” they say. “The brands that trust in their people on the ground, invest in them and empower them to know their shopper as well as supporting them with forensic data analysis on what sells, what doesn’t, which marketing worked etc are the ones that will succeed.”
“Data alone cannot fix the problem, but nor can people. Good brands leverage both. A great example of this is Waterstones, finding a similar one in the fashion sector is a challenge – typically independents lead the way here. One fashion brand that doesn’t shine in this area is M&S, which serve up the same store, stock and fit-out regardless of market, and have only just entrusted their store managers to know their own P&L; the antithesis of employee empowerment.”
The type of store finding it hardest to adjust to modern retail was, originally and ironically, the most localised. Nearly every town and city had their own individually named department store up until quite recently. It was only in the early 2000s that John Lewis, with the exception of Peter Jones and Knight & Lee, which is now closed, rebranded each store to the company umbrella name. Tyrrell & Green in Southampton, Bonds in Norwich, Trewins in Watford, Jessops in Nottingham, Bainbridge’s in Newcastle, Robert Sayle in Cambridge and Cole Brothers in Sheffield all disappeared. They were all recognisably John Lewis because of the store interiors and branding, but retained their historical monikers into the 21st century and the affection that each town would have for them.
DH Evans on Oxford Street was re-branded as House of Fraser in 2001 along with many other well known names such as Rackhams of Birmingham and Kendals of Manchester. (It will be interesting to watch House of Fraser’s next rebrand to Frasers in 2020, back to the original Glasgow store’s name, with a new store in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre following the exit of Debenhams. “Frasers of Wolverhampton” could have quite the ring to it?)
Up until 2018 the Newcastle based department store chain, Fenwick, had individual buyers for its 9 department stores. In order to save costs they centralised their buying last year saying, ”Fenwick has today announced a proposal to modernise and reorganise the business, moving to a functionally led structure while retaining our local focus.
“These proposals are part of a broader strategy to modernise the business and to invest in both Fenwick’s multichannel offer – including IT upgrades and ecommerce – and its flagship Newcastle store.” Previously each store ran autonomously.
It is understandable the desire to have everything centralised under one name and buying team. It saves costs and doesn’t confuse the customer. It also makes more sense because of the internet and having one unified website, but it loses the personalisation and affection that people had for these brands and nobody wants to think that their town or city is the same as everywhere else. (In out-of-town shopping centres it doesn’t matter quite as much because their isn’t so much ownership of place).
Right - Do clone towns need a pop-up Banksy store like this one in Croydon?
This reblanding doesn’t take into account British idiosyncrasies or quirks and our love of personality. Many chain stores want bland boxes. The historical nature of the fabric of many of these older brands and their buildings have been looked at as a problem, money pit and not conducive to modern retail rather than embracing their uniqueness. It’s only poor and long term under investment that has let these retailers down. Liberty of London wouldn’t be the same if it was in another building. The building is the brand.
"There is a fear that localised = expensive. It doesn’t need to – you know a Waterstones when you go in it and the branding is universal, but each store manager has autonomy over the look and feel of the product, what is on promotion and maintains local charts etc.” says McCulloch and Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.
"Chains need to trust that their staff on the ground can make decisions on how they sell and give them space to do so within the brand framework. Equally they should be able to use POS data, online sales data and customer data to inform the manager on which lines have worked, which initiatives drove sales and how to better them.”
Engaged employees make better employees especially if they are personally invested in decisions. It’s the opposite of automation and the robotic attitude to manual shop employees.
“By trusting in the people on the front line, educating them, training them and supporting them through data will you also likely see key staff retention increase because staff will be empowered in their roles.” says McCulloch and Platt.
Is the design of stores an issue here and how can design catch up with consumer behaviour? “I’m not sure design is at fault here, there are many truly innovative stores and spaces in the market. The issue is more typically underinvestment in stores and a homogenous approach to stores. A brand can tailor its social ads based on geography and consumer (a 20-year-old single male in London will get served a different ad. to a 28-year-old mother of two in Liverpool) but don’t consider the same approach and nuance with their stores.” says McCulloch and Platt.
