ENVISION 2022: Andy Sheldon on Shopping TV

Bigeye recently released ENVISION 2022, an on-demand video exploring key findings from our report, Retail Disrupted. This week’s podcast is an extended interview with ENVISION guest Andy Sheldon, founder of the direct-to-consumer consultancy Think Straighter. During our interview, Andy shared insights from his tenure as Chief Creative Officer at Home Shopping Network and discussed where he sees untapped opportunities for DTC brands to leverage social live stream shopping.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Andy Sheldon: Engagement is the key to conversion. If you have a consumer base that’s engaged and will lean forward and be a part of your journey as you’re talking to them or selling to them, that’s an experience that can be very authentic and they trust.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Last October, Bigeye published a market research report entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We recently released a video, ENVISION 2022, in which four experts discuss key findings from our study and explore some of the potential implications for retailers and brand marketers. Our podcast today is an extended interview with one of our guests for ENVISION 2022, who discussed his tenure as a creative executive at Home Shopping Network, where he spearheaded the reinvention of the brand. Andy Sheldon has over three decades of experience working in the TV, radio, and music industries and has led an array of startups and turnarounds building infrastructure, and re-engineering operations here in the U.S., as well as in the UK, where I first got to know Andy back in the early nineties. Today, Andy is the founder of Think Straighter, consulting with brands, helping them establish direct-to-consumer marketing strategies, and growing their in-house media and production capabilities. He also helps develop top-line sales strategies, and consumer and audience engagement, enhancing the long-term value of customers with brand development and growth strategies. Andy took a break from a vacation in California to join us for this conversation. [Music]

Adrian Tennant: Andy, it’s great to see you again. Thank you for joining us for ENVISION.

Andy Sheldon: Absolute pleasure, Adrian. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: You were at Home Shopping Network for approaching a decade, first as EVP of Television and then as Chief Creative Officer of HSNi and General Manager of HSN Productions. What were some of the highlights of your time there?

Andy Sheldon: You know, Adrian, it was an extraordinary time. We had just had a new CEO who came in, Mindy Grossman, and she invited me to come over from the UK and basically take over television and help her, along with the rest of the leadership team, reinvent what shopping television could be. That was a very big and somewhat daunting but incredibly exciting task. To be able to suddenly take what had been this incredibly established, beloved, shopping behemoth we wanted to be able to turn it into something that was going to be certainly different, not quite as perhaps dusty, give it a new twist, so it could be a little bit more energetic. We relaunched in a little under seven months and that was taking over five studios and completely changing them. Had to do it very carefully when you rebrand, something like an HSN that had at that point, I think it was almost 30 years that it had been around. You have to be super careful how you do it because you know, there’s a core audience and if you shock a core audience and they go “I don’t know what this is anymore. This doesn’t relate to me at all” you can lose your core audience and you can have terrible problems with top-line sales. So I think the highlights really were being able to turn the brand around, being able to take the core audience with us, being able having recreated the brand, literally from the ground up every single component of its look and its feel from the way the camera shots were being used, to music, to lighting, to sets, it was such a huge process and a project to do. But as a result of it, we were able to not only keep our core, start to develop new and younger customers, which was very important to the base in order to be able to get those sales. We were able to integrate with really well-known celebrities and incredibly big brands that would, prior to Mindy coming in and the new team that she bought in, I think it would have been impossible to have got some of those brands, but because we suddenly were no longer that dusted somewhat dated shopping experience, which was fantastic and doing great, but it would have at some point staled on people, we were able to, as a direct result of all of the changes that we’ve made, honestly, we were able to get some incredible brands. And I think that for me, whether it was working with the movie studios in Hollywood, with musicians doing live concerts, bringing in some of the biggest names in entertainment, I think that was really some of the most exciting stuff.

Adrian Tennant: Back in 1982, long before it was available to millions of households via satellite TV and cable, HSN started on a local Florida station. Today it’s available 24 hours a day, and anyone can view the channel on TV or on the website. Andy, what do you think is the main appeal of shopping TV for consumers?

Andy Sheldon: So I think it’s changed somewhat, but I think the foundational reason why shopping television has continued to be popular is simply because it’s a friend. So the hosts have been, for example, on HSN and QVC, they have had many of those hosts for many, many, many years. So for a core customer base, there’s a real trust. There’s companionship, there’s somewhat convenience, because there are certain things that I do believe that the consumer does, very specifically go into purchase. A lot of it is you know, flybuys, people that are flipping through the channels and they will stop on something and go, “that’s interesting”, continue to watch and then buy something that they didn’t necessarily know that they needed, but then they bought it and they really loved it. You know, as you rightly say, it started in a very small way, but it’s turned into this sort of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week beast. There’s education, there’s surprises. It’s a form of entertainment if you like that style of entertainment, and I think that’s why it has continued to be as successful, but it has to change, because people and the way that they are interacting with content is changing every single day.

