Chrissy Fitzgerald Maitland is managing director, Europe for online shopping destination ShopStyle. She talks to The Industry about simplifying the shopper experience and the art and science behind the booming influencer marketing movement.
Can you tell us a bit about the ShopStyle platform and what it is that sets it apart from other shopping platforms?
ShopStyle is a leading digital search engine that makes it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for across thousands of brands and millions of products – it’s the only shopping destination that you’ll ever need! We work with retailers across women’s, men’s, kids and home from both high street to high end to ensure we have the widest product selection available. Because our company is all about making things easy for the customer, we dedicate a lot of time and resources to developing the best search algorithm and user features to make your purchase journey as seamless as possible, whether that’s personalising your search results based on past clicks, providing guided search options to help you narrow down the type of dress you want or our sale alert feature that instantly notifies you when a product or brand you like goes on sale. These are the elements that differentiate us from other competitors – unrivaled product catalogue and unique features housed within an inspirational search experience supported by helpful editorial content.
How do you acquire the brands to represent on the platform and, apart from driving traffic (and sales!), what benefits are there to brands from working with you?
We have a long waiting list of brands who want to be on our platform! Many retailers will submit proactive requests at retailers.shopstyle.com, our integration request form, because they recognize the value we can bring to their business. We also work with affiliate networks, who help brands connect with lots of different publishers, to find out who is new in the space or who is performing well for similar sites. Occasionally, based on what we see in the market and how customers are shopping on ShopStyle, we’ll see opportunity in brands who are not yet part of an affiliate program, so we’ll reach out directly to discuss partnership opportunities.
We have limited resources to spend on retailer integration, however, so we have to make some tough decisions about who to onboard to the site. We’ll look for brands that we think fill a niche with our customer set and who we think will perform well given comparable brands already on site. As part of the partnership commitment, we also require brands to meet certain commercial agreement minimums and technical specifications to ensure we can drive value for both us and them.
In addition to traffic and sales growth, which is the cornerstone of any partnership, we drive value to brands in three key ways – 1) new customer acquisition, 2) global reach and 3) influencer marketing. We reach a highly sought after demographic of young women with disposable income and an aspirational approach to fashion, and are able to successfully introduce new brands to these customers through our site and email propositions. In fact, we drive a higher proportion of new vs. existing customers than most of our competitors. In addition, we’re able to help brands grow their ecommerce globally at scale. We have eight localized sites across the US, EU and Asia and drive purchases from over 175 countries, which makes it easy to capture customer demand anywhere in the world from a single relationship with ShopStyle. Lastly, being part of ShopStyle also puts you in front of 14,000 influencers globally through our Collective program. This provides amazing additional reach for your brand at no additional cost, and allows you to tap into different customer demographics at different stages of their purchase journey. Not only do we help brands and influencers work organically together, but we also offer full service campaign support to drive significant brand awareness and performance uplift from specific promotional activities.
Is there a typical ShopStyle customer or is the appeal broad?
Like a lot of companies, we have a specific demographic that we design our product around, but we have a much broader appeal based on the type of business that we are. We think of our core customer as being a smart, sophisticated, savvy women in her 30s who champions style above trends and knows how to mix and match across retailers and price points to get the most our of her wardrobe. While we design the feel of the site and our editorial voice around this customer, the sheer breadth of product available and the intuitive nature of the site’s design means we can also easily serve customers from 18-65 and across a wide variety of fashion needs.
What are the benefits/differences for a customer shopping via ShopStyle than, say, heading to a multi-brand site direct?
ShopStyle just makes it so much easier! Everyone knows the time sucking phenomenon of going to retailer after retailer – even large multi-brand ones – to find that perfect item. ShopStyle allows you to streamline that experience into one site journey, where you could view, for example, all the short lace black dresses available at John Lewis and Selfridges and Nordstrom and Topshop and Hobbs and whoever else all within a single site. Because of all the brands (30,000) and all the customers (18M unique visitors) on ShopStyle every month, we also sit on a huge amount of data that helps inform us about what is trending, what’s popular and what’s most likely to convert, which makes it easier for us to tailor your site experience and our editorial content in the most relevant way. Individual retailers don’t have that same scale.
One aspect of the business that people may not be so aware of is the Collective platform, when was that introduced and can you summarise basically what it’s about?
