James Adam February 21, 2020

Cunning Plan’s MD, James Adam, has been working with shopping centres since he set the company up back in 2009. We caught up with James to find out how marketing can help schemes achieve their goals in 2020…

Why should shopping centre managers / owners be investing in marketing in 2020?

As the high street and retail landscape continues to change, shopping centres and entertainment schemes must keep pace with these changes to avoid being left behind. There is continued talk of doom and gloom with big brands closing stores, but also an array of success stories that should be shouted about. Marketing plays a vital part in promoting the successes of schemes and most importantly, their tenants. 

The consumer is more savvy than ever in 2020, they can tell when they’re being ‘marketed’ to and they can clearly spot marketing nonsense. They see straight through anything that isn’t authentic, so we need to produce smarter campaigns that understand what customers want from us. There are more ways than ever to reach our customers, but there is also more noise than there has ever been. Understanding what makes you special is vital and promoting that difference in the right ways at the right time, to the right channels.

Has digital overtaken print when it comes to promoting shopping centres?

It’s easy to dismiss print as a product of a bygone era, however it does still have a place. When it comes to portraying the identity for a scheme, the internal graphics, hoardings and visual elements are key in creating a sense of place. They help explain to customers what makes the place special – as well as providing useful wayfinding information.

That said, digital provides a very measurable and targeted way to drive footfall. Platforms like Google Business have become almost as important as your website in providing key information to visitors, so it’s important to keep it up to date with images, articles, opening times and more. It’s one more thing to add to the already long list of channels a centre has to stay on top of, but it absolutely delivers results. 

In truth a balanced approach is needed to deliver the online presence that will ultimately help to drive footfall as well as the physical sense of place needed to ensure a customer has a great experience when they visit your scheme.

Having worked in the industry for so long, how do you come up with original campaigns?

It’s always been very important to us not to pump out the same campaign over and over. Shopping and entertainment schemes are not all the same, and more importantly neither are their customers. What works in one place, will not work in another, and what worked last year will not necessarily work this year. Outwit Ordinary isn’t just a strapline, it’s the code by which we approach each and every campaign. We don’t have a book of shopping centre ideas that we dust off each year, we look at the challenges, the changes in customer activity and deliver a campaign that considers them as well as the current landscape in which they sit. 

When you follow that process, it’s almost impossible to come up with a boring campaign.

What are the latest digital marketing trends that shopping centre managers should be looking at? 

I’ve previously mentioned Google Business and, whilst not new, it’s a really key one. More and more traffic is being redirected from websites into Google Business, users can easily submit reviews, photos and content – so it makes obvious sense to be there too. The reality is also that most people aren’t taking advantage of the platform, making it easy to stand out by posting interesting content. It doesn’t mean creating new things, just posting images, blogs and information in a new place as well as monitoring questions and responding to reviews.

How important are events when it comes to driving footfall?

Events are great for footfall, but it’s crucially important to consider if it’s the right footfall. For a long time the ‘go-to’ event for a shopping centre has been the appearance of a costumed character. Whilst Peppa Pig or the PAW Patrol Pups can draw a massive crowd, it’s important to make sure that crowd sticks around after the event and ultimately spends some money. Big crowds can annoy regular customers, so it’s vital the trade off is worth it. Use tactics like bounce back offers, deals on dining and other incentives to get people to stay longer or come back at a later date. Events are a great way to drive awareness of your scheme, but it’s vital you use the opportunity to capture them and give them a great reason to come back.

What’s the secret of good shopping centre social media management?

The key to success of social media is the same as all other areas – think like a customer! Would you follow your centre on social media? If not, why would anyone else? When posting, think, would I share this on my personal page? Again, if not, maybe it’s not the right content. 

Like all things it’s a delicate balance of promotion, information and engagement. Tenants will want offers and events to be shared and making sure they’re getting value from their service charge is important, but it needs to be offset with other, more engaging content.

Taking images from PR Shots or tenants’ websites is fine, but it would be better to give your centre’s spin on it.  Whether it’s the latest season’s fashion or a Christmas must-have, you can make it relevant to your scheme. Video a store manager talking about it, take a photo in store – make it specific and focus on the experience you get when coming into the centre.

Social media is also a great opportunity to engage with other local organisations, community groups and individuals – ensuring your destination isn’t seen as sitting ‘outside’ the high street or town, but at the heart of it. Promote other businesses (mainly those not in direct competition with your tenants) and support organisations by sharing their content. Ultimately all this will give your centre the human touch and encourage people to engage and share your events and content.

What are the major challenges facing shopping centres this year?

Retail is still a challenge, but when we’re travelling round visiting town centres and destinations, there are still plenty of people out there spending money. Centres need to think carefully about their tenant mix, focus on experiences and make their destination a great experience to visit.

Another challenge is knowing how to spend your time. There have never been more tools at your disposal to help market your place, but this can be overwhelming in and of itself. Figuring out which channels to use is key and allocating time accordingly. You may not need all of them, it’s just about putting your limited time to the most effective use. Look at the analytics and understand where your customers are and make sure you’re there to talk to them where they want you to be.

If I’ve learned one thing in the past 10+ years, it’s that being a centre manager is a calling, not just a job. They are some of the most determined, versatile and creative people I’ve worked with and I’m confident that any challenges will be met head on and overcome with great success.

And if you’re struggling, you know where we are…