Adrian Tennant: If a brand is interested in being featured on HSN or QVC, what steps do they typically have to take in order to be accepted?

Andy Sheldon: So it really depends upon the category that you’re in. For sure the buyers, and there is a massive buying team across the QVC HSN sort of networks, they’re incredibly experienced. They’re really good at what they do. And by that, what I mean is, they understand their customer. And understanding your customer, knowing what they will want to buy is super important. Sometimes, you can have a miss, and it doesn’t go as well, a particular product, as you were expecting. But generally speaking, I have to say the buyers are phenomenal. So to answer your question, it is all really down to the category. If you, for example, Adrian, were going to be launching a beauty brand and you were making claims about what it was doing to your skin, or any form of claim, before you can go on to shopping television and because it is television and you’re also digital with online sales, there are different regulations for what you can and cannot say. So if you’re going to make a claim, you better make certain that before you go to any one of these shopping channels, you better make certain that you’ve got your ducks in a row and that you can substantiate the claims that you’re making, because they will want that. So if it’s a beauty product or something that is making a claim, you’ve got to make certain that you’re prepared to answer the questions. If it’s a product that is not based on claims, but there’s no demonstrability, meaning it’s boring. It’s static, it’s a box. There’s not much you can do from a demonstration perspective, you need to think very hard about how you’re going to tell that story, to visually entice somebody that’s watching to be able to understand what it is you’re talking about and what you’re selling so that they can really understand the product and decide themselves if they want to buy it. So I think that they’re important components. And what you also need to understand is that when you go into something like an HSN QVC, it can be a life-changing business decision for you. Meaning if you are hugely successful, the revenues that you can derive as a direct result and the units you can sell, not insignificant, but you do have to be enormously careful that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, find that sales slow down, and then, because you really were just relying on that income, you lose the opportunity to be able to go somewhere else because you’ve got yourself locked into something that isn’t working quite as well as you expect. So I think it’s a great medium to use, but you’ve got to be very careful how you do it. And I would say, just take the advice of the buyers, the merchants, at those networks, because they really know what they’re doing.

Adrian Tennant: According to Foresight Research, social livestream shopping is projected to reach $11 billion in the United States by the end of this year, rising to $25 billion next year. Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are all hosting live streams for shopping. You’ll typically find the host is an influencer or celebrity who highlights a product on the stream, which viewers can purchase during the broadcast. Viewers can engage directly asking the host questions about the product during the live stream or chat with other viewers for their feedback and opinions. Andy, how is the appeal of livestream shopping different from the experience of home shopping via TV channels?

Andy Sheldon: I think you need to look at the medium of shopping via television. If you think about HSN, QVC, think about it as a shopping mall. When you go into a shopping mall, you have lots and lots of different shops selling all sorts of different categories of products. And you go into that shopping mall because you are going to go shopping. And if you think about shopping television, it’s very similar. Now, you don’t have the choice with shopping television to say, “actually, I don’t want clothes today. I’d like to have jewelry.” You can do that online because you can go into any one of those categories and those brands online. But when you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping television. So, as I say, think about it as a mall and there are many, many different ways that you can buy products, lots of different brands, lots of different celebrities, all under one channel. When you look at live shopping, using social, you’re really going there very deliberately. It’s highly likely that you’re not flipping by and finding it. It’s more likely that you were alerted through social media, that there was an event that was going to be going on and that you went there specifically and deliberately to go shopping. And you’re right, very often it’s going to be influencers and celebrities that are going to be using that medium. So I think that there’s room for both, for sure, but they are very different and I think that there is going to be, as it continues to grow this livestream shopping, I think there is going to be rebalancing to a certain extent, because when you’re shopping from HSN or QVC, there’s a real trust, right? You trust the product is going to arrive on time. You trust that if there’s an issue that you can return it and there’s not going to be an issue. And you trust the information that you’re being given by the shopping television host or the guest is accurate so that you can make an informed decision and then decide to buy the product. So the net net is I think the two of them are here to stay for a period of time but I think that what we will start to see is this livestream shopping, which will be specific at a moment in time will continue to grow. But I think there are going to be some growing pains with it because there’s a lot of backend work that needs to be done from an operational perspective that QVC and HSN have got completely tied up, they know exactly what they’re doing.

