I'm so excited to be able to share with you the following conversation between Kathryn O’Connor, Senior Marketing Manager at Free People and myself, in which she openly and eloquently discuss the company's digital marketing strategy, including mobilizing a passionate customer base to become brand content creators through the new user-generated FP Me site integration. I hope you are as inspired as I am to learn how the cross-disciplinary team behind Free People invests in both technology and original content development to create a robust, and well, pretty dreamy, digital brand identity.
Crosby: Free People has been doing such a remarkable job with branded content in the last few years. Is this indicative of long-standing company culture or a more recent shift?
Kathryn: I would say it is indicative of a long-standing company culture. As a lifestyle retailer, we are big advocates of branded content. And, this has been raised to a new level with our first short film, Roshambo, which will continue as a mini-series, and with FP Me, our new style community on FreePeople.com. FP Me is integrating user-generated content more into the mix. Our customers are a huge source of inspiration and we wanted to give them a space to show their style and interact with each other.
Crosby: What was the development process for FP Me - who was involved, what were the major considerations, and how will you measure its success?
Kathryn: FP Me grew out of our desire to engage our customer and offer her special benefits. The challenge was tailoring this for the Free People girl. The process was very collaborative across the organization, including web development, UX design, marketing, graphic design, and the creative and design teams. We’ll be measuring success on engagement of visitors using the platform, i.e. number of pics uploaded, connections made, collections created, and traffic to the site.
Crosby: Branded content and site campaigns often become their own PR stories. Is it important to Free People to be seen as a leader in digital marketing among your peers/industry at-large?
Kathryn: It is important for Free People to be seen as a leader in digital marketing, and I think we are gaining recognition in the industry. Our efforts have been recognized by some of the leaders in tech media such as Mashable, The Daily Muse, Inc., and Business Insider for example.
Day-to-day we do a lot of fashion media and blogger influencer outreach. Business/industry media are part of our long-term PR strategy, and increasingly important with projects like FP Me. We are working hard to do thoughtful, individual outreach to media. We are conscious of offering exclusives and trying to get reporters behind the scenes to offer a unique perspective.
Crosby: One of the main challenges for many fashion brands is quantifying the value of content. What relationship do you see between implementation of social sharing tools, Instagram integration, etc and sales?
Kathryn: Social sharing tools allow us to get the Free People message out there and show what the brand values are through pictures, videos, and stories. We’re a lifestyle brand and using platforms like our BLDG 25 blog, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. help us enforce that. If we’re drawing girls into the Free People lifestyle, chances are that they’ll also be attracted to the clothes.
Crosby: Many of the fashion brands I have worked with worked primarily to grow social media followings on third-party sites, particularly Facebook. How did you know that you had a community that would also follow you and participate on the freepeople.com domain?
Kathryn: We have a very loyal following and engaged customer. And, we’ve seen over time that a good portion of our customers love the share. We have run contests and competitions based on photo uploads, we have had BLDG 25 Blog readers submit inspiration, and we asked our customers to show us how they style looks on Facebook. I think this past experience, combined with a little leap of faith, and a really creative, passionate team made us really confident. We’ve been really happy with the activity and support of the FP Me Community so far. It’s very exciting.
Crosby: What FP Me site features are you most excited about? Do you believe these types of features are now necessary for eCommerce fashion websites?
Kathryn: The main site features are Sharing Style Pics, which is the ability to upload a photo directly from your computer or import from Instagram, ‘Creating Collections’, a function of styling a full look or outfit, Hearting all product or user-generated content, and Connecting with others through the follow function. We have also launched email notifications and weekly digests to share activity with the Community.
We prioritized the features again by using past experiences and successes of campaigns, combined with what the team was most passionate about. And, we are constantly engaging our customer and observing what she seems to really gravitate towards. We try to always put ourselves in the shoes of our girl – or, we are actually our girl – and we build and prioritize what we ourselves would love to use.
Thank you Kathryn!