The Future of Digital: Friend or Foe?


Lucy Archibald | July 15, 2010

Digital expert and LS Member Jonathan Briggs offered some salient tips on digital media at a presentation in London earlier today

Digital expert and LS Member Jonathan Briggs offered some salient tips on digital media at a presentation in London earlier today

This morning London-based PR agency Modus Publicity hosted the first in a series of mini ‘masterclasses’ on topics affecting the beauty and fashion industries. Today’s session was entitled ‘The Future of Digital: Friend or Foe?’ and was given by LS member Jonathan Briggs, professor of e-commerce at Kingston University and co-founder and Business Development Director of UK software consultancy the OTHER media Ltd, which specialises in e-commerce, educational internet projects and large scale news and information sites.

His presentation aimed to critically examine what digital media has to offer fashion and beauty brands, and to weigh up whether on balance digital was a help or a hindrance. So, clearly an expert in the field, what conclusion had Briggs drawn about digital media by the end of his 45 minute session? And what were his key messages along the way?

It’s becoming a recurrent theme in the digital debate now, but Briggs re-iterated that not all forms of digital media are appropriate to all companies and business scenarios. He wisely highlighted the fact that “Digital is not about ticking boxes”. Getting an iPhone app should not be an aim for a brand. Any application or digital technology is not an end in itself, but should be a potential tool, considered for use by a brand who want to improve the relevance and in turn the success of their business.

‘Mobility’ has already become established as a central aspect of digital, but Briggs pointed out how ‘location’ is the next link. As we know, the most effective digital campaigns link up the digital and the ‘real’ to achieve their objectives, so too, start-ups like Gowalla and Four Square may not yet have the complete solution for luxury brands but they are heralding the increasing importance of linking up the digital world with the physical world. In case you’re not already familiar, Four Square is an application which allows users to ‘check in’ to physical, branded locations using their laptop or phone. According to their Four Square behaviour they can then collect badges from various brands. It is, in other words, a fairly sophisticated form of peer marketing which taps into human beings’ innate love of competition and collecting, and as one audience member pointed out, their desire to use an affiliation with certain brands to project lifestyle statements.

Jimmy Choo recently made use of the ‘treasure hunt’ element of Foursquare in their ‘CatchAChoo’ campaign which promoted the launch of their new sneakers. The campaign involved a hunt around London in which followers could see where the sneakers had checked-in and, if they got to the venue in time, would win the Choos. It seemed to be a successful campaign with over 4,000 people participating online; 1 in 17 London-based Foursquare users chased the Choos and sales of the sneakers increasing by 33%. Briggs admitted that there was a definite “geeky” element to this application which has not yet really hit the mainstream, but it is interesting to see that since 1 in 17 London Foursquare users were ‘Chasing the Choo’, there is evidently a (possibly surprisingly) overlap between Foursquare and luxury fans. Nor are Jimmy Choo alone. Louis Vuitton also recently launched a Foursquare presence which awards users who check in to their London store 10 times with a coveted LV badge.

It may seem pretty obvious, but Briggs reminded his audience that the benefit of digital media is that it “allows [brands] to personalise messages for different audiences”. Email marketing is an area in which this principle can evidently be put into practice. Questioned by a professional in the audience about whether this marketing channel now looked relevant going forward, Briggs advised that the numbers show that it is still important. However, he added the caveat that it needs to be well crafted and that the frequency and volume of email marketing, that is the “brand communication tempo”, should correspond with the brand tempo more generally. In other words, if you are primarily an online retailer (Briggs used the example of Ocado) your consumer interacts with you within the context of the web and so a higher volume of marketing emails is more acceptable and relevant than that which would be acceptable for a brand, which, for instance, primarily interacts with its consumers within a non-digital scenario (here the example given being Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream).

When it came to blogging and social media, Briggs underlined the importance of “authenticity”, taking the example of Paul Smith whose success in this area, Briggs feels, is derived from his genuine interaction with the technology and thereby the consumer. He cautioned that consumers quickly see through anything other than this kind of authentic communication. Similarly, and despite speaking at an event organised by a PR company, he stressed that brands shouldn’t ‘outsource’ their digital projects to PR companies or digital specialists, almost in a statement of disinterest. Although, on this note he was also quick to point out that this doesn’t prohibit working with trusted and thoughtful partners in a collaborative manner.

The speaker was also pretty definitive about brands who feel they are too luxurious to entertain the notion of social media, arguing that,“your audience is going to start the social activities without you anyway…” To underline this point he took the example of Get Satisfaction, a social media site which aims to facilitate a better consumer experience by directly linking up customers and brand employees. The site is characterised by brutal consumer honesty but has been effectively ‘hijacked’ by brands who can use it as a channel for communicating and implementing a commitment to better delivery on customer service in the widest possible sense.

This fed into Briggs’ wider belief that if given the opportunity, consumers are more than willing to interact with brands within a digital context, which makes the imperative for getting involved seem even stronger. He stressed that small-scale (read: low budget) but high-quality digital projects are more favourable than poorly thought-through, big and expensive digital statements.

After showing a typical break-down of the source of brands’ online traffic, he also advised companies to focus on developing a thorough understanding of how to “sculpt” their Google search page. This means thinking in the long term, rather than seeking a short-term fix. Relationships and coverage in trusted media and on quality blogs deliver ongoing benefits on Google. The balance between short term and long term benefit for brands is bound up with selecting the correct media platform for various purposes. Twitter, location marketing and blogs are useful for communicating a message and building hype in the short term around a sample sale for instance, whereas PR are still relevant in forging relationships with trusted online (and print) media in order to communicate a more ‘permanent’ and core message in the long term.

Briggs’ ultimate conclusion was that digital media offers more possibilities than obstacles and is therefore friend rather than foe. He finished his presentation with a series of take-away rules that LS members might also find useful:

- Define your goals (remember: the goal has to be about developing your business, not conquering a digital media channel for its own sake)
- Integrate channels
- Find great partners
- Invest wisely
- Involve your audience (and perhaps the biggest change is that they want to be involved rather than just informed)
- Create great content (that means quality over quantity, within a digital context that is consistent and relevant to your brand and its core message)
- Measure and learn (don’t be afraid to experiment and then examine the results pragmatically. A trusted external partner might also be relevant to this process)
- Rinse and repeat