Adrian Tennant: Skeptics might say that it’s not surprising that livestream shopping took off precisely when people couldn’t actually go to real stores and were doom scrolling social media doing lockdowns. But we’ve also seen major brands and retailers jumping in, including Amazon with its shoppable offering at Amazon Live. Andy, do you think live stream shopping has real staying power?

Andy Sheldon: For sure. I think being able to shop conveniently the way that you want to, I think, undoubtedly is going to be here to stay. And when you think about content and the consumption of content, the sheer amount of it that exists today, I have no doubt that livestream shopping will be here for a very long time. However, not all things are created equal and I think that, when you have livestream shopping, the audience are not going to be tolerant, in my opinion, of sitting and watching the same product being held up and talked about for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, which is what can happen on shopping television. So I think that based upon the very nature that the social media platforms and the other forms, I think Amazon is very similar, frankly, to shopping television. They’re almost doing the same things slightly differently, but the live streaming of social shopping, I think is going to be here for a long time. Now you’re right. For infomercials, for home shopping, for digital live streaming, when people were stuck at home and there was nothing, frankly, they could do, you saw sales exponentially increase across all of the platforms. It did great for them as did, of course, home deliveries for food and so on. So I think that the bottom line is don’t be too skeptical about this. I think it’s here to stay. I just think the forms in which it is going to change into and how the consumer is going to participate with it will also be changing. And I think that this will change reasonably quickly over the next sort of 24 months.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to bigeyeagency.com/insights.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to a conversation with Andy Sheldon, founder of the consultancy, Think Straighter, and formerly Chief Creative Officer for Home Shopping Network. Andy was a guest on Bigeye’s, recent ENVISION 2022 video event.


Adrian Tennant: Most recently, you’ve been advising brands on how to establish direct-to-consumer operations and leverage this new landscape of streaming services and social shopping. What are some of the issues that you’re finding are top of mind for brand owners right now?

Andy Sheldon: So before I said that not all things created equal when it comes to content. And, I think that what I’m experiencing and a lot of brands are really feeling at the moment is the need to pivot and start using content in a much more pervasive way than what has already been established as the norm. And because not all things are created equal, how you watch content on say YouTube is going to be very different from Instagram, which is going to be different from TikTok. What I’m seeing is that brands today are definitely struggling with the notion that they have to be spending marketing dollars in a different way. And making content is not necessarily the easiest thing to do if you overthink it. But the truth of the matter is that whether you have a new iPhone, max pro that’s 4k ability for filming, giving you really good, high resolution picture and sound quality. What you have from a content play is the need to think through, and this is where companies I say, I think are struggling somewhat, you have to think through what is the content going to be that’s going to be on TikTok, or on Instagram, and how different that needs to be presented and created to the content that you might be wanting to put somewhere else or even on your own website. So I think the companies are struggling again against having to spend marketing dollars differently. There are actually bigger spends that now have to be made, don’t fall into the trap, and I urge anybody that’s thinking of making content. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that content has to cost a fortune. It doesn’t. In fact, if you really want to be creating content that is believable, that the consumer or the fan base is able to look at and go, they really strategically can feel and understand what’s being said is authentic. Keep it simple. But if a product needs to be demonstrated, if somebody needs to understand why this product versus another product or how to operate something, bear in mind that there is a sort of a reasonably strict code here, which is: feature, benefit, and what’s in it for me? What’s the feature of the product that you want to talk about? How does that benefit the consumer’s life? And what’s in it for them, if they were to buy it, that you can help them understand that by spending that bit of money is going to really just, in some way, enhance their day-to-day experience.

Adrian Tennant: In our Retail Disrupted report, we highlighted the importance of social media in brand discovery and the role that influencers play in the customer journey. With relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use technology theoretically enabling anyone with a smartphone to live stream to their followers on social media, do you foresee more consumers becoming influencers?

Andy Sheldon: I think it’s inevitable that there’s going to be a growth, Adrian, in this world of talking to and directly selling to a consumer or a fan base. I think there is a certain amount of, I was going to say a misunderstanding, but I think people expect social influencers to be really much more impactful than they sometimes are in connecting audiences to a product. And just because somebody who’s got a very large following in social says, “you should buy this”, doesn’t mean that their base is going to do that. And a very good reason for that engagement is the key to conversion. If you have a consumer base that’s engaged and will lean forward and be a part of your journey as you’re talking to them or selling to them, that’s an experience that can be very authentic and they trust. You can have a very large base of people that are ultimately following an influencer, but they’re not that engaged. They’re following, they want to see what they’re doing, but they don’t care very much if they say they should buy something or go somewhere. And so I think that what will happen is they will continue to be a growth. There will continue, of course, to be high sales that are going to come from the right influencers at the right time. I think that will continue to grow, but if it becomes so saturated and if everybody is trying to do that, there will be a certain amount of a disingenuous experience. I think consumers are gonna feel they’re not going to trust as much. And I think it could taper off a little.

