Social climbers: Luxury fashion insights
For luxury brands, social media is less about consumer-oriented marketing than it is about building a brand and engaging audiences in a long- term brand experience. Brittany Golob examines social insights in the luxury sector
If fashion brands had a crystal ball they might see the future depicted by countless sci-fi films – everyone in matching jumpsuits – or they might see the weird and wacky fashions often predicted to proliferate. Foreseeing the styles and trends of the coming years may require a touch of the sixth sense, but recognising the value of social media does not. More than 80% of all people under 50 use social media, according to the Pew Research Center. Growth has steadied, but those users will be the luxury and premium consumers of tomorrow.
For fashion brands in the upper premium and luxury space, connecting with young people through their channel of choice will build early ties and encourage future consumption. Luxury brands already work on elongated time scales, so this approach is not entirely foreign. “Those that invest in social media and social media intelligence early will be much better positioned to connect with and understand Millennials and future generations. That may play a more important role in the future than brands currently recognize,” says James Lovejoy, content researcher at social intelligence company Brandwatch.
Brandwatch recently released a report on social insights into the luxury fashion industry in which it analysed the reach and effectiveness of 32 major international brands through English language conversations taking place worldwide. The research examined brands from Hermés and Cartier to Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY.
Interestingly, the analysis shows the biggest audiences for luxury fashion on social media are artists, executives, students and journalists. This may indicate that social audiences are geared toward the aspirational, people who are not yet consumers, but who identify with the brand and its values.
Yet, social media has been a difficult area for luxury as a lot of the sector’s brand value is concerned with message control and exclusivity. A 2014 Deloitte study on global trends in luxury says, “Controlling all aspects of business has been the hallmark of luxury brands...The internet has changed all that, forcing executives to rethink the tight control typical of luxury brands.”
Markus Kramer, luxury expert and partner at Brand Affairs AG, says as young people become business leaders in luxury, they will eventually bring a new mindset toward social. But, for the moment, social media is still not a priority. “For luxury brands, social is still a lot of noise,” Kramer says. “Other than aggregation or brand awareness, I don’t see how luxury is really understanding it or creating benefit out of it. Where it does have a high relevance is Twitter for instance or listening.” He notes, as does the Brandwatch study, that social has the potential to erode this sense of exclusivity and control, thereby damaging the brand in the long run. Yet he adds, social is not to be ignored any longer.
For FMCG and mass market brands, social media is an obvious necessity for customer service, e-commerce and brand awareness purposes. In the luxury sector, brand awareness may be one of the few needs served by social media. The Deloitte study says, “Moreover, social media can be used effectively as a vibrant storytelling medium for luxury brands, communicating brand heritage and iconography to a new audience of potential clients.” Storytelling is what luxury is good at. Every brand in the sector has a story to tell and most are already using that as a point of differentiation and for reputation development. The challenge that exists now is to translate that focus on storytelling into digital content.
Samira Qassim, associate strategist at brand consultancy Siegel+Gale who focuses on luxury brands, says, “Social is powerful for the luxury sector as the brands get to own the conversation and story they tell. They have complete freedom with a rich variety of media forms to express their DNA, inspiration and product. In effect they can create their own little world. This is perfect for luxury brands, because luxury is very much an idea. It is a story that is told through inspiration, materials, time and place, and through the people who inhabit it. Even if they aren’t obviously selling, being able to tell the richness of their story influences purchasing decisions albeit subtly. This is long game selling. In the same way lifestyle advertising is still selling something, they are selling a dream. Social is a way for luxury brands to invite people into a dream that they can own, should they so desire.”
For some, online storytelling can take the form of aspirational, dream-inducing content, for others, it’s about creating a personality or adding value to the customer experience through online channels. Louis Vuitton recently released a video that depicts a lifestyle, rather than products, as a means to create inspiration and aspiration. Tiffany & Co. uses Twitter to promote products, but also to align the brand around moments in people’s lives when jewellery is relevant while Hermés famously launched an app in 2014 designed to help people tie their Hermés scarves. This tutorial allowed the brand to provide educational content to its existing customers while extending the brand’s relevance to aspiring customers.