Facebook has been putting ‘Beacons’ into stores to send consumers personalised ads and to track their movements. Retailers also need to work backwards from this and tailor the stores to the people who are frequenting them. They could find out this information from peoples’ Bluetooth being turned on and then change the buy of the store according to the breakdown of the consumers and visitors.
Obviously, not each and every store is identical. Stores are different in size and can accommodate different levels of ranges. Some chains specifier different product for different locations, but, it’s more a mindset and preconception that they’re all the same which is the main problem here. People want to be pleasantly surprised. “I’m-not-going-to-go-in-there-because-I-already-know-what-they-sell-and-I-can’t-be-bothered” is the modern attitude to many chain stores. The more individual or local they were perceived to be, the more often you’re likely to take a look. If you want anonymous and clinical you’ll shop online, it’s about pride of place.
It was while at Barcelona Fashion Week, looking over a German Influencer’s shoulder, that the digital world looked incredibly small. She was busy scrolling, liking and commenting on pictures on Instagram. All the images looked like fellow Influencers.
We’ve had all this talk of “engagement", and brouhaha about methods of promotion, see bots, but it dawned on me that this is an audience invested in their own engagement. It’s real, but then what is real in the virtual, social media world? What is the correct form of “engagement”?
Left - No Likey
It’s basically people engaging with themselves and why are we surprised that people who like their own self-image are doing it? People have created pods to allow groups of other people to know when they have posted and to mutually like and comment the posts, increasing engagement. It’s basically what you do with your friends, but more organised and business like. It’s fine if you’ve got the energy for it. I haven’t.
She needs to like and engage with other influencers, and vice versa, to keep the momentum up, but are the numbers outside these circles actually worthy of note? It’s really hard to know. It’s pretty much the same with magazine circulation figures.
It’s also like the Fyre Festival. How were the influencers to know that a festival, scheduled months in advance, was going to be a disaster? People promote things in good faith and hope people stick behind their promises and obligations. We can all look back in hindsight and wish to do things differently or not at all.
The “Instagram police” are busy telling people what they should and shouldn’t do, but people are manipulating things all of the time. Who made the rules for the game in the first place? It’s the nature of SEO, or even more old fashioned, people buying mailing lists. It’s businesses trying to promote themselves, which certainly isn’t new.
I would never condone buying followers, that’s plain wrong, on any platform, but getting software to do what you could do yourself is a clever use of time, isn’t it? I tried the follow/unfollow method a few years ago, when I was struggling to grow followers and asked a friend how they were growing their’s. I saw it like scheduling posts or using something automated. I stopped when I realised I really didn’t care enough. Others saw it as cheating. I’ve never denied it.
We’re all at the whims of giant corporations moving the digital goalposts all of the time. Whether it’s Google or Facebook or whoever, people are continually adapting and trying new things. It’s the nature of the business. It’s how they promote themselves and work things to their advantage. We’re all digital micro-plankton bobbing along on their electronic sea.
In the decade since I started TheChicGeek I’ve always valued words and opinion and that’s why Instagram never really worked for me. It did give me TheChicGeek character, though, which I’m grateful for. I pride myself on having a distinct point of view and opinion and it would be odd if I didn’t have an opinion on this subject. I feel like I owe some sort of explanation to the people and brands I’ve worked with over the years. This blog has always been my passion and focus and always will.
We’ll probably look back on this hysterical witch hunt in a few years and wonder why anybody really cared. Hopefully, all this negative energy will implode the whole darn thing. It’s time for something new anyway.
Read - You're Fyred! The Anti-Influencer Backlash has begun...
