Online fashion retailer PrettyLittleThing began an experiment in podcasting earlier this year and results, so far, have been promising.
The podcast, called Behind Closed Doors launched in January and sees social media executive-turned-host Nat O’Leary chat to a different celebrity (think reality stars, like Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson, and TV presenter Maya Jama) each week.
Many of the guests are already affiliated with the brand in some other way; Barton for example is a brand ambassador who’s appeared in its traditional TV ads. They’re not paid to appear on the Behind Closed Doors, but coming on to the podcast is increasingly a standard part of the contract they’ll now ink as influencers.
“Influencers are a big part of our overall marketing strategy. We wanted to build on that relationship further and offer an insight into their lives and careers,” head of marketing director Nicki Capstick told The Drum.
“We did [the podcast] initially as an eight-week trial, we didn't know how it would perform.”
After the first couple of episodes aired, mainstream press picked up on it: “It’s Like Listening To A Conversation With Your Dream Girl Gang,” wrote Bustle, a female-focused publisher, “the gift that keeps on giving,” said another.
Almost immediately it shot to the top of the iTunes podcast chart. The first episode, with Maya Jama, drew in almost 15,000 listens while its most popular guests, like Barton-Hanson, pulled in nearly double that.
Capstick said it wasn’t necessarily the calibre of celeb that attracted listeners but rather the topics they opted to discuss. It wasn’t just fashion and beauty chat, as you might expect, given PrettyLittleThing’s business, but more challenging subjects like career, mental and physical health. For example, the Barton-Hanson discussed in detail her early career as a stripper before finding fame in Love Island, while blogger Olivia Rose Smith was remarkably honest about her cancer diagnosis at just 22 years old.
After the initial eight-week run, finding itself regularly in top 10 weekly podcast lists on Acast, iTunes and Spotify, the decision was made to commit long-term. The brand now has a studio and works with agency Social Chain, which recently set up a dedicated ‘Audio’ division to cater to the increasing demand from brands for this kind of content.
The distribution strategy has also matured, though still largely relies on social media. Instagram Stories, Twitter and Facebook are the core channels to get in front of its target 16-24 audience, though it’s had increasing buy-in from the rest of the marketing department which is now putting paid-spend behind it. It also depends on the social pull of the stars who feature each week. PLT doesn't ask guests to promote their episode, but if they do it notes an immediate uptick in listens.
To date it’s had a total of 700,000 people tune in and retention rates (the amount of time people spend with the content) is at 75%. Over 50,000 people have subscribed to the channel.
These are the metrics Capstick is using to gauge success. Despite being a retailer, it’s not looking at sales or conversions as an ROI, and that’s what’s allowed it to move quickly and invest significantly where another brand might pause.
“We just want to offer this to our customers as an additional piece of entertainment, we're not looking to drive revenue on it,” she continued. “It’s a branding piece rather than a commercial piece.
“Typically, in the past any brand that’s tried something like this would have come from an ROI perspective. But the numbers would never stack up if you look at the sales it's driven. That's not the purpose. We've heard in the industry that other brands are now going to explore going down this route. Maybe now we’ve done it there will be others that jump on the bandwagon.”
This is also part of an ambitious wider plan from PrettyLittleThing to transform into an ‘entertainment’ brand, rather than simply an online retailer.
“For us, we want to be more than just an online website that sells clothes to women. We're trying to be more of a lifestyle brand. We're doing more around style advice and video content and moving into the fitness space, we're trying to build our own fitness hub," Capstick said.
“Our chief exec [Umar Kamani] wants to take the brand into many different avenues over the next few years. He wants to look at branded drinks, hotels - we want to become the Disneyland for teenagers. So, with that come more than just coming to the site and buying clothes.”
No mean feat in a retail environment that's claiming more casualties every day. The British Retail Consortium recently revealed that retailers have recorded the worst month for sales in July since records began in 1995. Total sales increased by just 0.3% in July, compared with a rise of 1.6% in the same month last year.
But PrettyLittleThing has been bucking that trend. It was acquired by Boohoo, which also owns Nasty Gal, Coast and Karen Millen, in 2016. Boohoo’s revenues jumped to £857m in the year to 28 February with PrettyLittleThing’s contribution to that standing at upwards of £370m.