In December 2020, Alex Schlagman penned an article for The Telegraph weekend supplement focusing on the future of our dying high streets. He called for what he described as a transition to a more intelligent, collaborative future entitled High Street 3.0 which is making progress already but many retails, big and small still have a long way to go.
Yet I believe there is hope and it can start right now but attitudes need to change to encourage people to stop feeling negative about high street and this starts with the media. We are bombarded with news items about how the high street is dead or in the last throws of death. This only enforces the thought in the consumer’s mind of ‘I shan’t don’t bother with shops and get emotionally attached because they are not going to be there anymore.’ Covid and our reaction to is has only enhanced this idea that shops aren’t the way forward and that online is. That’s the message we are fed repeatedly. However, there is, a percentage of social acceptance at play here. We might not entirely feel good about buying online yet we were encouraged to do so even before 2020. Perhaps if online had only been given the same amount of relentless negativity it may not have caught on so well.
However, our move to shopping online was always on the cards. Giants such as Amazon, and Boohoo, not to mention the countless eating apps which have sprung up that make MacDonalds look outdated, have been creeping in to claim their share of retail revenue for several years now. There hasn’t been a more urgent time to call in the experience of retail through messaging, dangle the communication carrots and drive those all important PR campaigns to boost the high street and some have attempted it so far. In December 2020, Delivered Save The High Street in Guildford launched their video campaign to their retailers to help promote their businesses to help encourage shoppers back into the cobbled and ancient streets of the historic city.
How Public Relations Can Rebuild The Future Of The High Street?
Firstly, we need to take a moment to look back at the PR successes we and our counterparts have enjoyed in the past and rethink what has worked and implement those ideas in a post Covid world. We are not here to reinvent the wheel, but what we can do is take the fundamentals of PR classic campaigns from the past and revamp them for future campaigns to draw the crowds back in. (When ‘crowd’ stops being a dirty word.)
Lush back in 2019 focused on their ethically sourced, 100% vegetarian product development at the heart of their vision. Embracing the way lifestyle and environmentally friendlier choices have dominated consumer behaviour of their core audience has been the secret to their success. Carving out their own brand and practically spooning in a key niche of their own has certainly been the making of this 'beauty' brand, putting the products themselves secondary and pushing their vision of a happier planet at the forefront of everything they do.
In the same vein, retailers who have pushed tongue in cheek boundaries have also seen their profits fly in recent years (Covid aside) and have almost mocked their own brand giving out a warmer, more human sense to acknowledging their own identity. Who can forget Greggs and their romantic dinners for two for St Valentines Day from a few years ago?
So, here are my ideas to generate some much needed support from past shoppers and move them back into the high street once lockdown has been lifted:
Keep the conversation going and shift the message:
Right now, we could take out foot off the accelerator and listen to what is being spoken about. The consumer does want to come back to us. The lifts after previous lockdowns have proven shoppers love their high streets. We are social beings and as much as online may have the upper hand right now, it is not within our nature to be isolated. It would be like undoing thousands of years of DNA. Consider then what your customers what to hear. What do they miss? The coffees with friends, the buzz of shops and trying things on.
Key tip: More and more people are reminiscing how life used to be like. Once lockdown lifts, why not take people back in time? A 1980s theme of shopping perhaps, if that’s their age group, or 90s even. Dress your staff in fashions of the time, consider the music, or even the prices? Now is the time to stop and listen. Listen to what your customers are saying to each other? Create a plan to give back what customers have missed. Because they have missed you and can’t wait to come back.
Reassure your customers:
When a ship sinks, passengers look to the captain for guidance and comfort. Be that captain even if the ship is sinking. Believe in yourself and your message. If you want a way to get out of the mire, you will fine it.
There is always a way forward. You have just got to be open to finding that way. One thing that will turn your passengers from trust to distrust is showing that you’re panicking too. So, don’t do it.
Don’t jump all over social media without a careful and considerate plan:
There is a tendency to panic (see our last point.) So, what do we do when we panic? We grab the nearest thing we can find and cling to it, even if its not ideal. Consider carefully where your audience is right now.
Where are they talking? Don't randomly plaster ads, posts and everything everywhere. It is a waste of your time and efforts. Engage with one conversation on one social platform where your customers are. You will find it more beneficial than just posting everywhere and not measuring your results.
Build your human story into your message and forget perfection:
Nothing ever has to be perfect, in fact, don’t got for that because human beings aren’t perfect. Be authentic and wear your heart on your sleeve. Say ‘we’re trying to do this or that’ and tell people. They aren’t going to look for something that doesn’t resonate with their own struggles.
Be the captain of the ship and show that you are trying to do something to improve the mood and not just trying to keep your own boat afloat. Be one of your people and work with them. Don’t market at them. Build social rapport with your audience.
Key tip: Show the customer service rep working from his kitchen worktop. Name him, show that he has to cope with this lockdown the same as all your customers. What some businesses are trying to do is pretend that Covid isn’t happening to them and that their call centres are still up and running. We know that’s not true. Now is the time to prove that YOU are human too. If one thing Covid has done which has been a good thing, is that it has levelled us all. We are all now in alliance and working together. Management strategies in businesses are already changing. Embrace it.
Work on the benefits of your business, your products and reshape them if necessary:
There have been some oddballs in the last year which has shown innovation not only on the part of the retail but of the consumer too. People have been forced to look around their home to help fix and do things using items not originally build for such a job.
Key tip: Look at your products and your services and see how you can adapt them to what people want now. It might be a kitchen utensil, or a soft furnishing that is now suddenly great for something else.
It will not only show you to be innovate and creative with what you have but it will prove that you’re listening to what’s going on out there and responding with something that people really need, and even can’t do without.