by Jess Iandiorio
I was underdressed. That was the first thing I noticed this week at the Luxury Interactive, “The Premiere Luxury and Branding & eCommerce conference”. The list of attendees was a veritable who’s who in luxury brand marketing, including: Chanel, Stuart Weitzman, Michael C. Fina, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Lancôme, and Mercedes-Benz.
The commerce challenges of luxury brands aren’t particularly unique, they just happen to address these challenges while wearing Prada. However, driving brand engagement and love is even more critical given the bigger dollars they command. Throughout the event that covered many topics, three key keys to success stood out for me:
1: Only the social brands will thrive. Every single presentation incorporated a success story around how “going social” equated to global brand growth. Valerie Hoeck, SVP Digital Experience & Commerce at Benefit Cosmetics, discussed how Benefit has been able to differentiate in the beauty market world of “sameness” by being a brand that is fun. Benefit believes women are most beautiful when they’re laughing and smiling, so every brand experience is intended to be fun and make women happy.
“We bring out a little bit of joy, which brings out a lot of beauty,” said Hoeck. One of the key ways she showcased was a campaign called #BeautyBoost. This campaign launched in January of this year, and was dedicated to making women feel better in a time of year where they’re typically overwhelmed by New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and look better. For everyone who tweeted using the hashtag #beautyboost, Benefit sent a funny beauty compliment to their twitter feed such as “You’re so smokin’ hot, you should stop, drop, and roll”. These compliments are hilarious and can all be found on Pinterest. The campaign was wildly successful with over 9,000 likes on some individual complement badges, and 12,000+ followers to the “Words of Wisdom” Pinterest board.
While this example showcased bringing a brand to life socially, Rebecca Minkoff Founder and CEO Uri Minkoff talked about how the Rebecca Minkoff brand was built socially. Rebecca Minkoff was founded in 2005 in the dawn of blogs and social content. Uri and Rebecca started seeing comments about their products online and thought, “Why don’t we respond?” So Rebecca started replying personally to feedback online. This helped to create a big buzz as people started realizing they could link directly not only to the brand online, but even to the founder and face of the brand.
Rebecca’s brand advocates, known as “Minkettes” truly have been incorporated into the brand socially and Rebecca has engaged her fans on almost every social platform. In 2011 she used Poylvore to select a stylist for her first runway show, in 2012 she used Instagram to solicit photos for her first print ad
and leading up to fashion week this year she used Tumblr to run a joint contest with Nordstrom to solicit a new t-shirt and bag design to be showcased during her show. According to Uri, “Our customers feel like they have a say, and that we’re listening. It’s a bit like driving school where we allow our customers to steer a bit, but we still have control.” They couldn’t accomplish this without embracing all things social and building a strong community.
2: Hyper-personalization is still a “north star” and requires financial and logistical support that’s largely unrealistic. Here at Acquia – we use the term “north star” to describe the ultimate goal – whether it’s in our products, user experience, web presence, and so on. North star is a long-term goal which is not necessarily accomplishable today, but one which we all agree upon and set our sights on achieving. In commerce – the current north star is hyper-personalization: Delivering individualized experiences.
In this world, I will be standing within a 5-block radius of my favorite store, and my cell phone would receive an alert that says, “Jess, you recently had these boots in your cart online and didn’t purchase them. We expect your husband told you they were too expensive, so we’re willing to offer them to you today only for 30% off if you come into our store. We hope this makes you look great while saving your marriage.” And I would then of course say “YES!” with a fist-pump and go and buy them. Isn’t that ideal? Exactly – it’s the ideal, but not yet reality.
“There’s a tension between extreme personalization and financial execution of developing every individual experience,” according to Chris Cocca, Head of Global eCommerce for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. “You have to identify clear use cases and cater to those.” This is the reality of personalization today – most brands are still working from personas – buckets of user scenarios for which they can design content that can be universally appealing to people who match characteristics of that persona. It’s still light years ahead of where we were a couple years ago, but hyper-personalization isn’t a reality for the majority of brands today. Though this may change in the very near future with new technology such as Apple’s iBeacons and compatible devices such as Estimote Beacons.
3: Content is still king, but a seamless experience across channels is queen. Commerce is the delivery of content experiences – whether it’s the actual product information, or digital marketing content intended to draw consumers in. The challenge is trying to provide relevant content across channels seamlessly. During one panel, there was a discussion around how many brands have separate systems for loyalty programs vs. social efforts. While the sentiment seemed to be universal that these information silos can’t continue, replacing those systems with one platform hasn’t seemed achievable. And so again, the “seamless experience” for many seems to fall under the north star category.
What brands can focus on in the near term is becoming content experts. They’re turning to a new ways to engage consumers, specifically by creating editorialized content. A great example of this practice is Timex, which effectively sells an IronMan watch collection by sponsoring athletes who blog their running tips on Timex’s site. Timex also creates videos that help athletes take advantage of their watch features. Uri Minkoff also touched on how they view Rebecca Minkoff as a content company. Their marketing is essentially content syndication. They place their content on up-and-coming social sharing tools, further solidifying their brand as a social pioneer.
Another hot topic at the conference was mobility and commerce - where it really seemed that for luxury brands, mobile = tablets. Why? Because tablet devices (mostly iPads) are pervasive among high income consumers and they prefer to use them while shopping. I’m not sold on this as the reality for all digital commerce since the more mainstream brands serve a less affluent population, not all of whom can afford a third device… but I get it for the person who’s evaluating a $70,000 Mercedes-Benz purchase. They want to watch amazing videos and see every facet of the car before they enter the dealership. And you can only wow the consumer so much on 7-8 square inches.
Although I’m licking my “I just realized I’m no longer fashionable” wounds, this was a truly great event to have attended. Though the brands are luxury, the digital experience challenges were mostly universal. Shopping is social, so brands need to be social. Personalization is key, so brands need to design commerce experiences with the north star of hyper-personalization in mind while executing with the realities of what is accomplishable today. Brands that push the envelope with personalization have the opportunity to be richly rewarded by surprised and delighted consumers. Content is your ultimate conversion tool, so start thinking like editorial content publishers or television syndicators, and you’ll find the recipe for success in engaging customers and creating brand fanatics.