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The Big Issue gives vulnerably housed people the means to earn a legitimate income by selling its magazine on high streets across the UK. When the first UK lockdown hit, The Big Issue went from selling 80,000 magazine a week to zero. This not only erased vendors’ livelihoods, it erased their visibility and connection to the community, with 80% of vendors experiencing feelings of loneliness.

At the time, the founder of The Big Issue said, “we have to accept that we don’t have an income if we don’t have a street”. Our brief was to help get the business and their vendors trading online. There were two key challenges: 1) vendors lack digital skills and equipment; and 2) reaching their target audience: existing customers.

This case illustrates our how our disruptive e-commerce approach enabled Big Issue vendors to virtually reclaim their “street”, reconnect with their customers and regain their income.

Describe the creative idea

In partnership with LinkedIn, we launched “Raising Profiles”, a digital inclusion project designed to improve vendors’ digital confidence, build an online network and use LinkedIn as their virtual “street corner”.

Vendors were given tablets donated by Dixons. Through a combination of group and individual training sessions, we helped them set up their profiles and navigate the platform. This was followed up with safeguarding resources to ensure that they understood any potential risks and ways to mitigate them.

Raising Profiles enabled vendors to rebuild and reanimate their client base after an 8-month hiatus. They were taught?to post, comment and share content relevant to their interests and passions. ??After a warm reintroduction with their customers, vendors were primed to trigger a frictionless, contact free sale via a unique e-com?trigger, whereby customers could click through and buy a subscription from that specific vendor.

Describe the strategy

A baseline survey among vendors to ascertain their digital confidence revealed that despite seeing the internet as essential, few had regular access or confidence in using it. We needed to raise vendors’ digital confidence and also provide them a means to access the internet.

Research had also revealed the insight that customers supported The Big Issue because of the special bond they felt with their vendors. Identifying vendors’ “regulars” was key to unlocking their highest value audience and therefore the success of the initiative.

Partnering with LinkedIn, analysis revealed that 70% of vendors’ former customers were active on the platform. We realized we’d be able to identify former customers by cross-referencing workplaces against vendors’ pitch locations. By using LinkedIn’s data, we’d be able to re-create vendors’ former neighborhoods digitally and reconnect them with the same professionals who had walked past them every day.

Describe the execution

The pilot ran on LinkedIn with an initial pool of 9 vendors. They were given three weeks of training to help set up their profiles before we announced their presence on the platform to the world.

Once the PR began, the vendors were encouraged to actively seek out not only their former customers, but people who worked at the businesses around where they used to sell – even if they didn’t know them. The insight here being that even if the vendors didn’t know those businesspeople personally, the businesspeople probably knew the vendor by sight.

As their connections and posts grew exponentially, more and more vendors heard about the pilot and asked to join. The program is still ongoing, with plans in place between LinkedIn and the Big Issue to better automate the process and onboard more vendors.

List the results

There has been a significant subscription uplift since launch, with LinkedIn driving 96% of total subscription traffic. Total traffic for vendor subscriptions increased by 325% during this period. Magazine sales increased by 400%. The partnership also dramatically boosted vendors’ efficiency from a conversion rate of 1 sale per 50 offline interactions to 1 sale per 10 on LinkedIn.

Vendors amassed +2500 connections between them and several of their posts were viewed +300,000 times.

Raising Profiles also secured excellent coverage. In addition to appearing in most major UK news outlets, celebrities like Dame Kelly Holmes, Sadiq Khan and Gary Lineker shared the launch on their social media profiles. Giving us a combined reach of 81.5M and 112M impressions.

In the words of The Big Issue’s Executive Director: “The bigger result is the permanent perception shift in how people see our vendors. They’re professionals with every right to be on LinkedIn.”

Please tell us how disruption in your market inspired the work

Since 1991, The Big Issue has helped thousands of vulnerable people transform their lives from being dependent on begging to reintegrating into their communities as micro-entrepreneurs.

2020 bore witness to the biggest market disruption of our lifetimes: Covid-19. When the pandemic struck, none of The Big Issue’s 2000+ vendors were able to sell a single magazine. The Big Issue’s hard-copy product and face-to-face transaction model became become analogue in a world that had been forced online by the pandemic.

Critically, unlike many of their affluent, city-dwelling customers, vendors weren’t able to work from home. They relied on busy streets, strangers interacting and cash exchange: three facets of life that were completely disrupted by Covid-19. Getting vendors selling on LinkedIn, a platform for professionals, was inspired by the urgent need for a digital solution for a business whose very existence was threatened by social distancing measures.

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