LONDON, United Kingdom — It’s an interesting time to be in the media business. The internet has disrupted the way in which content is created, packaged and distributed, putting the power of publishing (and republishing) in the hands of the many, and blurring the once familiar roles assigned to publishers, editors and readers.
But the internet also enables innovators to stitch things together and form new hybrids. In fashion, we’ve seen an explosion of digital experimentation that connects two previously separate consumer experiences: inspiration (content) and transaction (commerce). Major magazines are learning to think like retailers, embracing e-commerce to open new revenue streams and monetise their content, while retailers are creating their own digital content and connecting it to their commerce platforms, enabling consumers to shop directly from discovery-oriented, magazine-like experiences.
Recently, the Daily Telegraph, one of Britain’s biggest newspapers, relaunched its online fashion channel with a new platform that meshes together inspiration, advice and shopping. BoF spoke with Nancy Cruickshank, Executive Director of Digital Futures at the Telegraph Media Group to learn more.
BoF: Why relaunch the Telegraph fashion channel? Why now?
NC: Not only has Telegraph Fashion engaged a scale group of UK and international consumers for many years, it has also been one of the digital channels on Telegraph.co.uk that’s most consistently demanded by our advertising clients. Therefore, it’s critical that we continue to evolve this area of the business and bring fresh thinking and innovation to a category that is investing heavily in digital media.
Telegraph customers spend significantly on fashion and beauty products online and rely on our fashion and beauty experts for inspiration and advice. Our intention was to bring these two areas together, making it easier than ever for our customers to purchase directly from their favourite brands, in a trusted environment in which they feel informed and inspired.
BoF: As Clay Shirky says, with the rise of digital media “the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.” What is the role of a publisher in today’s digital world and how does Telegraph Fashion reflect this new reality?
NC: It’s absolutely true to say that digital media provides solutions to some major publishing issues, especially around the cost and complexity of distributing print media. It’s an altogether more accessible media marketplace in which to operate, with large numbers of new competitors for consumer attention. To engage our customers, we must be more compelling, timely, innovative, inclusive, customer-focused and connected than ever before.
So what does this mean in terms of our role? Fundamentally, digital media has shifted the role of the publisher from one where we package and distribute content created by our trusted experts to inform, inspire, advise and sometimes entertain our customers to one where we continue to do many of these things, but additionally, we have the opportunity to actively engage with our customers to become more expert in understanding and meeting their needs. This means bringing their voices to the conversation, enabling direct purchase of the goods and services we showcase, and offering more immersive storytelling using graphics, video and data. It is exactly these trends that underpin the thinking and strategy behind our re-launched fashion and beauty business.
Telegraph Fashion draws together a dynamic mix of fashion and beauty content and acts as a trusted, serendipitous guide. It is the work of an expert team of some thirty editors from Telegraph magazine, Stella magazine and The Daily Telegraph that offers breaking news, product recommendations, stunning features, a wealth of video content, the ability to purchase directly from our partners and a growing level of customer involvement in rating and commenting.
BoF: You mention that Telegraph Fashion is the work of some thirty editors. How has digital media changed the job of editors and columnists like Hilary Alexander?
NC: Digital media makes it easier for journalists to build closer relationships with their audience. On the Telegraph website and through Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, there is much more scope for interaction than before. The role of the journalist has expanded from writing articles for the newspaper to perhaps also writing a daily blog and tweeting the latest news. The blogs and tweets offer a different style of journalism to our readers — more frequent and often creating the feeling that consumers have greater access to our experts.
Hilary Alexander has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter and that number is growing rapidly. She appeals to new customer groups via social media channels and can also utilise these channels to stay more closely connected with existing readers by increasing the frequency and timeliness with which she publishes her opinions, but also in terms of keeping her closely connected with what her readers and followers want from her.
BoF: Speaking of readers, how do you think digital media has changed the role of the reader and how does Telegraph Fashion reflect this shift?
NC: Clearly, readers have moved from being passive to often highly engaged. They play a crucial part in a digital media environment. Telegraph Fashion enables consumers to rate products, reflecting a real sense of what’s hot right now; share our content with their networks on Twitter and Facebook; and publish their comments on the site to keep us closely in tune with what they want.
BoF: What can we expect from future iterations of Telegraph Fashion?
NC: Moving forward, we expect to expand iSpied much further to include extensive consumer collaboration with readers spying the best and latest fashion and beauty products right alongside Telegraph experts. Over time, I want to see this expand so that our customers take charge of which experts — Telegraph or non-Telegraph — they follow, depending on their own personal tastes and sense of style. A huge social shopping and product inspiration platform is what I have in mind, where readers are active participants in content creation as well as engaged consumers of our expert opinions and content — and always just one click away from a transaction.
Expectations? When BoF heard that the Telegraph was relaunching their fashion channel with a platform built around curation and social shopping, conceived in partnership with digital agency Made by Many, we were intrigued. We knew that an iterative and incremental approach to development meant that the new experience would not launch fully formed. But nonetheless, expectations were high.
First impressions? The first thing we noticed was the way in which product discovery and shopping opportunities were woven throughout the entire experience. All the fashion editorial is shopable, while trend reports come with shopable “product sets” and pages dedicated to columnists like Hilary Alexander feature curated product lists, alongside articles. Clearly this is a site that intelligently integrates commerce and content.
Most potential? We like the site’s iSpied section, where Telegraph columnists curate and broadcast their favourite product picks for consumers to see and shop. But as Ms. Cruickshank understands, iSpied would be a lot more interesting if, alongside editors, external contributors and consumers were also able to spot and share the products they love, making the site a deeper and richer source of shopable product inspiration.
What’s missing? We've always been advocates of mixing commerce with content. But after a few minutes of clicking around, the site starts to feel less like your favourite fashion magazine where everything’s for sale and more like a thin layer of content that’s been affixed to a shopping aggregator.
In short, the platform needs to be filled with the kind of fresh and inspiring content that excites fashion consumers to shop in the first place. Currently, this may be the responsibility of the site’s thirty editors. But a model in which editors function, not only as creators and curators of original content, but as community managers and curators of content powered by the interaction and social engagement of site’s readership, could help the site generate a larger, more dynamic stream of content in a way that’s self-sustaining.
Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion.