“Make a better future by developing elements of the past.” – Goethe (as channeled by Karl Lagerfeld)
“That is the essence of heritage luxury: a quiver of emotion from the past in a thoroughly modern world.” – Suzy Menkes
Much has been made in recent months about the role of heritage as a differentiating variable in the Luxury brand marketing mix. In this brave new world of Luxury and Prestige retail, where the digital realm has cosmically exploded into a myriad of fragmented approaches to market, providing heretofore unthinkable access to brands as well as a vast platform for shoppers to share experiences and insights entirely unfettered by the control of the house, is a return to heritage the last bastion of hope for Luxury brands to retain the lofty status many generations have toiled to build?
In her November 9, 2010 speech to the International Heritage Tribune in London on the topic of Digital Era Heritage, the venerable style critic, Suzy Menkes, addressed the inherent disconnect between the authenticity at the core of the Luxury brand heritage and this brave new digital world where, if not managed precisely, brands could easily be led down the short path to relevancy extinction. Ms. Menkes raises a provocative question:
Craftsmanship is a vital part of luxury’s genetic makeup––but perhaps the most difficult to envisage digitally. Gucci has changed its advertising images from glamour pusses exuding sex and armed with handbags (part of the Tom Ford 90s legacy) to white-coated workers sewing by hand. Tod’s collaboration with La Scala produced a memorable mini-movie showing the stitching of a shoe in tandem with the magical lightness of dance. But most of the cyberspace energy of luxury brands goes into e-commerce, where, compared to bricks-and-mortar stores, the sensory pleasures of smell and touch are out of reach. If heritage is all about the physical artifacts and intangible attributes that connect the brand to its past, how does one break that down into codes that can be adapted for the Internet Age?
In a pre-digital historical analysis of Luxury brand go to market strategies, obviously the allure and sensory-enriching experience that shoppers experienced in the boutique defined the luxurious nature of the brand itself. To this day, there will never be a replacement to be discovered in the digital realm that will ever replace the sensual opulence that draws shoppers to Luxury brands and, in turn, allows the brand to be woven into the social makeup of the world’s most exclusive consumer market segment.
Much the same can be said of the print catalog in the Luxury marketing mix. As a precursor to the modern digital catalog-driven e-Commerce and m-Commerce channels, the print catalog for many Luxury brands still remains a core strategic element and a mechanism to bridge the heritage of the brand with the connective qualities of mass reach to a broader shopper segment who reside in geographies without the luxury of a boutique. The catalog is far more than simply a mass delivery vehicle, however. Greg Furman, Founder and Chairman of the Luxury Marketing Council in New York, accurately explains that “(Luxury brands) use (catalogs) not only as a selling tool, but as an advertising tool to show the visual voice of the brand.” Mr. Furman continues:
“The reason catalogs haven’t been eclipsed is because people like nothing better than seeing and holding a beautiful book and enjoying the luxury of quality production. The best catalogs are really close to art, with world-class photographers and models, and brands invest a tremendous amount of time in the aesthetics of presenting merchandise and representing the brand.”
While I happen to agree with both Ms. Menkes and Mr. Furman, the worlds of heritage and digital cannot continue to be disconnected and siloed if Luxury brands are to formulate and deliver upon a well-orchestrated multi-channel marketing strategy. In a recent article entitled A Blueprint for the Mobile-Enhanced Boutique, I discussed various shopper engagement points within the boutique where mobile devices and applications could be effectively leveraged to enhance the shopper’s in-boutique experience, so I would like to turn my attention to the impact of mobile devices, particularly the tablet devices popularized by the iPad, as effective platforms to bridge the divide between the art of the heritage print catalog and the utility of e-Commerce/m-Commerce engagement channels.
While many critics, pundits, and journalists rushed to judgment on the merits of the iPad device, from a multi-channel retail perspective, the medium provides the ideal digital platform to bridge the divide between past and present. With its rich hi-definition graphical capabilities, support for rich video media, WiFi connectivity, and location-awareness capabilities, the device effectively allows Luxury retail brands the ability to promote the art of the catalog in a rich visual format with full transactional rich application capabilities – an interactive digital catalog – that marries art and commerce with perfect orchestration.
Examples of this concept exist in the market today. In my October 19th article entitled Pop-Up Mobile for Luxury Retail v1: Time-Sensitive Exclusivity, I addressed the inspirational use of the iPad medium by Burberry for their Burberry Retail Theatre, whereby loyalists and fanatics of the brand were given access via the iPad to streaming video of the London Fashion Week runway show and were afforded the ability to reserve pre-release product from the Fall/Winter line for delivery.
The French Connection UK’s commerce-enabled, lifestyle-driven, interactive lookbook provides style-guide driven video content on the ubiquitous YouTube delivery platform that educates and entertains shoppers with how to topics such as “How to Conquer His Parents on Christmas – in a Vintage Dress and a Bolero,” with clickable linking to product pages on the brand’s e-Commerce site for purchase.
In their October 5th Edition, Luxury Daily highlighted the Neiman Marcus commerce-enabled iPad catalog. This immersive digital catalog allows shoppers to navigate through all available NM catalogs, search and browse all products, receive more comprehensive product details, and purchase directly via the application – all without ever having to pick up a phone or visit the store.
Ms. Menkes, in her IHT Conference Speech, articulates the challenges facing heritage-rich Luxury brands to remain relevant in our ever-changing digital landscape:
Is there a future in the past? That is the question being asked from R&B lyrics to boardroom discussions by luxury moguls. Everything that the millennial generation has embraced––smart phones, texting, digital photos, music downloads, Facebook, haul videos––is about the here and now. “Fast” fashion has made the entire concept of heritage––the idea of actual or emotional links with a brand’s past––seem as outdated as that once powerful symbol of Great Britain: a bowler hat. Reinterpreting tradition for a digital age is the challenge for luxury brands: how to link past and present in a more meaningful way than the concept of classic design and historic crests?
Linking past and present through the heritage-rich catalog delivered on a medium with wholly modern capabilities of engagement, enlightenment, mobility, and commerce, the interactive digital catalog represents an opportunity for Luxury brands to provide utility for the time-sensitive shopper, for whom leisure is the greatest luxury, while remaining true to the art of the catalog and the heritage of the brand. In this manner, Luxury brands have a unique opportunity to bridge the divide between print and digital – between art and science – and effectively “link past and present in a more meaningful way.”