Adrian Tennant: Today, many of the channels that were once part of cable and satellite TV bundles, including Disney, Discovery, and HBO have established standalone streaming services with, of course, a direct-to-consumer subscription model. Since you left, how well do you think HSN, QVC, and other shopping TV channels are responding to new consumer behaviors and media preferences?

Andy Sheldon: I think they have work to do. There is so much choice of content today and prior to the pandemic, what was very clearly happening and it was happening, in fact, before I left HSN, was, you could see the overnight viewership had declined, which was part of everyday sales for live television shopping. You know, who would be, you know, wanting to buy something at 3:00 AM? Well, if you’re awake and you’re flipping through the channels, really the shopping channels where the only real live where a human being was talking to another human being experience that gave people company. That really has changed and it’s changed because of all of the options that viewers have now, where they can go on to, as you say to Disney plus, or go onto Netflix, go to Amazon, whatever they’re doing, there is a plethora of really great content on demand that you can see whenever you want it. So I think that, from an HSN QVC perspective, this linear experience of a product that you just may be flipping through and are not interested in, or you’re waiting to see what the next product is going to be. And you’re waiting 10, 15, 20 minutes to see what that product is going to be. I think those days are going to soon come to a close. I don’t think consumers have necessarily got the capacity to sit for that length of time, watching the same sell go on and on and on. So I think that what QVC and HSN have got to do, and I sort of revert back a little bit to what I was suggesting earlier is, they’ve got this incredible platform. It’s a marketing platform that goes into over a hundred million homes. That marketing platform could be used in a very different way, creating some forms of entertainment and monetization, but to drive consumers to the dotcom experience because at the dotcom experience, that’s where you have real control and you can choose what you want and when you want it. So I think that’s what will probably happen at Adrian over the next short period.

Adrian Tennant: Do you have any presentation tips for anyone that’s interested in presenting their own social shopping livestreams?

Andy Sheldon: I do. I have always believed, and I use this as my mantra, I did it for a long time in England: Be real. I was a disc jockey on the radio, and a television host. And the truth of the matter is that a lot of people, when they think about being a DJ, they sort of put on the DJ voice and they sort of turn into something that they’re really not. My opinion is it is far, far better to be authentic. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t oversell. Don’t say that everything is the best or the greatest. You’ve got to be real because consumers today have the ability to instantly check on what you’re saying, to see whether or not it’s accurate. And so it is vital that if you want to be trusted as somebody that’s going to be using social, to engage with your base, to sell something: Be authentic, be real. Don’t overly sell it because consumers are smart enough to know what they do and do not want. And tell the truth because the truth, ultimately, is the most important part of somebody buying a product, because if they get something at home and it’s not what they thought it was going to be, they’ll send it back. And that creates all sorts of other problems for you. So keep it simple, feature and benefit, tell me why it’s good for me, be real. And I think they would be the tips that I would give you.

Adrian Tennant: Andy, what is one aspect of retailing, whether online, in stores, or on TV that you think is most likely to be disrupted or look completely different by 2030?

Andy Sheldon: My gut feeling is that there will be an evolution and a continuous growth in the live streaming and shopping television. And I think that it will morph and it will change. I don’t think it’s going to be extreme. I think shopping television channels, like an HSN or QVC, they have still a lot of modernization that they need to do, and they really should be using, in my opinion, that television platform as a marketing vehicle to drive people to a lot more content that’s online. But I think the biggest change is going to come in brick-and-mortar retail. I think that there is going to need to be a different form of storytelling. There’s got to be a far, far better digital experience so the consumer is able to have as much of an insight into products and being able to shop conveniently, whether they’re going to the same store on the high street, in the shopping mall, or if they’re going online. So I think the biggest changes that you’re going to start to see are going to be with some of the, you know, the big high street retailers, because they really have no choice, frankly, if they want to compete with digital sales.

Adrian Tennant: Andy, thank you very much for sharing your insights with us for ENVISION.

Andy Sheldon: Been an absolute pleasure and thank you for asking me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guest this week, Andy Sheldon, founder of the consultancy Think Straighter. You can learn more about Andy and his services on the website at ThinkStraighter.com. As always, you’ll also find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com, where you’ll also find more details about Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 on-demand video. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian’s Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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