Monday, April 29, 2013

CMO's Jump-In Tips on Going Digital with your Luxury Brand

As a CMO selling luxury products, social media can be a great way to reach your target audience in ways that are impossible using other marketing media. As an undergraduate in Northwestern’s Medill IMC program, I have been examining the luxury brand space in the digital world, and have found several articles that address the successful social marketing of luxury goods.

Jumping into the digital world as a luxury brand can seem daunting. Perhaps even downright scary. It is undeniable that going digital is—and will continue to be—vital to the long-term health of your brand. However, in a world so consumed by easy access and instant gratification, how is it possible to maintain your brand’s integrity?

Developing and controlling the perception of your brand should be your primary goal. According to Domenico De Sole, the chairman of Tom Ford International, it is essential to establish well-articulated branding information (mission, values, DNA) first. Making sure everyone involved with your brand, especially those on the ‘front lines' (phones, Twitter, etc), is well-versed in this information is just as important. Ford’s success even through the 2008 financial crisis proves that customers will support uncompromising decisions, so long as they are representative of the brand’s values. For at the end of the day, “quality will be remembered long after price is forgotten,” says De Sole.

So you’ve established branding information. It is now time to begin the journey towards translating your brand DNA online. If used correctly, social media will more fully integrate your brand with your consumer—an often-overlooked relationship that is especially important for luxury brands. 62% of affluent adults prefer to purchase online according to a recent report from the Shullman Research Center, proving that luxury marketers really should make their online presence a priority. Setting up an experiential website and Facebook page is easy—deciding how you’re going to interact with consumers on an hourly basis using social media sites such as Twitter is much more difficult. 

Luckily you have options. Take a look at Chanel and Bergdorf Goodman for two polar opposite approaches to luxury tweeting. Chanel follows no one, and engages with no one - maintaining the aura of exclusivity from the iconic brand. Bergdorfs, on the other hand, follows over 1,000 others, uses winky faces incessantly, and has established its own hashtag: #getscattered (Cute, yes. Luxury, perhaps not). Although it can be risky to compare a brand with a retailer, since both  coexist in the luxury space, these two examples will show you just how many different options you have as a brand operating in social media. Above all, do not forget about those brand values you’ve already established—keep them consistent as you interact with consumers, otherwise your message will get lost and you risk losing potentially lifelong customers.

From my review of these two articles and work in the Medill IMC Program at Northwestern, here are three action items I recommend you implement immediately:  

1.     Maintain your brand’s integrity. No compromises!
Moving into the digital space will have huge payoffs for your brand. However, compromising your brand's integrity in the process will greatly diminish that success - and could prove fatal for your brand.

2.     Step into the customer’s shoes, and judge your brand by its weakest points.

According to Jason Cohen, executive vice president of creative at The O Group, it is invaluable to “step back and judge your brand the way the luxury consumer will—by its weakest point of execution.” Luxury consumers will expect a lot of you as a brand, so why not push yourself to meet those expectations?

3.     Take a risk, even if no one else is.
Luxury brands are starting to hold back—afraid to jump in!—rather than taking a risk and gaining the potential payoffs. Those who do take risks thus have the potential to gain even more, simply because other brands are content to sit back and plan before making a more calculated decision. 
For an example of a risk well-taken, check out Jimmy Choo's 2010 "Catch a Choo" campaign - which reinforced for both existing and aspirational customers that "its product is to be coveted."

In the luxury world, we have the tendency to strive for perfection in every aspect of business. After all, luxury is aspirational and thus demands perfection—right?  Wrong…in a way. Accept that the digital space will be another area for you to succeed or fail, set up all the tools necessary for success and a safety net just in case, and then take the plunge. 

Allie Gullquist is a senior at Northwestern University in the Medill Integrated Marketing and Communications Certificate Program. She plans to begin work in L’OrĂ©al’s Luxe Division in New York City this August (brand to be determined!). Follow her on Twitter: @alliegully.

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