Client view: Justin Cooke, Topshop- Fashioning the ideal digital strategy

Turning likes into pounds is more tricky than just clicks equalling cash.

You need to provide an experience, great service, faster horses - and love. Justin Cooke, Topshop's chief marketing officer, explains what he means to Adam Hill.

Justin Cooke speaks about twice as fast as most people. The chief marketing officer for women's clothes retailer Topshop has many of the qualities of a casually dressed Tigger - perhaps not actually bouncing around his office, but striding about, sparkling with enthusiasm, continually digressing, sitting down in a chair only reluctantly, it seems.

The 31-year-old talks constantly about the business inspiration that he gets from aspects of his life and things he sees around him. Exhausting to work for, one would imagine. But inspiring, too. 'I don't have a "digital" strategy - my strategy goes across everything,' says Cooke. 'I talk about "love". I challenge the team to bring the stuff you love doing into your work.'

He kneels in front of the enormous ivory-coloured Mac in his central London office, finding a video presentation for staff that he wants to show.

The image of Cooke genuflecting before Apple is apt: he makes no secret of his admiration for the company's late founder Steve Jobs ('just the best marketer'), his ethos and products.

The Topshop video looks less like an internal corporate document and more like a movie, modishly shot and beautifully edited. There are no boring PowerPoint presentations - although there used to be at Topshop HQ before he arrived, he says, suddenly brandishing a particularly dull-looking, doorstep-like hard copy of one from a filing cabinet. 'I also don't like printing stuff,' he shrugs, shutting the sheaf of papers away again. But interestingly, in an age when traditional media are in decline, Topshop does produce its own - lovely-looking - magazine. 'Yes, we publish,' he says. 'You have to have everything.'

Topshop is several things: a chain with outlets in several countries, an online store, a fashion business, a clothes-buying behemoth and part of Sir Philip Green's Arcadia Group. Somehow, the brand has to knit together. 'My job is to create that cohesion,' Cooke says of his role.

Fashion statement

Topshop is still sunning itself in the warmth of reaction to its partnership with Facebook at September's London Fashion Week, which gave online viewers the chance to customise items from the Topshop Unique range as they appeared on the catwalk. As well as buying the clothes and accessories before they hit the shops, viewers could also purchase the show's soundtrack from iTunes. 'We made it so easy,' says Cooke, poring over an image of the site. 'I showed this to He said: "I'd love to do this at my next gig."'

Apple's concept of an 'infinite loop', in which customers keep coming back because you are so much a part of their lives that there is no sense in going elsewhere, is one Cooke seeks to emulate.

'I don't look at other fashion brands,' he insists. Instead it is Nike, Google and, of course, Apple, which provide much of his inspiration. Aston Martin's online work was the catalyst for the customisation element in Topshop's Fashion Week venture, for instance. 'Click on the new Vantage and change its colour - a beautiful thing,' recalls Cooke happily.

Labour of love

Dovetailing Topshop's comms activity with the existing behaviour of its consumers - who are already shopping physically in store while using social media to share, gossip and be part of a virtual community at the same time - helps create the difference between something you like and something you love, he explains. 'People always remember how you made them feel. This is more than just putting up a catalogue and saying "buy from us or not". We're getting mind share, and when you have mind share, market share will follow.'

A Halloween 'Trick or Tweet' social media competition to promote its new Witching Hour collection was another way of bridging the gap between the real and digital, a space in which shoppers already move seamlessly, adds Cooke.

The data Topshop collects via its customers' digital activity is a potential goldmine, allowing buying patterns and preferences to be established and tracked in ways that could translate into real financial gains as comms are targeted towards getting consumers to buy more of what they like, or might logically want, and product ranges are tailored to fit expectations.

'But we want to surprise them as well - you know, the "faster horses" thing,' says Cooke. This, he explains, is a quote from the first mass-production car manufacturer, Henry Ford, who said that his customers wanted 'faster horses', which is why he came up with automobiles.

