Many people scratched their heads back in 2013 when Burberry, then helmed by executive Angela Ahrendts and designer Christopher Bailey, described itself as a media company — and hired a BBC bigwig as chief operating officer.
Today, luxury brands must act more like broadcasters and less like producers or risk being left behind, according to consultant Claudia D’Arpizio, a partner at Bain & Co. in Milan.
“Luxury is moving very quickly towards the entertainment world and the content production world — and the product is just one element of the value proposition,” she said in an interview, elaborating on one of the key findings of the most recent Bain study done in collaboration with Italy’s luxury goods association Fondazione Altagamma.
It said the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift, and that brands must curate their own and third-party content to foster interactions on an open platform, rather than speaking to consumers from on high.
According to D’Arpizio, the most successful brands are “the ones that are really shifting their consumer base towards the younger generation and have gone in this direction.”
D’Arpizio described luxury as a “creative industry at large. And so you if you are credible as a creative person, your territory doesn’t only have to be fashion. You can broaden your reach and the brand can become a platform to accommodate other voices that can be broadcast to a broader public. So that’s where collaborations, not only with other designers, but other artists, come into play.”
If the product used to be at the center of a luxury brand’s universe, it’s now just one of the moons orbiting around the consumer and facilitating interactions: Services, experiences, content, media and inspiration are the others.
“The most important objective is really the engagement, to engage and interact with consumers as many times as possible: then the purchase will come later or at a certain point, so this is not the ultimate goal of every single marketing lever that you can activate,” she explained.
Social media has become the preeminent channel for broadcasting, offering luxury brands a “TV channel that is dedicated to your public” and one that is not only limited to explaining collections and inspirations but can offer behind-the-scenes footage and extra services.
“You can also put up content that is not specific, but that is generated by other users, other consumers or other artists, and the larger creative crowd,” D’Arpizio said. “Social media is currently the most powerful way that brands have to stay in touch and engage on a broader set of conversations with consumers.”
Given the need to create more content, luxury companies have to internalize some competencies previously handled by third parties, such as fashion editors and stylists, along with engaging a network of external advisers and creative agencies.
“Consumers value these kinds of authentic interactions and channeling of messages without the mediation of someone else,” she said. “You need an editorial plan…and also the capability to really interact quickly with consumers and react quickly to their everyday moments.”
D’Arpizio stressed that the product is essentially a prerequisite. “For luxury products to hold a huge importance, that is both intrinsic value and also symbolic value, it’s clear that the intrinsic value, the quality, the excellence, the level of creativity is something that consumers take for granted, along with excellence in sustainability and other aspects,” she said. “But you also need the right messaging… to create engagement beyond the product.”
In many cases, luxury brands are funneling capital expenditures away from new stores and refurbishments toward marketing, communications, content development and messaging to ensure traffic in existing stores and sufficient hype around the brand.
Asked if there are any pitfalls when luxury brands transform into broadcasters, D’Arpizio said there is always a risk of relinquishing product excellence, or of shifting to a “totally marketing-led model,” which is dangerous in a creative-led industry like fashion. “So the level of innovation, creativity, as well as quality remain critical elements.”
Lisa Grant Damico, director of account management at ListenFirst, said many luxury brands found ways during the pandemic to move from one-way conversations towards interactive ones via an array of tactics: sharing more reposts, hosting takeovers on their social media accounts, creating community challenges on TikTok, and by becoming more involved in livestreaming.
She cited as successful examples:
• Social media takeovers: Dior revealed that Sooya from Blackpink was taking over its Instagram Stories, generating 463,384 responses.
• Reposts: Moschino’s repost of an Instagram post of the fictional character Lil Miquela generated 236,957 responses.
• TikTok challenges: The #GucciModelChallenge in which participants showed how they dress like a Gucci model generated 205.1 million views.
• Livestreaming: Off-White netted 27,357 responses on a pre-pandemic Instagram clip of its fall-winter 2020 men’s show.
Analyzing the January-to-November 2020 period, ListenFirst found that overall social engagement for the 10 most successful luxury broadcasters decreased 23 percent versus the same period a year ago, with only Louis Vuitton and Moschino increasing their score. This reflects a 24 percent drop in the number of posts to 21,780.
“It’s been a tremendously challenging year for luxury fashion brands; with social media-related obstacles including the lack of traditional fashion weeks and COVID-19 and [U.S.] elections coverage dominating the conversation,” Grant Damico said. “However, by using their platform to showcase different voices, luxury fashion brands are successfully growing brand loyalty among the social media audience in a period where more traditional marketing strategies like a big flashy runway show just aren’t an option.”