Things often speed up towards the end. It’s probably in one of Newton’s laws and it best describes the recent carnage in the printed media industry. It feels like we’re finally at a tipping point, and, in the past week, we’ve seen the men’s style media hardest hit with Esquire halving the frequency of its print edition and Shortlist, the biggest UK men’s title by readership, closing altogether.
Add in Johnston Press, which owns more than 200 titles including the i, The Scotsman and The Yorkshire Post, going under, and it’s free-fall in the newspaper and magazine publishing business. You’re doing very well to stand still.
According to a recent Evening Standard article, in the past decade over 300 local newspapers have closed, circulation has more than halved, advertising revenues have nosedived by 75% and 6000 fewer journalists are employed.
What’s killing these businesses isn’t the falling number of copies being sold - while that doesn’t help - it’s been the giant migration of advertising and marketing revenue to the online monopolies of Google and Facebook.
It’s obviously a shift to online, but the big question is, why have all the magazines and newspapers happily sat back and watched both these businesses take away all their revenues?
In 2017, Google's revenue amounted to 109.65 billion US dollars. Google's revenue is largely made up by advertising revenue, which amounted to 67.39 billion US dollars in 2015. Facebook made $39.9 billion in ad revenue in 2017. Mobile advertising represented approximately 89% of advertising revenue for the period, up from 84% of advertising revenue in the fourth quarter of 2016, while the company saw the biggest jump in revenue in Europe (31%).
Not amount of rebrands or editors being replaced will compete with this dominance.
Condé Nast just announced it was closing American Glamour, this follows Teen Vogue, and there are rumours W is next, if it can’t find a buyer.
While Google keeps its nose relatively clean, it’s Facebook that seems to jump from controversy to controversy.
At the beginning of this year the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal revealed Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people's Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. It opened the eyes of the general public. Facebook wasn’t this cuddly and friendly village notice board anymore, but rather an aggressive marketing tool selling access to their lives. This was a huge sucker punch to this online Goliath and the newspapers and media should had been encouraging us all to close our accounts and walk away.
The media should have pushed for us to delete Facebook. It was a huge opportunity for them to damage Facebook and take back a slice of revenue. Much in the same way we joined, if all our friends left, we would leave or no longer be active on there.
Recent evidence also suggests Facebook knew about Russian political activities on its platform even while Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Founder, publicly denied it. The Facebook culture is said to be one of ‘delay, deny, and deflect’ and is full of ‘fake news’.
This has had a slight effect on visitor numbers. According to the company's latest figures, the number of Europeans logging onto the site every day dropped from 279 to 278 million, while monthly European users fell from 376 to 375
However, total global user numbers continue to slowly rise, with more than 2.2bn people using the platform every month. The latest results showed total revenue of $13.7bn dollars (£10.8 bn), an increase of 33 per cent on the same period last year.
After its financial results in July when Facebook said it expected revenue growth to slow and costs to rise, more than £90bn was wiped off the company's value. The latest figures show costs rose 53 per cent on the same period last year to $7.9bn (£6.2bn).
Facebook is trying to change its image, with adverts telling you how much they care and it publicly committed to recruiting thousands of new content moderators to help improve its ability to remove malicious content from the site - an area it has been widely criticised over.
It also just announced they have partnered with regional publishers Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror), Newsquest, Archant, JPI Media (formerly Johnston Press), and the Midland News Association to launch the ‘Community News Project’, a scheme that will help fund 80 community journalists.
Ironic when you consider they have mostly disappeared because of Facebook. This is, now, media as charity, subsidised by Facebook to give a veneer of unbiased and local coverage. The scheme follows in similar footsteps to the BBC‘s ‘Local News Partnership’ which has helped fund over 140 local democracy reporters.
What all this shows is Facebook isn’t unstoppable. People and their time is the value in Facebook and if we walked away we could damage it. It’s probably naive to think it would disappear, but just a small slice of those huge revenues returning to more independent media would make for a healthier and broader media landscape.
