November 5, 2014
By Paul Vallois
Marketing luxury online has notoriously been a tricky call for many brands. Perhaps it is because the medium is, by its very nature, proletarian.
Whatever the reason, digital’s ubiquity can seem at odds with the exclusivity of luxury. Yet online has become the lifeblood of retail, be it high street or high class – it is now a vital element for future-proofing brands.
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Take London-based Selfridges, which a few months ago launched its “Wonder Room” online, a digital incarnation of its real, in-store Wonder Room.
Dover Street Market has also kicked off its tenth anniversary celebration that will see the store transformed from top to bottom online and offline, launching an account on Instagram to show off its style.
Both retailers are marking a wider trend for luxury fashion brands to switch on their online presence, and it is easy to see why: not only does online provide a wider reach, it is also the channel du jour for the elusive younger demographic which consistently spends 50 percent more on luxury goods that other demographics.
Also, they are the smarter, digital-first, mobile-always audience who, research shows, are looking for brands that reward them with pride of ownership and send a smart shopper message, rather than brands that are primarily used as status symbols.
But success does not lie in just having a presence online. It is only through the right content and storytelling that luxury brands can make their exemplary bricks-and-mortar and product experience relevant to the sector’s new tablet and smartphone-wielding audience.
Take Selfridges’ aforementioned digital Wonder Room. In its present form it struggles to exude the same luxurious confidence that the expensive marble flooring and ornate sculpturing Selfridges has in-store. It particularly struggles to convey the excitement shoppers feel as they enter the store, with the Web site’s digital wow factor only going so far as showing off a promotional video from Cartier.
In its current form, it is arguable that Selfridges will struggle to see an uplift in sales online.
The department store’s efforts pale in comparison to some of the most forward-thinking luxury brands that are not merely attempting to use digital to translate their offline luxury persona into appropriate online experiences. They are doing something much smarter. They are driving passion and engagement amongst us, the hoi polloi.
While this might seem blindingly obvious for brands already embracing digital, it marks a sea of change for a sector that has traditionally thrived on peddling exclusivity and been notably apprehensive about the accessibility of the Web.
For long-established luxury brands that could be perceived as out-of-touch, tapping into social channels in particular can be an important step towards democratization and youthfulness. Luxury, lest we not forget, is all about influence.
Some of the greatest examples have come from brands that have been revived by digital.
Take Fendi for example. Its live stream of the autumn/winter 2014 fashion show in Milan via Drone Cam was an industry first and continued the trend for opening up the fashion show world in an innovative, fun way.
Then there are the Fendi Buggies; a weird little critter, made of mink. You go online, answer a few easy questions and your ideal buggy appears on your ideal bag that you can then share with your friends. It showcases the collection beautifully and adds a sense of youthful playfulness to what was a rather staid brand.
Gucci has also turned to digital to give its story wider appeal. Its Chime for Change campaign is a universal concept that strikes an emotional chord with everyone, but it also makes people feel good about Gucci and gives those that can afford it permission to buy.
Digital is used brilliantly to give the brand more kudos amongst a younger audience. It also launched a new online storytelling platform with a series of five short films and then there was the Chime Hack, a hackathon that challenged female techies to participate in an effort that created mobile applications to support women around the globe.
This latest effort was innovative, inclusive and passionate. And the mantra was great too: None of us can move forward if half of us are held back.
DIGITAL CAN GIVE luxury brands a universal appeal. It also allows them to go beyond the product and tell stories that resonate on a creative, cultural and emotive level. It is all well and good having a Web site and communication through social media channels, but going that one step further will make such a big difference.
Greater interactivity gives everyone a chance to get involved and voice an opinion. Because there is no doubt that when digital is well executed it gives luxury brands a whole new lease of life.
Paul Vallois is managing partner at Partners Andrews Aldridge, London. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.