Les Wexner, the billionaire, legendary founder of the Limited, and current CEO of L Brands (parent of Victoria’s Secret, PINK and Bath & Body Works, among other retail brands), says no, and he has 5,000 years of ancient shopping bazaar history on his side that malls will survive.
The 80-year-old retail icon was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that frozen food didn’t wipe out restaurants, and that land lines didn’t end face-to-face conversations. And the internet won’t wipe out our brick-and-mortar stores or the malls that house them.
This is in spite of more than 6,000 store closures last year, more than 50 retailers filing for bankruptcy, and L Brands’ loss of over $14 billion dollars in market cap.
Mr. Wexner is betting that women want an experience when shopping for lingerie: they want to touch the product and try it on. He says if the store environment is exciting ten years from now, online sales won’t exceed the 20% they are today. “We must create an atmosphere.”
Now, let’s get to you. I see three parallels between what Les Wexner thinks, and your business of designing events and attracting audiences.
1. Ask yourself, does the product you’re providing (education, conversations, inspiration and access to new products and services) lend itself to being delivered better live or online? Lingerie is a specific kind of product that lends itself to shopping and buying in person. In spite of so many start-up lingerie brands such as Lively entering the market, Victoria’s Secret is spending 70% of its investment on new stores and remodelings. If you can’t differentiate the delivery of the “product” better in a live experience, best to shift to a more efficient online approach.
2. What is your word? What one word describes your live experience? How would you describe it? What’s the one word that best represents what your audience will think, feel, see and do at your event? What is the one word you’d use to describe the Victoria’s Secret in-store experience? I imagine that what Les Wexner would like you to say is “sexy.”
3. What is your investment mix between live, virtual and hybrid event delivery? What are you expecting the allocation of investment to be over the next ten years? Will you invest the vast majority in live media, as Wexner is in Victoria’s Secret? I see live events as pay-per-view-like experiences in the future. They are so compelling that the live experience sells out just like the famous Victoria’s Secret fashion show, a heavyweight boxing match or a live concert (Guns N’ Roses came in at #1 last year, followed by U2 and Justin Bieber. Who would have guessed?). Once you have killer content, amazing programming, velvet rope line receptions and all of the energy of New York’s most talked-about crowded restaurant, you have the makings of a live, simulcast or virtual event that sets a new bar for reaching your members that just can’t make the trip to your live event.
These are just a few questions to ponder to get your team together and begin to design the future of your organization’s most important brand asset: your live meeting, conference and trade show.
And don’t forget, what’s the word that your members would use to describe the experience from your most recent event: inspirational, worthy, transformative … or something else?