... an exploration of mobile trends in luxury retail

Posts Tagged ‘luxury brands’

la mobile beauté contre

In digital luxury, luxury mobile on November 5, 2010 at 4:48 pm

“The most beautiful make-up on a woman is passion, but cosmetics are easier to buy.” –Yves Saint Laurent

In a September 7th Wall Street Journal article, “Estée Lauder’s Counter Makeover,” an investigation into the venerable beauty brand’s revised department store strategy reveals a significant shift in in-store shopper engagement that directly correlates with the on-going (r)evolution in Luxury retail from a traditional B2C model, complete with hidden price tags, aggressive consultants, and out of reach glass cases, to a revised C2B retail paradigm, where shoppers are armed with previously inconceivable access to information, opinions, and accessibility to brands than ever before:

Walking through Clinique’s new counter in Bloomingdale’s New York flagship, Lynne Greene, president of Estée Lauder’s Clinique, Origins and Ojon brands, demonstrated the new ways women can now shop for the brand’s cosmetics: An express line for consumers who already know what they want, areas to browse on their own, and seats for those who want a full consultation.

As more beauty brands begin to follow suit, offering store shoppers far greater flexibility and far less pressure in terms of how they engage with the brand, the mobile channel is posed to serve as an augmentative medium to further enhance the in-store experience.  As I have preached ad nauseum in prior posts, those brands that view mobile as simply a scaled down one to one extension of their e-commerce presence on the small screen are severely limiting the capabilities of their mobile strategy and further exposing the inherent disconnect between the online and in-store customer experience, which is at the core of Luxury retail’s oft-maligned reluctance to engage the online channel:

The historical hesitance among many Luxury brands to delve into the realm of e-commerce and, more importantly, where the medium has fallen short for brands is most obviously evidenced in its inherent disconnectedness from the essence of the luxury experience – the exclusivity and uniqueness of the brand and the tactile, sensual in-boutique experience.  E-commerce, by its very nature and definition is all-inclusive – a world wide web of accessibility to brands that heretofore were accessible to only a select few.

Mobile, as a medium and an “always-on” channel, has the unique ability to serve as a galvanizing force behind multi-channel unification, uniting online, boutique, and catalog channels in a highly targeted and personally relevant manner through a device that is always within arms reach.  Given the example of Estée Lauder’s revised counter strategy that puts more control in the hands of shoppers and engages them on their own terms, how can mobile solutions offer extended functional capabilities designed to enhance the shopper in-store experience and provide a deep level of engagement with the brand’s legions of loyalists – while increasing brand loyalty among those shoppers who typically choose from a wide portfolio of beauty brands – by providing a differentiated, utility-driven mobile experience in the store?

John Demsey, group president of several Estée Lauder brands, unknowingly, but effectively articulates the need for this type of solution:

“People today are looking for real know-how, but they want to be served in the way they choose.”

Conceive for a moment a mobile application construct that serves as a “Mobile Beauty Counter,” combining information, utility, education, consultation, social shopping, and location awareness all within the palm of your hand:

The “Mobile Beauty Counter” provides a complete view of the brand’s product catalog, complete with rich displays and enhanced navigational capabilities, allowing shoppers to access descriptions of product and, in the case of Estée Lauder, access customer reviews that provide transparent consumer insights in the store to provide additional levels of confidence in considered purchases.  Tapping into the immense power of a global bazaar, where word of mouth about the quality of product is given additional relevance by allowing shoppers to sort consumer-generated content based on attributes or applications of product important to them, such sort by usage by “skin type” or “skin tone,” creates an immensely powerful and influential application of mobile as a research mechanism.

Integration of video tutorials on device allows shoppers who wish to forego the time- intensive in-chair consultation with a beauty consultant to access branded tips and tricks usage of application videos that educate them on how best to use the product while standing near the display counter.  The incorporation of shopper “wish lists,” that allow shoppers to add selected items to their “Mobile Beauty Counter” for fully-integrated social sharing on Facebook and Twitter to consult with beauty experts within their social network, wraps a tremendously-influential element of social shopping to the solution and provides shoppers with the ability to glean expertise and experiences from their social networks to positively influence purchase behavior. Lastly, support for GPS or cell tower triangulation for location determination and store location functions can serve as a powerful driver of traffic into stores and support for click to call functionality allows shoppers to contact stores in their vicinity immediately to check inventory availability and arrange for in-store pick-up at the shopper’s convenience.

