Why luxury brands can teach us all a thing or two about digital strategies

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13th May 2015

We are currently standing on the cusp of a new frontier when it comes to brand engagement. Putting customer needs at the forefront of a campaign or product push has long made sense from a purely operational standpoint, but now there is a shifting tide of momentum towards customer experience - now it is rather the customer journey and the touch points along the way that is driving the agenda.

In order to manage this sea change effectively requires the addressing convergence of the two key battle grounds: the physical and the digital spaces. Despite the recognition of these two fundamentally different spaces, many brands are still failing to merge these channels and are therefore missing out on providing those truly immersive customer journeys.

When thinking about a brand who provides a great digital experience there’s a good chance you will be thinking about one who is also an experienced offline leader and provides a digital experience similar to that of a ‘best-in-class’ retailer.

Since the digitalisation of shopping which kicked-off in the mid-90s, one of the best exponents of the digital transformation have been the High Street fashion retailers who have (more or less), seamlessly traded in the traditional marketing approaches and now fully embrace and embody digital strategies.

However, and as somewhat of an anachronism, there is still one section of the retail industry which has managed to drive a strong customer journey, despite not being an early adopter of digital – the luxury goods industry – and it is interesting to consider how it has do so, and how the luxury sector has influenced the digital space.

Quality and exclusivity

First, let us consider some of the key aspects of the luxury industry: exclusivity; perception of quality; and a strong and consistent brand. So how do we translate these basic features into digital?

If we talk about exclusivity and perceived quality, this does not necessarily have to relate to price; for example, custom made or personalised products are a representative example of exclusivity, as are pre-owned or vintage products – they don’t have to be overly expensive. Similarly, exclusivity and quality is not simply a product-only feature either. For example; it can mean being part of an exclusive club where you can have advantages like an early sale or 'members only' products and offers.

The perception of quality in the digital world can be promoted in three main ways: rich and high end imagery; compelling product description; and an outstanding brand message that communicates added value areas such as heritage, craftsmanship or the cultural make-up of the brand.

For luxury products, a combination of product quality and exclusivity provides an organic market base, but a well-designed, premium, rich social, digital presence can provide a platform to increase a market base, whilst still ensuring the brand retains its ‘elite’ persona.

Last but not least, brand consistency in the omnichannel digital age is more important (and difficult) difficult to achieve than a decade ago. At the same time however, it has become more pivotal to a brand’s success than ever before.

While it is increasingly important to promote a unified message across different channels, it’s equally important to show innovation, a ‘Glocal’ approach and different levels of brand communication, if you are to truly stand out – something that luxury brands have historically managed well.

Moving to a truly omnichannel, digital approach is undoubtedly challenging: dealing with different operating systems and OEMs; responsive web design; digital measurement tools and a whole collection of CRM and new Cloud-based marketing suites all pose their own problems, but they are all key tools to creating that immersive customer journey that luxury brands have been so successful in doing in the past.

If you want to design (from scratch), or review (your existing) digital strategies, my advice would be to pay a visit to your favourite digital or High Street luxury brand, and try to begin to understand how they operate from a services perspective considering along the way, how you can apply and replicate this from a digital perspective for your business/brand.

Martín Coedo leads the strategy efforts for IBM Commerce across Europe. Prior to IBM, Martín worked as Strategy and Finance Executive for eBay enterprise and as Strategy Consultant for Leading Global Retail companies. Martín holds an MBA from IESE business School, a Masters in Capital Markets from the University of Buenos Aires bachelor degrees in Accounting and Management. 

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