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Your new virtual bestie

Episode #: 281
Your new virtual bestie

Guest: Liz Glosson
Topics: Retail real estate, real estate fundamentals, supply and demand, value retail

Meet your new virtual bestie! In this week’s episode, Chris sits down with Liz Glosson, Director of Account Management at The Dealey Group and a co-creator of Cindy, the world’s first virtual influencer for retail real estate. Tune in to find out the story behind Cindy’s creation, her current status, and where you might see her in the future!

What You’ll Learn:

  1. What is the goal of the Dealey Group’s marketing efforts for retail real estate?
  2. What was the inspiration to create a virtual influencer?
  3. How much website traffic did Cindy drive?
  4. How in depth is the personality of an AI influencer?
  5. How does an AI influencer compare to real life influencers?

About Retail Retold:

The Retail Retold Podcast highlights community retailer stories from across the country and gives a behind-the-scenes perspective from business leaders in both retail and real estate industries. The show’s episodes contain valuable insights that help solve the needs of entrepreneurs and real estate pros. Join host Chris Ressa and new guests weekly for amazing insights and thought-provoking stories.


This is Retail Retold, the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris Ressa. And I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC Management.

Chris Ressa  00:18

Welcome to retail retold everyone. I’m your host Chris Ressa. And I am excited today we have a unique episode, we’re going to be talking about artificial intelligence and virtual reality and its place in commercial real estate. Joining me today is Liz Glosson. Liz is the director of account management for the Dealey Group. Welcome to the show Liz.

Liz Glosson  00:47

Thank you. Thanks, Chris, for having me. Appreciate it really excited about this topic.

Chris Ressa  00:54

So Liz, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit more about who you are and what you do?

Liz Glosson  01:00

Absolutely. So um, I have been with the Dealey Group for over 17 years now, it’s hard to believe. I actually started my career out at the Dealey Group as an intern and have stayed ever since. And, as Chris mentioned, I lead up our account management team, which includes our digital content specialists. And at the Dealey Group right now, we are currently working with around 85 shopping centers across North America, both in the United States and Canada. We help with strategy, branding, digital content curation, social media management, full-service ad agency, and right now we’re actually producing over 2,000 pieces of digital content a month for our different clients, some of which has been most recently and I know we’re going to be digging in and talking today, some some AI content. So it’s been a lot of fun.

Chris Ressa  02:03

So, interesting shopping center spaces, you know, 85 shopping centers you guys are working on. When you’re working with a shopping center, what is, you mentioned strategy. How much of the strategy is about getting consumers to come to the shopping center versus leasing space.

Liz Glosson  02:30

So for us right now, I would say the bulk of what we’re doing is trying to ultimately drive traffic and sales. So we do help some with leasing and leasing solutions for different brokers across the country. But most of what we’re doing is actual consumer marketing. You know, everything from starting kind of at the top of the funnel, brand awareness type stuff, and just trying to drive traffic all the way to ultimately driving sales. But most of it is consumer about driving the traffic and sales.

Chris Ressa  03:06

And the types of shopping centers you work on. I imagine these are like larger regional shopping centers, less the local grocery-anchored shopping center.

Liz Glosson  03:17

Actually, we do both Chris so we have more of your local grocery-anchored strip centers and two large regional shopping centers. And it’s it’s pretty across the board. Also in terms of marketing budgets, so some of our clients come to us with very very small budget, an entire marketing budget of less than $100,000 a year. And then we have other properties, you know, one, two million plus marketing budgets.

Chris Ressa  03:51

All right. Got it. Thank you for that context. Tell a little bit more about you, Liz.

Liz Glosson  03:58

Well, more about me. Let’s see, I’m based here in Dallas. As I already mentioned, 17 years here at the Dealey Group will be coming up on I think like my 15th ICSC so been, been in Vegas in the shopping center space for a long long time. I have a husband and a son and I’ve recently taken up playing Mahjong. So love to work hard and and play hard. Mahjong. Wow. Mahjong yes. Yes.

Chris Ressa  04:32

Very cool.

Liz Glosson  04:33

Modern day bridge.

Chris Ressa  04:34

How did you get into that?