We realised several years ago that the way we power our own site could offer huge potential to lots of other content creators in the market place and help drive commerce at an even larger scale. How could we make our product catalogue and strong retailer relationships available and beneficial for others? Originally, we worked primarily with classic publishers like Grazia and Vogue to help them monetize their articles and create shopping sections on their site and apps. We also worked a lot with app developers, allowing them to tap into our product catalogue to accelerate their speed to market (versus developing all the retailer relationships and technology on their own). When influencers starting increasing their profile in the industry, we immediately saw the opportunity – and specific needs – of this group of content creators, and that’s how Collective was really born. We provide influencers with an open source platform to help them monetize their content, which includes access to the ShopSytle API; a suite of tools to create looks, links and widgets across blog, social and video; an amazingly fast and detailed analytics dashboard; campaign and exposure opportunities across ShopStyle and our retailer partners; and strategic and operational support from our team of account managers to help each influencer optimize their activity and reach their potential. We want to help each and every content creator, regardless of size or location, power their passion for content and commerce.
Influencer marketing is booming as a channel, what are the benefits of the influencers and brands managing a campaign via Collective than, for instance, working direct with each other?
The two main values we offer both influencers and retailers in campaign management is data and efficiency. We have strong relationships with over 14,000 influencers that reach 930k readers across a variety of platforms, and our ShopStyle site tracks 90m product impressions every day. That means we’re sitting on a huge array of data about how influencers perform and what customers want. When we work with a retailer on a campaign, we use that data to hand select influencers that we know will meet retailer objectives (brand fit, reach, conversion potential, etc.) and create a campaign that we know will deliver results (theme, product choice, asset type, etc) – plus deliver robust post-campaign analysis to help retailers demonstrate their success internally. This understanding and powerful use of data, which wouldn’t be available to a single brand, is also part of the efficiency we drive. We know influencer marketing can be overwhelming for marketing and PR departments, who are often trying to do a lot with very few people and for whom this whole channel is very new. Our knowledge of how influencers work and what is going to perform, plus just sheer volume of experience from having delivered c.1k campaigns, means we can be much more efficient at every stage in the process, from blogger/retailer pairing to contract creation and deliverable management. By managing all the logistics, we leave the brands free to focus on their other business needs – and get more done along the way. The same is true for influencers – by driving efficiencies in the campaign process, ShopStyle enables them to save their energy for what they love the most – content creation. Our influencers trust that we know their business inside and out, that we’ll represent them accurately to retailers, that we are invested in their growth and that we’ll deliver a smooth campaign experience for both them and the retailer.
How do you go about selecting the influencers on the platform and how do you work with them to ensure they get the best out of it?
Our platform is open to anyone – as long as you’re creating good content, we want to support your efforts to turn your lifestyle into your business. We of course screen for spam and less legitimate businesses, but we don’t believe that content monetization should be limited to the very few or the very big – everyone has to start somewhere. We regularly review new sign ups for quality and to identify any players we think have high potential, and we communicate with all new users through our welcome series to make sure they understand all our tools and can get started with basic strategy tips. From there, relationships naturally develop between influencers who are keen and focused and our account management team, who build one-to-one connections and provide tailored advice based on what they see in the influencer’s profile and what we see working across our entire community. For us, communication is key, so we’re always creating new informational blog posts, product announcement emails, webinars and office hour availability so our community can keep growing and optimizing with us.
What about brands, when they come to you do they tend to have a clear idea of what they want or are they looking for direction?
It depends – some retailers have a very specific idea, like wanting to launch a new perfume through travel video diaries with influencers of X reach and Y stylistic quality, but others just come to us and say “I have £X to spend on influencer marketing, what can we do?” We love having a bit of direction from the brand, even if it’s just understanding what’s in their editorial calendar and what their marketing objectives are, but coming forward with a totally inflexible brief can actually harm a campaign’s success. It makes us less able to choose influencers we think will drive the best results, and can often mean less organic – and therefore less engaging – content from the chosen influencers. Flexibility and dialogue are always key – as long as we have those two things, we know we can deliver a great campaign.
What, typically, are the key factors for success for an influencer marketing campaign (is it engagement or sales) or does it vary by brand?
Again, this varies based on the business, the team within the business and even the time of year. A campaign in Dec might be driven by sales as it’s the single most important gifting period of the year, but an always-on campaign with Asian influencers might be all about brand awareness, where sales don’t matter. Regardless of the campaign’s end objective, engagement is always a good metric to look at. Ultimately, you’re paying an influencer to create content, and the only way content is going to drive any of your end objectives, be it brand awareness or sales, is by being engaging and pulling people in.
Do you tend to find luxury brands differ in their aims from more mass-market brands?