As Luxury beauty brands continue to formulate comprehensive mobile strategies, a targeted focus on application utility, speed, and simplicity – leveraging the ubiquitous mobile web platform and its efficiencies as an “always on” delivery medium – can and will yield a significantly enhanced in-store shopper experience that serves to increase brand loyalty among the brand’s legion of loyalists and those peripheral shoppers searching for brands who actively seek to engage them on their own terms.

brand authenticity is the new black

In digital luxury, luxury mobile on October 21, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Since the dawn of commerce in the bazaars of Istanbul, consumer word of mouth has always been the most powerful form of retail advertising. There has been much buzz stemming from the October 16th Wall Street Journal article, “Luxe Lowdown: Tony Sites Begin to Invite Buyer Reviews,” concerning the long-standing debate of whether consumer generated content in the form of product reviews should have a place in a Luxury retailer’s online lexicon.

Debate rages on both sides as to whether reviews are contrary to definition of a Luxury brand. One side argues that brands such as Cartier or Hermes are “five star” in and of themselves, thus it is counter to the brand to open up their product catalogs to any degree of public scrutiny. The other will argue that this form of consumer word-of-mouth is being shared daily around the world and that reviews captured on a retailer’s site provide a degree of brand authenticity and aids in instilling consumer confidence in products and brands based on the opinions and experiences of real people, without the influence of advertising.

Regardless of where you stand in the debate, one thing is certain – for those attainable luxury retailers such as Saks and Nordstrom or brands like Brooks Brothers or La Mer, customer reviews have been adopted on their e-Commerce sites based firmly on the realization that customers want the ability to take shopping advice from their peers. As the WSJ article quotes Denise Incandela, President of Saks Inc.’s Saks Direct:

“The customer wants a more objective voice saying, ‘I own this, and these are the things you need to know about it.”‘

I realize that this topic revolves entirely around social media marketing as opposed to my primary focus on mobile, but I felt this topic too important not to address with the interest of Luxury retailers in mind. The purpose of today’s posting is not to weigh the inherent value (or lack thereof) of consumer generated content for Luxury brands but, rather, how brands can capture consumer sentiment in a manner that remains true to the essence of the Luxury brand experience, yet provide the authenticity and openness that consumers have come to expect from brands in this (r)evolution to a C2B retail paradigm.

As brands begin investigating how best to capture consumer sentiment in a manner that remains true to the essence of the Luxury brand experience, it is important to distinguish between two very different forms of consumer generated content: product level content and brand level content. The examples cited in the WSJ article focus entirely on product level content, primarily in the form of customer reviews. It is precisely this content, spoken directly from the mouths of consumers, that has always been the barrier to entry for consumer generated content on Luxury brand sites. The statement from a Chanel representative reached for comment by the reporter speaks volumes – “We will not comment on this topic.”

Scott Galloway, founder of L2, a think tank that specializes in prestige brands, accurately surmises, “The notion of having a user saying that Chanel No. 5 smells like Brooklyn is so scary that [luxury brands] were literally paralyzed.” Note Galloway’s choice of words – literally paralyzed. Luxury brands have always existed as arbiters of fashion, defining stylistic trends for a global audience based on the brand’s view of the fashion universe. This paradigm, however, is steadily shifting as the C2B (r)evolution continues to gain momentum. Shoppers are armed with previously inconceivable access to information, opinions, and accessibility to brands than ever before. At some point in the not-too-distant future there will be a forced assimilation to engage consumers in open dialogue and those brands which ardently refuse to engage risk relevancy extinction. The question remains, how to best engage in open dialogue with customers and offer freedom of speech while maintaining the veil of mystery that Luxury brands inherently possess.

Let’s turn our attention for a moment to brand level content. As Luxury marketers shift strategies to adopt a more lifestyle-driven approach to market, brand level consumer generated content is uniquely capable of providing the level of authenticity and transparency that consumers are craving. Imagine a brand like Cartier running a campaign soliciting love stories from their customers, curating those they feel most representative of the brand essence, and leveraging this authentic branding exercise to position them as purveyors not only of fine jewelry, but as purveyors of love. That strategy has potential, no?

The underlying advantage of brand level consumer generated content is that it does not require the same degree of transparency as product level content. At a product level, regardless of whether a review is overwhelmingly five star positive or underwhelmingly two star, that content requires display in order for consumers to glean from others’ experiences and provide that level of authenticity and transparency. Brand level content does not require the same degree of transparency. A brand can curate only that content that they feel is most representative of the essence of the brand and the values it represents. In this manner, a Luxury brand can solicit content from customers, which could be limited to those in the appropriate demographic, customer value category, etc., that allows real people to tell inspiring stories with the brand at the apex of the experience.

The cosmetics brand Philosophy has continuously provided excellent examples of this type of brand level content campaign strategy. Although this campaign has concluded, Philosophy developed a campaign around the launch of their Unconditional Love product line that solicited content from its brand loyalists about their stories of unconditional love.