The current traditional media feels very passive and defeatist with regards to these advertising revenue giants when they should making them public enemy number one and encouraging us to walk away.
Are you ready to delete yours?
It feels like we’re one data breach, revelation or exposé away from deleting Facebook. Not to mention all the other platforms. Some of us have been on these social media channels for nearly a decade and we’re tired. Social media is starting to feel a bit of a chore and people are reassessing their relationship with it. The novelty factor is waning and it seems like we’re bored of seeing the same images repeated and, even those who’ve made it their business to ‘influence’, via social media - ‘Influencers’ - seem bored themselves of making and posting the same images.
“There’s definitely a sense of content and Facebook fatigue and more importantly, a loss of trust. As a first-gen blogger, it was trust that built our communities ten years ago and that was in no small part because at that time blogging was purely a passion project, not for commercial gain,” says Navaz Batliwalla, editorial consultant and blogger at Disneyrollergirl.net
“The reason social media content has become formulaic is down to the cynical commercialisation of it all. To reach mass eyeballs, your content has to be fairly mainstream which is why so many blogs and legacy media have adapted similar aesthetics and tones of voice. It’s diluted the uniqueness and personality. Inevitably, it becomes a slog to create that sort of formulaic content too, so the creators themselves get bored - and it shows.” says Batliwalla.
Instagram has clearly peaked and it being the centre of brands’ and people’s focus is changing. There are only so many flat-whites or magnolia trees people are going to be interested in. It’s all got very annoying and basic.
Instagram recently made changes so people can no longer manipulate engagement and artificially increase following. Those who think they’ve got more engagement than Elizabeth Taylor will now have to rely solely on the whims of their ‘followers’ and it’s almost certain they won’t be able to sustain their likes and followers in a market that is mature and growing bored.
“For me, the big content killer has been the algorithmic changes. Bloggers who relied on Instagram for their main income have panicked as their engagement plunged since the introduction of Instagram’s changes last year. I noticed certain tactics like comment pods and lengthy over-shary posts, a kind of desperate click-bait attempt to keep followers interested. It’s also the reason for so many more ‘look at me’-type posts because selfies and outfit posts tend to get better engagement on Instagram. But again, with certain influencers, it just doesn’t come naturally and it’s a turnoff to their followers. I'’ve been there myself! Finally, the sheer volume of sponsored posts is exhausting to read. It’s too much.” says Batliwalla.
For me, it was when they allowed you to save your best Instagram Stories - ‘Story Highlights’ - that I felt like this had become a job and required too much thought, rather than something fun and interactive. The more things they introduce, the heavier it all becomes. You see people tapping away on their Facebook accounts on their phones on the train: liking pictures, commenting and keeping up. It’s like a full-time job. People will reduce the amount of their free time they spend on these sites.
Even the biggest ‘Influencers’ can’t rely on their numbers. Just look at people like Ella Mills - Deliciously Ella - 1.3m Instagram followers, closing her delis, Millie Mackintosh, reality star and influencer - 1.3m Instagram followers, folding her clothing line, and the ultimate influencer of all Victoria Beckham - 19.6m Instagram followers, made around 60 workers redundant recently after new investors ordered a review of the business.
We do have to acknowledge the green-eyed monster in the reporting of Influencers, especially by traditional press. These attractive people living their best life and getting paid to do it. Beats working in McDonald’s. But, it’s got crowded, they’re not cute forever and we’ve all seen that ‘wow’ picture before. Ultimately, unless they’re traditionally famous, have a respected talent or you fancy them, why the fuck do you care about what they are doing? It seems strange that so many people are supposed to care about people they don’t know. They don’t.
Christophe Brumby, Creative Strategist at Amplify (brand experience agency for clients like Facebook, Google and Spotify) says, “As publishers see their influence wane and as Influencers fight for control, everyone is taking matters in their own hands… What we are seeing as a result is a new age of convergence where publishers such as Refinery 29 are turning their staff into influencers and where influencers are starting their own publishing ventures with the likes of Street Dreams, a collective of creators rooted in photography, bringing their community offline through a print magazine, photo walks and shows. It may not be long before we see publishers and influencers teaming up together to maintain relevance with their audiences while reducing their dependence on social platforms.”