Liz Glosson  04:37

Um, I got into that actually. We moved into a new neighborhood and a lot of the people in the neighborhood were playing and I had not really seen it other than on like TV, and so took up playing lessons. Yeah, maybe it maybe it’ll be something we do this year at uh at ICSC. You have to teach some folks

Chris Ressa  05:01

Please come to our booth and teach me I’d love to learn. Okay. So the reason you guys are on the show this week is something interesting. You created a virtual influencer or as you like to refer to as a virtual bestie. And so why don’t you take us through that process and where that’s at right now?

Liz Glosson  05:24

Yeah, absolutely. So we have been doing influencer marketing, um just with, you know, your standard influencer in a particular market for almost a decade now. I think that back in 2013, or 14, we did our first influencer marketing initiative, actually with a property local here in Dallas. And it’s been very successful doing those over the past 10 years or so. But we had been following AI in the news, I think everyone has, and chat GPT. And really, we’re seeing the growth and development. Lots of bigger brands, like Coca-Cola has been doing some AI marketing. And we really saw this as an opportunity to be first in the commercial real estate space to leverage AI for our marketing efforts. So it was really coming off of the success of so many like real, live influencer initiatives that we have done, and thinking how can we take our learnings? How can we take our expertise from that? And then seeing, you know, what’s happening with just AI and virtual world out there? How can we marry those two things together? And how can we be first in this space? And obviously, it was a little bit of a push and a sell to get clients to want to collaborate on something like this because it is new. Yes. How do we tuck our shopping center owner into giving out a portion of their marketing budget to do a virtual influencer? And so it was a little bit of a, little bit of a stretch at first, but I feel like it’s been such an amazing opportunity to roll out Cindy.

Chris Ressa  07:29

That’s her name, Cindy?

Liz Glosson  07:30

Cindy, yes.

Liz Glosson  07:32

So we um, we talked actually, every single part of Cindy, we had over 30 people here at the Dealey Group and our partner agency Imaginuity sitting in countless different brainstorms, thinking about what will her name be? What’s appealing to all audiences? Because Cindy, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet. Cindy is a virtual influencer, not just for one shopping center, that Cindy is actual, an influencer for 13 different shopping centers across the United States. So, we had to pick a name and develop a spokesperson or persona, if you will, that translated very well, regardless of what market she was going to be in.

Chris Ressa  08:22

I have so many questions, but before we get there, why don’t you put Cindy up on the screen?

Liz Glosson  08:28

Yes, let me get her up. So what I’m going to be sharing with you guys is just a snippet clip showing lots of different versions of Cindy. And you’ll see here in this clip that we produce Cindy with stills, but she also has come to life and speaks and is real and can move and she has been used to promote trends, to promote sales, events. And you can see she’s really your everyday girl. And we were very thoughtful in every single aspect of her from skin tone to hair color. Her smile, absolutely everything down to yes even her name, Cindy.

Chris Ressa  09:28

So I’ll read what it says on the screen for everyone there. Who’s not who’s not watching this. Meet Cindy, the first virtual shopping influencer created using a complex suite of generative AI tools and technologies such as Chat GPT, Leonardo AI, Midjourney, Reface, and Insight Face Swap for JLL retail crafted by a team of 30 people between the Dealey Group and Imaginuity, Cindy is made to represent offers across a wide range of markets, delivering the latest info about trends, events, sales, and more at 13 shopping centers across the US.

In her first month, she increased website traffic by 500% year over year and reached over 500,000 shoppers on social media. Her e-newsletters, Cindy’s picks, also increased email open rates by 90% in just one month. Okay, so everyone gets to see Cindy, I think for the person who’s not really into this, with the first comment would be why not just have a regular influencer, why have to create one.

Liz Glosson  10:45

So, we have weighed that because regular influencer marketing is very successful. And there were many reasons why we wanted to do Cindy, part of which was being first in the, you know, CRE space. But the other thing, and reason that we really wanted to lean into Cindy is we were able to create this one spokesperson or persona that we could leverage and share and rollout across multiple properties and make her feel local and authentic for that property. So from a cost perspective, and yes, there was a lot of cost in the initial creation of her. but now that she’s been created and developed, essentially, her content, the cost to create each piece of content is spread across those 13 properties, versus when you’re dealing with a real influencer. And typically, those are market-specific.

