Retailers are becoming publishers and publishers are becoming retailers… Marie Claire & Liberty bosses explain


The barriers between publishing and retail are being torn down; Trish Halpin, Editor in Chief at Marie Claire and Esther Allen, Customer Marketing Director at Liberty got together at the International Content Marketing Summit last week to discuss how, and why. Our blog editor Jenny Cornish went along to hear what they had to say…

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Marie Claire is taking the leap into retail, launching a new beauty and wellbeing business in partnership with Speciality Stores, part of the Ocado Group.

Meanwhile, Liberty, the 140-year-old luxury department store, is leaping into the 21st century and making inroads into content. 

As Trish Halpin, editor in chief at Marie Claire, explained at the International Content Marketing Summit: “Our publishing company has decided that the next step in our journey should be retail. Retailers have been creating their own customer messages and content for many years.

"The line between the two of us is dissolving.”

Esther Allen, customer marketing director at Liberty, admitted the brand had been slow to embrace the need for audience data and targeted content.

“This is a real shift we’ve noticed, as a retailer, is how demanding customers are in terms of extra content. They expect us to have a point of view on everything we sell,” she said.

She described how the much-loved brand had drawn upon its old-school strengths and converted them into social media success.

“The most powerful thing we’ve found, is that social media isn’t just that one person in the team,” she said.

“We use everybody in the business to try and engage with that content production. We’re rewarding and incentivising people to write and create content and write social media posts for us.

She added: “We don’t have massive brand guideline documents, we have people who have lived and breathed the business for a long time and understand what makes the brand tick.”

However, the brand’s uniqueness also makes it difficult to target customers.

“We’re a funny business in a way – we’re a very big global brand but a strong demographic within the M25,” said Esther.

“There’s a huge community out there who love Liberty but have never visited the store. What we’re trying to do though concepts like ‘Love Liberty’ and ‘My Liberty’ is to get people to share our content.

“We’re also re-engaging lapsed customers. Everyone says ‘oh, I love Liberty’ – then when you ask them when did you last shop there, they’ll say ‘ten years ago’. We’re constantly having to go back and see how we re-engage these people.”

There is also a huge difference in demographics between the store and digital customer profile.

“We’re now writing content that appeals to lots of different demographics,” said Esther. “For me what personalisation is about is not just about having a fashion customer or a beauty customer, it’s going down to the individual level. We’re building out systems to make sure that content is displayed down to the individual level.

“All we do is create a vast amount of content and then it's down to the individual, who then decides how to consume it." 

However, it can be difficult to measure success. “Our customer is quite a passive social user,” said Esther. “She isn’t the one that’s going ‘I like this’. It’s difficult to measure.

“We’re getting very close to measuring how our customer behaviour changes over time. It’s not for us about the single result within a 24-hour period. We keep going back and measuring over a period of time.”

What’s clear is that Liberty have come a long way in a short time.

“Six to 12 months ago we didn’t know a lot about our customers,” said Esther. “We’re 140 years old and sometimes have 140-year-old practices…”

The team has worked hard to extract useful information from the customer data held within its loyalty card system, to understand their customers far better.

It’s that depth of understanding that Marie Claire hopes to capitalize on as it moves into the retail space. Trish said: “A good level of engagement on Facebook is three seconds; as publishers we know that the immersive experience our readers have with us, that’s really crucial to our success."

She believes that hard-earned trust and focus will give the magazine brand ‘permission’ to sell to its customers.

So what can a publisher like Marie Claire learn from Liberty?

“Content has to be delivered at the right points in a journey. All too often we see a piece of really engaging content that takes the reader off away from the point of purchasing,” said Esther.

"It's about working really hard to bring content, product and the shopping journey together so that it's a seamless entwined piece."

"It's about having optimised content across all of the platforms and the devices and then the customer consuming them at the point that's most appropriate for them. And that content has to be totally seamless across the whole piece."

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