Visual content is one of the most useful means of online storytelling and Brandwatch found it to be the strongest tool for luxury brands. Only .32% of luxury brands’
“Those that invest in social media and social media intelligence early will be much better positioned to connect with and understand Millennials and future generations”
Facebook content does not contain videos, images or image links. Video, which comprises 11.53% of Facebook activity, yields by far the most likes, comments and shares – 1,709 shares were recorded for videos compared with just 264 for the rest of Facebook posts combined.
A marketing manager for a major Scotch whisky brand said at a roundtable discussion this summer that posts featuring pictures of products were not that interesting. She adds, “But if we actually show people enjoying the product, these are phenomenally more successful. If we tell them something that we thing is interesting, it’s less interesting unless they are loyal followers and are engaged in our brand.” Luxury brands have done this for decades
in traditional formats, most often using celebrity brand ambassadors to put the brand in context. The brand manager of a men’s fashion company added that brands can create their own space online through the use of digital content, “Because social is so brilliantly trackable and so brilliantly organic then it lends itself very well to that creative hub and it’s your own media for your brand.”
Most at the roundtable agreed that social requires a ceding of control, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “You cannot ever in life, in anything, mitigate someone’s response to what you are and what you do,” the whisky communicator says. Lovejoy agrees, social media, he says, does not drive sales in the luxury sector, nor should it, “People are more likely to follow, support and remember a brand that posts content that resonates with their own interests.” Thus, social content can be brand-oriented, rather than primarily focused on converting viewers to consumers via e-commerce platforms in the way mass market brands would.
The research supports this claim as it shows a lack of direct engagement between the brand and its fans. There were only .08 recorded replies per day on Twitter, compared to 1.57 average tweets per day. Luxury brands, Brandwatch says, are surprisingly inactive on social. But the content they do share is all about the brand. Tommy Hilfiger, a company that scores highly on the Brandwatch analysis – it is one of the most active and engaging brands with a high reach – launched a runway- based social concept last month that will be in use for the first time in spring 2016. It will use Twitter’s Halo tool to take 360-degree videos of its runway shows that will then be broadcast live through Twitter. Tiffany, in 2014, began using Tumblr as a sort of online catalogue mixed with video content and lifestyle photography to promote the brand.
“Successful brands will start with a strong understanding of their online audience and craft content that resonates with them accordingly,” Lovejoy says. “As discussed in the report, a lot of brands bring in major celebrities to endorse their products. That has been massively successful in generating conversation but brands should also then be aware of who that’s generating conversation among – if you’re targeting a specific group as many luxury fashion brands tend to do, you’ll want to find influencers who will pique those people’s interest.”
Kramer says the brand-focused approach is the best fit for luxury, but may not suit all luxury brands. He points to the uber-exclusive brands that have a limited run of products or cater only to customers on a personal basis. These brand exist largely because of their exclusivity and their differentiated customer experience. Becoming more transparent through social media may not be in their best interests. There is also a cost factor. For small luxury brands, investing in social media capabilities for effectively zero economic gain is not worth it – particularly considering they may not need to develop brand awareness. He adds, “Social media is very much about democratised technology, everybody has access to it, and therefore you might create the opposite effect.”
Yet, Kramer notes, in emerging markets, social-first is the way forward. Asian audiences are easier to convert into sales through social media, largely because there are more young consumers of luxury than in western markets. The whisky marketing manager says Asia is a strong market for her brand, yet it is consumed differently than in the west, thus social content has to be regionally-approrpriate.
Divining future trends and styles may still require a crystal ball, but luxury brands make products that last. They find It is more valuable to sell the idea of the brand, rather than the product itself. That’s why today’s social media audience may be tomorrow’s consumers. Some brands are still struggling with the extent to which social is relevant to their communications, but for most, social is just another channel offering new opportunities to create a luxurious brand experience.