So unless you’re, you know, with a celebrity level that has like nationwide appeal and audience, you’re having to tap in and hire influencers in every single market. So for us, it was a win to be able to share and leverage her across all of the 13 centers. And they could split that cost. And I think what’s really cool is that we have 100% control over her content. So when you’re partnering with a real live influencer, you’re not there when they’re actually shooting the content at the mall or at their home and trying on and maybe you don’t like what they selected or don’t like exactly what they said. And I think what’s really cool about the AI technology is the amount of control that we have over everything that she’s wearing, doing and saying.

Chris Ressa  12:47

Those are actually compelling. So you have cost, efficiency, and then control which is, you know, you can scale her to multiple markets, there’s a cost factor and then you have control over the content. I think that’s actually a pretty compelling case for this virtual bestie. How deep is Cindy’s personality? Like, how deep Have you gone? Does she like have a family does she have like and what is what when people are getting to know her? What’s your story? Story is a better word than personality?

Liz Glosson  13:27

So that is such a great question, Chris. And something that we’ve really weighed internally a lot and are still weighing. Right now, Cindy does not have her own Instagram page or own social media channels. Cindy is just being pushed out on the shopping center channels. So she’s being leveraged currently more as a spokesperson for the mall. And you can’t go back and click on a page to see Cindy and her life and what she’s about. So I would say in this moment of time, she is more of a spokesperson. Some of that is budget-driven, because to create separate content and her own page would just be more. So at this point, we have rolled Cindy out as a test she launched.

We’re just now coming up on 90 days. So she launched in the middle of February. And we wanted to test her for 60 or 90 days to see how the content resonated with all of our shoppers because we weren’t sure, a lot of people don’t like AI they think AI is creepy. And we weren’t sure what it was going to be like but I can say in the past 90 days on 13 shopping centers pages. We’ve posted 40 pieces roughly of Sunday content on 13 shopping centers. And so that’s over 400. If you look at it across all of the shopping centers, we’ve only received a handful of negative comments, which has been really amazing. And actually, much to our surprise, we’ve reached with our 400 posts that have gone out, we’ve reached over a million people on social media. And they’re reaching over a million people, only a handful of negative comments.

And interestingly enough, some of those negative comments, actually most of them are coming from real-life influencers, not liking that the shopping center is doing AI, but it’s not very few have come from actual consumers not liking it. It’s been crazy. It’s been crazy.

Chris Ressa  16:03

Fascinating stuff. So how does she compare? Well actually, first off, who owns Cindy? Is it the Dealey Group or these 13 shopping centers?

Liz Glosson  16:18

So technically, Cindy, would be owned by the 13 shopping centers, or JLL, JLL consumer marketing, property management.

Chris Ressa  16:29

Got it. So JLL owns Cindy. That’s JLL is mom and dad. And have you guys thought about creating your own that you could leverage out to anyone and then having a social page for that group? Specifically, rather than it be on the client, but actually the Dealy Group has a first virtual shopping center, or virtual influencer?

Liz Glosson  16:59

We have not really, that has not been a discussion topic yet. Because I think, um, Cindy was created with the JLL retail centers in mind, and understanding their target audiences, their goals for Cindy, and I think it would be, I’m not saying we couldn’t, but starting out, we wanted to produce something very specific for them in mind. And ownable, for those shopping centers. So at this point, we have not talked about producing one in-house that then we would essentially offer as a service or a product, I guess she would say to any of our clients.

Chris Ressa  17:49

How does Cindy compare to other real-life influencers in terms of the metrics?

Liz Glosson  17:57

So Cindy has had some great, great results so far. And the real purpose and goal of why we created Cindy, was we found that for our JLL portfolio of centers, that their website page, specifically, the sales and events page, was having exceedingly low traffic, like no one was going to the sales and events pages, which was unfortunate because it’s those things, it’s the sales and the events that are pushing people to want to go to the shopping center. So we created Cindy to create buzz and awareness to get people to click through to the website. And in her first month, that increase in website traffic was 500% year over year. So that metric. I don’t know that we’ve seen a metric like that in a really long time.

Chris Ressa  19:05

So do you an understanding of why? If it’s better than real life influencers so far in small sample size, but why did it do that?