Not really – everyone wants the same things. To better position themselves in key markets, to reach new demographics, to drive sell through of particular products or ranges, to drive traffic and sales period. The way brands actually manage campaigns, however, can be a bit different. A luxury brand might have more restrictions, for example, when it comes to how the brand is described or in what environments, as there’s usually more heritage and strict legacy guidelines to consider.
When matching a brand to an influencer what factors do you bear in mind?
We look at a lot of different factors, including the style of the influencer and their content, where their readers come from geographically and demographically, how well they convert for the brand and/or competitive brands, how well they convert overall, reach and strength on different platforms, etc.
Is influencer reach still king? We are reading a lot these days about the increasing importance of “micro-influencers”, are brands more open to exploring this option?
Reach is an important metric but it’s not the only thing to consider. More important is the fit of the influencer to your brand and the engagement that they get on their content. Sometimes using a single influencer who’s a household name is absolutely the right approach – for example, if your goal is to drive brand positioning in a new market and you want an authoritative voice that impacts both customers and other influencers. But if your goal is to reach new demographics, for example, you might be better suited to using a range of micro-influencers who are smaller in reach but hold impressive engagement standards and can help you tap into a lot of new audiences. There’s never one size fits all, and that’s why discussing your objectives with a company like ShopStyle can be so helpful in figuring out the right route forward for you.
Which platforms typically dominate campaigns, we assume Instagram is key right now? And what about influencers’ own blogs? Some are migrating away from them towards purely posting on social media for instance.
The blog is still the hub of most influencers’ work and will continue to play an important role in their business and in campaigns. This is really where blogger and reader relationships are made, where you get a deeper feeling for the personality of the influencer and where content has its greatest scope. And, from a purely commercial point of view, blog content delivers more punch in terms of longevity and visibility through SEO. We always recommend including blog content in campaigns for these reasons. That said, social media is vastly important for growing an influencer’s profile and maintaining themselves as front of mind by creating content in these more snackable formats. It’s often a means of capturing new followers as well, both because different social platforms cater to different demographics and also because it’s easier to discover new talent and cross-pollinate from like-minded accounts through social sharing. Instagram is the platform we see as having the biggest impact, largely through the organized and aspirational nature of the content that makes it easy to digest and engage with. At ShopStyle, we’re always trying to help influencers (and brands) close the loop between these formats through tools like Looks, which enable influencers to create shoppable Instagram feeds on their blog and link to it through Instagram, maintaining a flow of traffic and monetization that can’t be achieved on one platform or the other. And it works – Looks converts +50% more than traditional product widgets.
What about video, Youtube appears to be growing in importance, particularly as a way for an influencer to get their personality across. Are brands adopting more video and what makes for a successful video?
Video is definitely an area we see our influencers investing more into, partly because it’s now easier than ever to create and distribute with advances in camera technology and channels such as Instagram Stories and Facebook Live and also because the rise of social media, with limited characters and medium, is making it harder for influencers to communicate in more personal ways. YouTube has been a great platform for influencers to combat this because it goes one step further than even a blog – hearing someone’s voice, their intonation and word choice, their laughter, is such a personal thing, and the greater level of engagement and comments bloggers receive on YouTube vs. blog content is testament to this. There are a few key tricks to making a video succeed on YouTube. One is to make it long! The YouTube algorithm is largely based on minutes watched, so shorter videos will always be at a disadvantage. If you can, create longer form videos around c.15min. Also, try to drive interaction and engagement by making your video clickable – it’s also a great way to drive additional sales.
Are there other emerging trends in this space that are noteworthy?
The world is becoming increasingly smaller, with influencers becoming more and more international. Don’t think that just because a blogger is UK based that they can’t be tremendously impactful in helping you grow your US business, for example. Make sure you really look at their traffic figures and understand where they’re coming from – this is much more valuable than looking at where they themselves are from. This idea of a more global world is captivating readers as well. We see content based in a foreign location capturing engagement rates of +20% vs. content based in the influencers home city. This increasing desire to be part of a larger, international landscape, as well as a generational desire to search for and value experiences more than goods, makes travel a worthwhile component for brands looking to capitalize on influencer marketing.
You held an event recently where you brought influencers together with the fashion and beauty PR community; why was that important to you to do? Is the PR voice becoming more influential when it comes to planning these sorts of marketing campaigns?
The feedback we got from our event supported the reason why we did it – so many brand PR teams want to engage in influencer marketing but have very little experience or time. They don’t know where to start, let alone how to optimize. And we’re here to help! We wanted to share our knowledge and skills in influencer marketing to enable individual teams to feel more confident about pursuing it for themselves, and to know that there are partners in the marketplace who can help accelerate their ambitions even further.