Following Bell Pottinger Wired’s recent Blogger Breakfast for the retail industry, which saw Harrods, BHS and Rolling Luggage come together with bloggers including Yin & Yang and Modern Mum’s Must Have to share insights into the evolving relationship between brands and bloggers, the consultancy agency has released the article ‘How the UK’s £3.3bn social shopping economy is changing the role of blogging’:
With 92 per cent of consumers more likely to purchase goods through peer-to-peer recommendations than via adverts, it’s no wonder retail brands are collaborating in new and increasingly elaborate ways with bloggers.
This was certainly the takeout from our recent Blogger Breakfast, where the great and good of the retail and fashion industries – including Harrods, BHS and Rolling Luggage, plus online influencers Yin & Yang, Modern Mum’s Must Have, Thoroughly Modern Milly, Notes on Allure and Stylus – combined to share insights into the evolving relationship between brands and bloggers as a result of recent economic and social shifts.
While some believe social shopping to be in its infancy, research by eBay predicts that by the end of the year the value of social media for retail will reach around £3.3bn with direct social media sales totaling nearly £290m (up 44 per cent on last year). This growth goes hand-in-hand with increased consumer usage of photo and video-sharing social networks, such as Pinterest and Instagram, with the latter enjoying a 23 per cent usage growth in the last six months, according to GlobalWebIndex.
During our event, held at the Corinthia Hotel in London, brands and bloggers were unanimous in their praise of Instagram and its increasing ability to generate sales and high engagement levels. On the other hand, there was not such good news for Twitter, with most agreeing it is becoming a less effective campaign tool and more of a customer service platform.
The key challenge for brands across all social channels however, particularly with Instagram and Pinterest, is how to develop a personality and drive the kinds of engagement levels only really enjoyed by celebrities. Banana Republic’s recent campaign, which saw lifestyle blogger Joy Cho of Oh Joy! and her husband recreating their first date while wearing Banana Republic attire, is perhaps one answer to this.
This decision was no coincidence or stunt. Joy Cho has over 13 million followers on Pinterest alone, and considering over one third of US women now use the platform, this makes Joy a major online influencer and, through her accessibility, arguably more powerful than a celebrity.
Through this collaboration, Banana Republic was not only able to tap into Joy’s following to boost its own Pinterest community, but more importantly acquire a more engaged and loyal fan-base that would be more susceptible to product placement.
That said, integrity in social media, whether Instagram or a blog, remains vital as getting it wrong can be particularly counter productive. This was witnessed at London Fashion Week in February recently where some very notable bloggers became less notable when their Instagram followers declined significantly as a result of blatant product placement.
While social networks are leading the way in fulfilling consumer demand for 24/7 content and interaction, it’s safe to say the ‘traditional’ blog still has a very important role to play. Short term fixes are one thing, but insightful, richer feature pieces will always keep the most avid fans coming back for more. Yet established bloggers cannot afford to stand still. The most successful, such as renowned fashion and beauty bloggers The Man Repeller, The Sartorialist and Cupcakes and Cashmere, have morphed into micro-celebrities: styling the rich and famous, securing publishing contracts, appearing on TV interviews and enjoying front-row seats during Fashion Weeks.
It is these micro-celebrities that will increasingly help brands generate the cut-through required in such a competitive retail sector, particularly as consumers become wiser to the fact that celebrity lifestyles are not as attainable or realistic as once hoped. Though as is the case with the wily old blogger, don’t be surprised if we also see celebrities upping their social media game à la Cara Delevingne’s catwalk selfie.
With the social shopping economy as lucrative as it is, both brands and bloggers have to continually improve and reinvent themselves to meet consumer demands. Brands are also demanding more from bloggers and working more closely with them to generate a return on the bottom-line. These market pressures are only positive for the communications industry, particularly those capable of delivering content-rich, cross-platform campaigns.
By James Thomlinson
Partner and Managing Director at Bell Pottinger Wired