Liz Glosson  19:15

I think that it’s different right now. It’s buzzworthy right now, when people are seeing that they’re like, is that a real person? Is that AI? A couple of the comments we had even on the post our people wanting to know is, this AI like reconfirming even though we say that she’s the virtual bestie, people are wanting to know what is this about? There’s still that curiosity for AI right? Because it’s new. So I think people are clicking through because it piques their interest. Cindy breaks through the clutter, and that was her intent to break through the clutter and get people to click.

Chris Ressa  20:03

Interesting. So interesting. Do, does she have like a, like a specific personality and tone? Or is she such a generalist to appeal to the mass but like, you know, if you took like, let’s take any celebrity influencer, you take like a Kim Kardashian. Well, she has a specific personality. And you could be like, Oh, that’s so Kim Kardashian. Is there like Cindy might do something and you’d be like, “Oh my God that’s so Cindy” or “Cindy would never do that.” Are you guys there?

Liz Glosson  20:42

Cindy, is your, um, some of our initial brainstorming was thinking about Cindy as being like your modern day mall-walker, if you will, because the person she, she’s a lot younger. But we want her to feel very relatable. Her fashion and taste is attainable. So not too luxury, not too high-end, friendly. And um, she’s your it girl. She knows what’s going on at the mall. So that’s really where we came like, with the mall-walker, the person that’s there every day, she can fill you in on the latest.

And her content, even though we’re creating a piece of content that’s being shared out for 13 centers, I’m sure there’s some people listening that might be thinking how can that feel relatable or custom to each one of those 13 properties. But the way that we are layering on our social content is if she’s promoting a specific trend, so say right now beachwear for summer, it shows Cindy in some beachwear and then we’ve set up the content where you can scroll through and see beachwear at that actual shopping center and tagging retailers at that actual shopping center. To make it feel like Cindy is the spokesperson for that shopping center.

So back to her personality. We did have to create her to be able to work at 13 centers. So she’s not from that standpoint, like it is some to the masses, but she does have a certain personality and signature looks, like tracksuits in a lot of her looks and in most of her most of her videos, she’s saying hi besties and bye besties. Um, so we have given her a personality.

Chris Ressa  22:55

Got it. And the fashion, the fashion trends. Did you guys hire a fashion expert to do this to put this on? Or is this like the Dealey Group’s marketing team that’s deciding the fashion side?

Liz Glosson  23:10

Great question. So part of our content studio that we have in house at the Dealey Group, we do have a specific pod within that, that those people at the company are focused on trends and primarily retail trends since we specialize in shopping centers. So we worked in partnership with Imaginuity on every single piece of content, from the stills to the videos, for the videos, that those are actual pieces of clothing that we source and mood boarded out. For the stills, we sent over samples of the types of things that we wanted Cindy to wear. And so we have a really good pulse on like the current retail trends, what’s coming up in in we did all of that and sourced everything in house.

Chris Ressa  24:06

Fascinating, totally fascinating. So what’s next for Cindy?

Liz Glosson  24:13

So Cindy, is we’re saying taking a slight pause. Because again, this was a test to see how successful or not she was going to be, how well she resonated with the consumers. And I’d say out of the 13 centers that are participating, nine or ten have had very little to no negative comments, so Cindy’s probably going to be making a comeback for holiday. She’s pausing for the summer, she’s going on vacation. She may be making a comeback for holiday. Out of the 13 centers that we have had ,two or three that have had more negative comments and hasn’t resonated as well in the community. So for those centers, we’re not sure it may be a little bit, you know, harder sell to bring her back for holiday. But the plan is for Cindy to be coming back sometime later in the year.

Chris Ressa  25:22

Got it, well I’m sure you’ll get a bunch of questions off of the show. Fascinating, very innovative, pretty cool. Congrats on being a first mover. I’m excited to see where it goes. And thank you for sharing with us Liz

Liz Glosson  25:40

Yes, thank you so much, Chris. And yeah, it’s been a lot of fun for anybody that’s interested to hear more, or would be interested in creating your own Cindy. We would, we would be happy to do it.

Chris Ressa  25:54

All right. Well, fantastic. Thanks so much. And I’ll see you in Vegas, Liz

Thank you for listening to retail retold. If you want to share a story about a retail real estate deal that you were a part of on our show. Please reach out to us at retail retold at DLC This show highlights the stories behind the deals from all perspectives. So it doesn’t matter if you are a retailer, broker, entrepreneur, architect or an attorney. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to retail retold so you don’t miss out on next Thursday’s episode

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