“Social media did not invent influence but in bringing the ‘social’ into traditional media, they dramatically changed the rules of the game. Social media have atomised and democratised influence, effectively transferring power from the traditional media to every individual user; turning everyone into a potential influencer capable of measuring their personal media value,” says Brumby.
“Despite a rise in marketing spend, many influencers argue that the current model is not sustainable as platforms and brands are taking advantage of a highly fragmented landscape where they do not hold much leverage as individuals. On the one hand, they are increasingly reliant on the platforms that ultimately own their audiences and dictate the rules of engagement, often feeling at the mercy of sudden algorithm changes," says Brumby.
In a recent article in the Financial Times about the death of Influencers, it quoted a fashion PR director saying, “Whatever you do — don't market yourself as an Influencer. Stick to journalism. That's a proper craft.” There's definitely a feeling of distancing themselves from the label 'Influencer'.
Robin James, digital content producer, Youtube creator and blogger says “I don’t use social media in my personal life. It’s not real life and I find it exhausting, It takes a lot from you without giving back and a feeling of you’re missing life. That said, there’s a flip side, Instagram Stories is the real side of what ‘Influencers’ are up to.”
“Audiences are going through Instagram double tapping without reading and being social media zombies. In terms of business, I produce stuff with more thought and heart and not just a pretty picture. That sort of production and quality of content will survive. I tried to take the production down slightly to be more connected to an audience and become a bit more raw,” he says.
James recently qualified as a barber to give himself more expertise in the grooming arena, “I decided to do that to have a lot more authority, and become an expert in an area. One was editorial and secondly, was commercially: I can do this, I can cut and style it. I trained for six months.”
So, what’s next? What would we do with all that spare time if we reduced our ‘socialising’?! I think there’s a place for something like Facebook, but more a Wikipedia model of philanthropy. Run just to wipe its face, it would be more like what a lot of people think Facebook is rather than a huge marketing site.
I think we’ll see a return to searched for, permanent, or as permanent as the internet allows, content. People looking for something and finding a trusted voice.
Everybody is striving for authority and longevity. I think those ‘Influencers’ who have nothing to say or say nothing with disappear. The rest will have to evolve to beyond just the visual and sound bites as the audience matures and also, no doubt, the next wave of young consumers will be into something else.
Will we see the end of thirsty attention seekers seeking validation on Instagram? Probably not, but I think it’s definitely had its moment. Marketeers, who always take a while to catch up, will continue to chuck money at this for a little while yet, but it’ll fall off soon.
But where do we go next? Good print isn’t dead, but, ultimately, it’s digital.
“I’ve noticed a renewed interest in long form content, more like essays. People are yearning to read blogs again. Informed opinions, observations, not just news and product reviews. I write a monthly insights email (called The Beauty Conversation) with two beauty industry colleagues and we’re nurturing our community to build trust and engagement. It’s not about numbers at all, but the relevance and quality of our audience and our niche content.” says Batliwalla.
Everything has become so disposable and ultimately forgettable. This is the modern life we live, but it will bounce back, not fully, but partially.
Can you remember when you met somebody new and you’d say “What’s your Instagram?” That's stopped. I can’t be bothered anymore. It’s full and I don’t want to waste more of my time deleting accounts. As the Instagram hysteria subsides it will take the pressure off ‘reach’ and ;followers; and plateau into a record of pictures for genuine friendship groups.
All those ‘Influencer Marketing’ companies that have popped up with have to move into digital marketing and have a broader scope. I used to joke that there were more platforms than Clapham Junction. It just doesn’t feel funny anymore.
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Read - You're Fyred! The Anti-Influencer Backlash has begun...