Digitising Luxury

We often hear doubts by luxury brands on why they should go online. And what should they do online? We try to clear the air with some facts and guidelines

By: Sanjana Chauhan, Luxury Branding & Marketing Expert

Posted on: August 31, 2012

We often hear doubts by luxury brands on why they should go online. And what should they do online? We try to clear the air with some facts and guidelines.

The entire global luxury industry turned around in surprise and watched stupefied as Burberry, a brand seen for old consumers, quickly climbed up the popular chart as the rich, famous and young bought it off the shelf. This image transformation of becoming a fresh, young, contemporary brand, took almost five years, with a large part of the credit going to their digital strategies.

Even though the power of social media and digital strategies is right in front of our eyes, it is, at times, surprising that luxury brands are still debating whether online and social media marketing really benefits. Though their queries and apprehensions are not uncalled for, it is now become imperative to harness the power of digital, if brands are to succeed.

The social mystery
Interacting and advertising through relevant websites, developing country-specific official websites, and using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter come under the umbrella of ‘digital and social media marketing’. Digital marketing is viewed as ‘real-time’ marketing and therefore centers on the internet as its heart.

The significant audience and the growth of social media, which sets the grounds of why luxury brands should use social media, cannot be overlooked. Many Indian brands are realizing the importance of social media with brands like Taj, Oberoi and Indian designers using this medium of marketing. But considering the Indian market, social media marketing becomes even more critical for international luxury brands that are entering India or are still trying to establish a presence here. The most important step for any brand in a new market is to generate awareness and introduce the brand to as many target customers as possible. And with India’s vast and scattered population, social and online media is of relevance in the situation.

Unlike the first predictions, social media does not act against the positive reputation of brands. Constant interaction with customers via social media actually builds up friendly attention and credibility toward brands. Digital and social media promotions have turned out to be much more cost effective, in fact, when compared with print advertising. It is much easier to measure ROI in the digital medium. Almost instant feedback helps marketers to create better strategies while easing the process of spreading the message to relevant people.

Due to the fast-paced technology world, mobile marketing, in fact, is coming up as the next eventual step to online promotion. Internationally, many luxury brands are already using this medium to inform their client database about special offers and sneak previews. QR codes are being increasingly used to help give that extra affect to ads and other marketing collaterals. Understanding this trend, fashion brand Lanvin, for example, launched a mobile optimised website, compatible with both tablet devices and mobile phones, following the revelation that 17 per cent of visitors to Lanvin’s site already come from mobile devices. Similarly in India, leading luxury malls like DLF Emporio have launched websites that are mobile optimized.

The genesis
It was first fashion brands' initiative in tweeting, blogging and networking that led luxury brands to experiment. The emergence of economic trouble further led brands to explore more cost-effective methods of promotion. Looking at a recent scenario, luxury brands' use of social media began to surge in 2009.  In a first of its kind initiative, Gucci created a multicultural social network site, Guccieyeweb.com, (which now leads to the official Gucci website) for its new sunglasses collection. Needless to mention, Gucci updates its Facebook and Twitter profile constantly. Burberry, a reference point on how to use digital, launched the popular Artofthetrench.com to elicit admiration for their trench coats and create Burberry fans while communicating its culture with customers. Sales increased and the participation of customers online resulted in broadened insights for Burberry as it created more stories of the brand.

The biggest strength of social media, thus, is building awareness and loyalty. But apart from that, many marketing heads globally are now making decisions and forecasts based on social media data as well. Insights on consumer behaviour and expectations, weaned from interactions on social media, are being used to enhance product development, customer experience and sales. Bergdorf Goodman, for example, does frequent online surveys to get a better idea about how consumers perceive its services and products. This luxury retailer bolstered its social media presence during the second quarter of 2012 with contests, store imagery, daily campaigns and collection previews. 
In another direction, Dolce & Gabbana, the highly desirable luxury fashion brand, invites fashion bloggers to the front seats of its fashion shows, who instantly upload feedback from the show on Facebook and Twitter. Customers, therefore, get to see their favourite brand modeled directly, without any filtering by fashion editors or merchandisers, and the company builds purchase intentions right away. In a creative effort, DLF Emporio recently started a concept of creating a monthly online ‘Look Book’ – a pictorial catalogue featuring products from its various in-house brands – which increased interaction not just online, but also on mobile phones

The trend furthered
The core aspect of a luxury brand is that it should make the customer feel like royalty. Wealthy consumers in search of an extraordinary customer experience have been able to trust well-known luxury brands to provide just that. Now, digital and social media can certainly be used as a mean to further this end. A survey by Fidelity Investments suggests that 85 per cent of millionaires use text messaging, smart phone applications and social media. It is an indication that this demographic is wired across the spectrum of channels offering online and mobile content and customer interaction. Some brands have already taken the cue and are reinventing their luxury customer experience through digital. Pioneers include Jimmy Choo, Burberry, Coach, Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade. They have introduced interesting customer loyalty and engagement programmes through visually appealing iPad and iPhone applications.

Nowness.com by LVMH is another example of how brands can create exclusivity online by creating a special blog or portal. Informing its readers about some of the world’s most inspirational designers, creators and thinkers, the portal is a resource for experiencing high-end fashion and culture digitally. Through this ingenious initiative, LVMH maintains its superiority online and also creates a “luxury club” online.

Digital can also be used to support all other touch points including events, marketing campaigns, customer service initiatives and more. Interestingly, given its capability to cost-effectively archive data, it can also help expose connoisseurs of luxury brands to past initiatives that they may have missed or not been privy to. Cartier, for example, recently launched its Experience Cartier web initiative, which allowed exclusive customers a chance to witness and discover earmarked, flagship Cartier products from the last 100 years through a video-based microsite.

So while action has begun in the digital world, brands need to look at creative and simple solutions, which prove to be effective in the long run. The market for fashion and lifestyle blogs and websites is getting overcrowded, with not many of them surviving for long, or providing intelligent reportage. Brands, thus, can also look at digital screens in luxury malls to showcase products, styling tips and more creative content. Introducing e-commerce into your marketing and sales strategies, through ventures like Pernia's Pop-Up Shop, will benefit too. According to Abrams Research, consumers who engage with a brand on social media, spend 30-40 per cent more!

Though the agenda is to reach out to the ever increasing consumer population of India, luxury brands should keep the golden rule in mind, that quality should be given more magnitude than quantity. Brands need to conceptualise their social media strategy carefully to balance the fine line between a luxury brand’s need for exclusivity and the desire to be aspirational. Exclusivity is what, eventually, luxury brands thrive on. And replicating that ambience in the digital world is very much possible today!

Sanjana Chauhan, former Head of Marketing at DLF Emporio, is a luxury branding and social media marketing expert. She has worked for numerous luxury brands in the US, Europe and India like Villeroy & Boch and Louis Vuitton. During her recent stint, she pioneered social media marketing for luxury retail in India. A balanced, informed individual, she loves researching and reading on luxury when she is not strategizing creative marketing options for her brands. She is currently working as a marketing and social media consultant for several luxury brands internationally and can be contacted at [email protected]

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