Through this campaign, Philosophy effectively positioned itself as a social brand that encourages its loyalists to share stories about topics that are important to them while promoting a brand image that is not about beauty product but, rather, about love.

Authenticity and transparency are the new black for Luxury retail brands, however careful consideration must be given to how to engage customers in dialogue that is authentic while maintaining the essence of the Luxury brand experience.

pop-up mobile for luxury retail v2:beyond the velvet rope

In digital luxury, luxury mobile, pop-up mobile on October 20, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Whether we as Luxury retail marketers choose to acknowledge it or not, we are in the midst of a revolution in retail and will be soon forced to assimilate or risk relevancy extinction.  Although this may, on the surface, seem entirely counter to essence of the Luxury brand as an exclusive entity, Luxury marketers must step outside the perceived “velvet rope,” where status and means dictate who may come to us, and engage our influentials where they live – outside the boutique.

This revolution I speak of has been quietly gaining momentum since the advent of smartphone technology.  A revolution given impetus by shoppers’ access to previously unprecedented amounts of instantaneous information, social sharing, opinion insights, and real-time engagement on their own terms.  Like it or not, we are in the midst of a 180 degree transition in the retail paradigm – from a traditional Business to Consumer (B2C) model to a Consumer to Business (C2B) model.  The question is not how to combat this revolution but, rather, how we can use it to our strategic advantage.  Luxury retail can choose not to adapt and evolve at its own peril.

Enough with the impending doom and gloom.  How do Luxury retailers step outside the “velvet rope” and add intrigue and uniqueness to the Luxury shopper experience while maintaining exclusivity and the veil of mystery that fuels shoppers desire to seek out our brand experience?

On October 14th, PSFK showcased an excellent example of a branded campaign that stepped outside the velvet rope to engage consumers on their own turf and did so, in my opinion, very successfully.  The campaign was ideated and delivered by BLT & Associates for HBO in coordination with the launch of their new program “Boardwalk Empire.”  From PSFK’s overview of this element of the launch campaign:

During the weeks leading up to the September 23rd premiere of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the cable network and BLT & Associates took a rather standard form of media – bus shelters, and employed QR codes to turn it into a more interactive form of media, with the end goal of generating curiosity and excitement for the show. The billboards were shaped like a large whiskey bottle, and embedded with a QR code which, when read by a cellphone, offered directions and password for users to gain entry to  a secret “speakeasy” event, where the first drink was on the house.

This campaign initiative perfectly illustrates both what I term the creation of a brand-aligned “mobile moment” as well as the effective execution of “journeying beyond the velvet rope.”  The objectives, however, remain how to ensure that this type of message is not only seen by the “right” type of audience (most likely as easily solved by effective placement in desired geographies) and how to deliver an experience that remains aligned with the core values of the brand.  Would a Luxury brand’s ultimate engagement objective be to drive consumers of the media to an undercover speakeasy for a cocktail?  More than likely not, unless the brand in question is, for example, Moet Hennessey, but the core tenets of such a campaign form the framework for a Luxury retailer’s opportunity to engage in a lifestyle marketing event with the “right” audience to create a unique and exclusive event.  Hence, journeying beyond the velvet rope draws the desired audience back inside it.

In Fashion Collective’s October 19th post entitled “Creating a Vantage Point for Customers Online through Lifestyle Marketing,” Elizabeth Schofield eloquently describes the value of a revised marketing focus gaining adoption momentum among Luxury brands towards lifestyle marketing as such:

Lifestyle marketing has become increasingly popular as brands work to associate themselves with a way of life customers aspire to. In doing so, brands become purveyors of the tastes, styles, activities, etc. that compliment their identities and product offerings.

Much like concept stores, brands who take a lifestyle approach seek to create a perspective or viewpoint, a lens from which the customer can interpret and perceive the collection and how it applies to their own lives.

For lifestyle marketing, it’s important for brands to recognize that, while it certainly helps to set a brand identity, associations with external brands or categories should be meaningful. After all, if you are a ready-to-wear brand, customers don’t expect to receive information on upcoming concerts, gallery openings, etc. While these can be value-adds for customers, brands should understand that the majority of customers might not access the brand for this type of content regularly.

Rather, customers can be enticed through both the brand and the product, and the stories behind each of these. Having lifestyle content that is a natural extension of the brand not only makes sense, but it makes for an interesting experience.

By that accurate definition, the HBO case study analyzed here, although targeted at a slightly different audience, is an excellent example of a media brand journeying beyond their four walls to engage media consumers where they live.  Mobile technologies present a uniquely compelling engagement medium to accomplish this objective and, given the very personal nature of the device, coupled with the medium always being within a consumer’s reach, the experience rendered by the brand fits the equation of delivering a Luxury branded experience – luxury + utility + effective “storybuilding” = brand loyalty.

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