Interview: How Fashion Institution Topshop Embraces Social Insights to Stay Ahead Interview

By Gemma Joyce on May 9th 2016

With big name partnerships, a huge presence at London Fashion Week and incredible flagship stores across the globe, British retail powerhouse Topshop is no stranger to making waves in the fashion world.

We chatted to the brand’s analytics-savvy Digital Marketing Manager Frith Hookway on how social intelligence is making an impact across the business and keeping the high street institution at the forefront of the fashion conversation online.


Numbers and stories

Hookway heads up a nimble social team based just down the street from Topshop’s impressive global flagship store in London’s Oxford Circus, and their location offers valuable context to their work in integrating social into customers’ store experiences.

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It’s a visible resource to an incredibly plugged-in team that values qualitative insight as much as heavy data analysis.

This blend of qualitative and quantitative insight appreciation could go some way to explain the brand’s success in North America.

“We are so British by heritage. We need to strike that balance of being true to this core identity and being something that is receptive in other parts of the world,” explains Hookway, telling us that a large amount of time and effort goes into researching the cultural nuances between different markets to inform their communications.

Market research aside, Hookway is well aware of the exciting opportunities an innovative, trends-led fashion brand has in the current social landscape.

“Data-wise, we have the advantage of being a hot topic on social media. #Fashion is the number one used hashtag on Instagram; it’s something people are constantly talking about. There are so many conversations going on organically that we can learn from.”

But it’s not just being a hot topic that gives Topshop an edge over the competition.

As an established brand the team has extensive access to valuable historical data which lends itself to a greater depth and breadth for research and analytics.

“There’s a lot to be said for legacy brands who’ve got all of this to hand. The combination of that with advanced outward research can be very powerful for directing certain business initiatives.”


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Business-wide appreciation for the value of social

Respect for the value of social runs deep in the company, as teams work collaboratively and reactively to fast changing trends.

Where many social teams struggle to convince the wider business of the legitimacy of social data, Hookway’s team has fostered a responsibility to keep the wider business up to speed.

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“It’s an ongoing education,” she explains. “My team are great at making sure any information and industry updates don’t just sit in a silo within our team.”

It goes beyond trivial updates that don’t affect other teams, and Hookway is keen to deliver actionable insights across the business.

“You never know where an idea is going to come from or how it could be integrated into another team’s brief.

The value we see from the information we draw from social intelligence is great for marketing activity, but the more we can integrate across the business, the more of a unified understanding we have of our customer and the landscape we are playing in.”

As a results-driven retail brand, communicating return on investment within the social team is clearly a priority.

“It comes down to education and showing return on our activity wherever possible. As a brand we are really focused on testing and optimising to find the most effective solution as well, so this is a big part of any new venture we are looking at. How can we test it? How can we prove its effectiveness?”


The problem with being at the cutting edge

But as Hookway is well aware, proving the effectiveness of her team’s efforts can be difficult in a constantly changing social landscape where social analytics platforms are always playing catch-up.

As new platforms spring up and brands jump aboard, calculating the long term value can initially prove difficult.

Snapchat, which top brands are embracing on enormous scale, is an example of this. She explains, “That is a pure brand awareness and engagement channel and it’s a key one for relevance and helping communicate brand stories. But measurement available on that is reasonably primitive.”

Regardless of how platforms change, for Topshop, it’s all about the users.

While Twitter’s user growth may be in decline, the social team have noticed continued demand for immediacy when it comes to specific queries regarding issues like lost parcels and stock levels.

The team are very conscious of the behavioral niches of each platform and Hookway finds user behaviour the most interesting driving factor in how the social landscape is changing.

“This is what will ultimately dictate the direction of the social landscape and the way companies will need to shift resource and strategy. It’s so driven by users, so that’s really what will shape the future of social.”

It’s fair to say that Topshop’s social team strive for a razor sharp awareness of what their customers want and what’s next for them, and it’s working.


A big thanks to Frith for speaking with us. This interview is one in a series with industry experts – you can expect more every week.



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Gemma Joyce

@GLJoyce

Gemma is the social data journalist heading up Brandwatch React. As well as being first with the current affairs data, Gemma loves pizza, politics, and long reads. Her work has been featured in publications like Financial Times, Wired, Business Insider, and PR Week