Let’s start with two seemingly unconnected yet quite related news reports.
News no. 1: Somewhere towards the end of May, it was announced that the staple English fashion brand Topshop will be closing all 11 retail spaces in the US, alongside another 23 stores in Great Britain. This was just another decision for Arcadia Group, that owns within its portfolio a series of fashion brands, including Topshop – that in the past three years saw over 200 of its retail locations close down. The Topshop clothes and accessories known for their good quality and reasonable prices will still be available at the online store. Nonetheless, one can justifiably conclude that the brand is currently going through a downward spiral.
News no. 2: Shopping center City Park in Ljubljana welcomed the opening of Primark – the Irish fast fashion store known for their very affordable prices. The large store is located on two floors, with over 4000 square meters and made Slovenia the 12thcountry in the world where Primark sells its clothes, as well as the first country in this part of Europe. On the day of the grand opening and the weekend that followed the influx of customers was so significant that the access to the shopping center City Park was limited. This was partially due to a number of specialized shopping tour buses that came from the neighboring countries for the opening. The store in Slovenia opened its doors only two months after the largest Primark store in Birmingham welcomed its first customers in April – spanning 15000 square meters and five floors. With eight stores in the US, Primark is expanding its business to New Jersey by the end of the year as well as to Miami in 2020. It is worth mentioning that Primark has no online store.
Just to be perfectly clear – the news articles are from May and June 2019. Seems like something is off, right? The first piece of news about Topshop closing its retail locations makes sense as we live in a time when more and more shopping is done online, instead of in-store. However, the news that people are in a shopping frenzy over opening of a store, driving kilometers just to wait in line to enter a store and then only buy the stuff they can actually carry seems very odd. Specifically, when they would need to return to the store if they wanted more items. Sounds nothing like the average shopper in the 21stcentury, does it? The story only gets more confusing when you realize that both Topshop and Primark are selling the same type of goods: clothing items that are readily available to a wide audience of willing consumers. How did this come about? And more importantly, why?
Answer to the above questions seems to be a repetitive one – it all boils down to marketing. For Topshop, internet was just another channel of communication, much in the same line as TV, radio, newspapers and billboards, and later with the development of online shopping became another distribution channel. At the same time, the technological advancements allowed other new players to enter the market which radically increased the supply and decreased the costs for the consumers. This is also why the business model of “something for everyone” became old news and went bust overnight.
At the same time, Primark resisted the temptation to follow the general practice of traditional fashion chains and add to their retail by expanding the online presence into online shopping. Thanks to this clever model, shopping in Primark provided an extra layer of experience for the customers, aside from the already low prices – namely, the goods were not available to everyone. In the world where distance is not an obstacle anymore to shopping, unavailability of online shopping for Primark created a badge of exclusivity for the brand.
Despite the absence of the online store, Primark is very active on social media. The customers significantly contribute to the hype, posting and sharing content related to their shopping experience in Primark stores, the products they bought, videos of how they are using the goods etc. Motivation also comes from the fact that their content is, to an extent, exclusive, as a person who uses the goods had to pay a visit to an actual store to buy them. Not everyone can do that. Unlike Topshop, Primark uses the online platform as a media platform, with consumers being the distribution channels and not the recipients of commercial offers.
The threads of that strategy are visible in the way that Primark stores are organized and designed, motivating the followers and fans to share the experience that is different to one where they feel like regular shoppers in classical stores. For example, in the new Birmingham store, the customers will be able to refresh with coffee and grab a bite in one of three restaurants or schedule a facial and get their hair done in one of the salons.
These two seemingly unconnected yet quite related stories are another proof that product branding is a thing of the past, and that branding the experience is what will make a brand in the future truly stand out. Experience branding is not something that is “upcoming”. As one can see, it is already a thing happening right now, as we speak. Rest assured that Primark is not the only example of that movement.
One of the best announcements of what was to come could have been traced in Steve Jobs’ address in October 2011 when he introduced the iPod as a new Apple product. “1000 songs in your pocket” was a line that launched the iPod. Jobs himself created the moto a few months before the decision was made on the name of the new MP3 player among ten different suggestions.
If we know that the main purpose of the marketing communication is to motivate the largest possible audience to transmit a message through their own media channels, using a device that is always in their hands, than it is clear that the motivation for that can be found in a unique experience each and every one of them gains from using the product.
So please stop bragging about the products that you are selling and stop trying to woo me with incredible offers and super low prices – I am sick and tired of that. Tell me what makes you special and invite me to be a part of that narrative. The rest is up to me.