When Luxury Finally Met Digital Marketing: Part 1

Alejandro Fischer, Contributor, Jul 11 2016

This is the first in a three-part series that highlights luxury brands’ entry to the digital arena. This article was originally published in our Spring 2016 issue.

Dethroning the All-Powerful Print Media

The influence of the ’old world’ in setting brand direction and creating materials meant that marketers viewed channel effectiveness based on those markets. France, for example, still has strong print penetration, and the medium’s role is key on the consumer’s path to purchase. By contrast, luxury brands were slow to adapt to the nuances in behavior of consumers in the Middle East (and the Gulf in particular) where technology users have been quick to embrace video content and now lead the world in smartphone usage. These brands ignored the new head-turner and firmly kept digital initiatives at arm’s length, preferring to prolong their dependency on print media instead. However, the need to remain relevant in an increasingly digital world is gradually winning out against any lingering lust for print media.

Brands began exploring quasi-compromises that they felt would mirror print strategies, provided they could dominate share of voice (100% was the only acceptable share). For example, Homepage Takeovers in digital publications became the equivalent of outside back cover ads in print magazines. Brands felt these large, impactful, and creative formats were better suited to their image. Of course, these formats carried a price premium compared to other means of digital advertising.

The advent of millennials (people born between the years 1980 and 2000) reignited the debate. This market segment was perceived as an active consumer of luxury (lower spending per purchase but more frequently), and came from a world that is fully immersed in digital experiences as a primary means of contact. This was an audience that basically never knew a time without the internet. While it might have been intuitive for luxury brands to reach this demographic by pouring more money into web ads (rich media, more pre roll and especially more mobile and social ads), this would have had an adverse effect. Exclusivity remained essential when it came to the perception of luxury; according to a study conducted by Hearst, 54% of millennials feel that when a luxury brand becomes accessible, it loses its appeal (compared to 32% of Baby Boomers).

Brands Find Themselves Digitally with Storytelling

We recently witnessed a behavioral shift from brands in Europe that embraced the benefits of digital marketing in new ways. These brands started creating assets designed for digital consumption, which served a different purpose than solely fostering brand image. Notable examples included long-form videos that pulled their new millennial audience into the mystique and allure of the brands’ heritage (such as the Inside Chanel site), or introduced them to new worlds through online teasers that became integrated campaigns (such as Dior’s Secret Garden campaign). We started hearing the word “storytelling” to describe these types of digital initiatives.

We also saw a different take on social. Brands began embracing new channels earlier and understanding their idiosyncrasies faster, although they remained detached in their communication (most luxury brands still won’t interact with consumers directly as part of their aspirational nature). While it took years for brands to expand from Facebook to Instagram (some having a built-in following of millions by the time they posted for the first time), it took them significantly less time to make the jump to Snapchat or Tumblr. More importantly they started to create content tailored to each channel as opposed to repurposing existing assets. 

Today, the need to give consumers unique experiences across all channels has resulted in an even greater focus on content. Whether it involves launching a collaboration, announcing a new fragrance, or communicating or extending the life of Runway shows via behind the scenes videos, teasing and eventizing through social media has become the norm. We have also seen more brands become publishers and build their own content platforms outside of their traditional digital destinations, like Mr. Porter, LVMH’s Nowness video platform for art and culture, and Gucci’s sartorial learnings to name a few. The rise of tablets and HTML5 also had an impact on improving the UX of their own digital platforms, making them more responsive, faster to load, and easier to navigate, no longer acting solely as a repository of more “traditional” content.

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