Great expectations

'Everyone loves great experiences: go into Nike Town and, for a moment, you feel like an Olympic athlete,' Cooke continues. 'In Apple stores, you have free Wi-Fi: your dwell-time is so high that I bet you buy something every time you go in there.' This could be why Topshop's flagship store on London's Oxford Street sells cupcakes and has a nail bar and free personal shopper service, as well as rack upon rail upon stack of clothes. Customers can now also consult iPads in-store, with an app that includes a barcode scanner. 'We're just trying to make it a better experience,' says Cooke. 'Customer expectation is higher, whether you're selling something for £10 or £10,000. You should always get great service. The minimum expectation of the brand is great product.'

Having three times avoided the question of what other businesses could learn from Topshop, he finally laughs: 'Have fun. I used to imagine how I would market brands even when I had nothing to do with them.' The bolder the plans are, the better, insists Cooke: 'You have to fly, up to 3,000 feet. When you start to dream, you innovate.'

Going stratospheric is a pertinent theme. Cooke tweeted in September that his boss, Sir Philip Green, had said: 'Justin promised me he was going to build us a rocket and take us to the moon.' 'Oh, don't use that quote,' Cooke groans, before revealing the retail mogul phones him every day. 'Sir Philip has amazing ideas,' he says. 'He is the best marketer in the building. And I think he respects and admires my ideas.' On Sir Philip's tax affairs, the subject of some controversy, Cooke says 'no comment' and refers to the Arcadia chief's philanthropic work.

Blue is the colour

In fact, Cooke falters only once during the interview. Asked to square his adoration for Chelsea Football Club with the racism furore surrounding team captain John Terry, his words slow to (for Cooke) something just above walking pace. 'You can't condone everything he's done,' he says eventually. 'Everything in life will have things that are not quite right.'

Cooke is more aware of this than most. His mother died when he was in his teens and he left school soon afterwards, finding himself as an intern at Gucci, rubbing shoulders with, and getting coffee and croissants for, fashion luminaries such as Tom Ford, Christopher Bailey, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. He had a very clear idea of where he was going. 'I knew what an opportunity looked like,' he says simply. 'People would ask my opinion.'

People have continued to do so on his sharp rise via Burberry to Topshop. Doing comms Cooke's way might be summarised as: always make what you do beautiful and turn the likes into pounds by stitching digital into the fabric of your offering, using data to determine who wants to buy what and when. Ensure that customers have an experience to remember and that - above all - you bring to your work all the things that you love in your life.

Justin Cooke, Chelsea fanatic, Apple evangelist, Topshop board member and father of two, is definitely flying.


During September's London Fashion Week, Topshop received 440 million Facebook impressions, while the online feed of its catwalk show was watched by a total of two million people in 100 countries.

In a partnership with Facebook, the retailer allowed show viewers to customise clothes - changing colours, for example - from the Topshop Unique range as they appeared on the catwalk. With the click of a camera button app, they could capture the outfits they liked and share them across platforms and devices.

'I can't give any numbers away, but there was a massive spike in sales on,' says chief marketing officer Justin Cooke.

'We've never had this much coverage for anything before. The PR coverage alone was worth £30m. And it put us in China, where we don't have a store, just a dotcom.'


Justin Cooke's immediate comms priorities are to elevate the Topshop brand through innovation and to 'excite' the consumer in ways that differentiate it. 'Our product is best in class,' he explains. 'Every experience around the brand should reflect that. Innovation is in our DNA. So how do we scale that across everything the consumer sees and touches?'

In keeping with his admiration for companies such as Apple and Nike, he adds that he wants Topshop to be seen 'as a leader in content and experiences, not just in fashion, but alongside the best brands in the world'.

To achieve this, he is focused on communicating the various facets of the Topshop world. 'The girl, the brand, the product, the experience, the stores, the business, our values and so on,' he says. 'These are the things that set us apart.'

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