Techno Luxury & The “Reality Check” on Branded Social Media

29 11 2009

While I did get to check out the whopping 10 minutes of this week’s Milan Global Fashion Summit that was dedicated to technology, I was really bummed out not to be able to to to the International Herald Tribune’s Techno Luxury conference held in Berlin last week (the Twitter archive can be found here). It was really a trilogy of disappointments, because the conference encompassed 3 of my favorites: the Luxury+Technology factor (which is a given- being surrounded by fellow geeks and listening to Suzy Menkes and other experts talking about my favorite subject for 2 days is like having died and gone to Heaven); the involvement of my favorite Women’s Wear Daily editor, Melissa Drier, who also happens to have significantly influenced the direction of my career; and Berlin, a city I love for many reasons, including the fact that it so brilliantly embraces its history while barreling into the future.

So I’m both green with envy and thrilled to read the tidbits of info that are coming out of this conference, and am desperately waiting for more details (and video feed, anyone?!).

On Monday, Ms Drier posted an article on the conference in WWD, but for those of you without access, I’ll include some highlights here:

Seen as both an opportunity and a threat, technology is now an unavoidable factor to be reckoned with in the luxury market. And whether it’s virtual retailing, social networking or any manner of digital or cyberspace advance, luxury brands no longer have the option of sidestepping technology.

Amen to that! Of course, the day after this piece was written, many of the traditional industry titans were gathered in Milan to ask themselves the fleeting question of whether the internet has a place in luxury. Let’s hope they were all in Berlin last week, and that‘s why the topic barely made a blip on the Milanese radar.

Mirroring my experience with industry leaders here in Italy, both through work and my experience back in business school when I interviewed dozens of CEOs and Marketing Managers of brands ranging from fashion to fine wine and motorcycles to understand their insight into the future of the luxury market, in the WWD article, Suzy Menkes had the following to say:

“The luxury market hasn’t embraced early enough or completely enough the opportunities of new technology,” IHT fashion editor Suzy Menkes told WWD shortly before the conference kicked off. This year’s technology focus was spurred, in part, by her experience of chief executive officers’ discomfort when queried about a company’s online activities. “All I’d get is a grimace, compared to the tremendous enthusiasm to how they embrace a new store,” she said.

I am very familiar with that grimace, but I personally think that a lot of the problem has to do with the fact that a great deal of the luxury-industry managers aren’t familiar with how the web can help them. With all due respect to Mme. Menkes, I believe it’s actually the luxury industry and not the luxury market – the customers are already there – which has failed to fully embrace the opportunities of new technology. Industry leaders don’t seem to view the internet as an ideal place to build a branded environment, tell your story, build a community and engage in cutting-edge customer service, but rather a murky danger-zone.

In an industry where simply knowing your way around Excel is considered a form of wizardry, it’s hardly surprising that the industry leaders might be intimidated by a technology they don’t understand, both online and off. There is definitely one industry leader out there who gets it- Burberry’s Christopher Bailey is revolutionizing the brand through technology in both marketing and internal processes, building a great digital brand presence with the added benefit of a sustainable impact.

“Technology shouldn’t be scary,” stated Burberry chief creative officer Christopher Bailey. Together with CEO Angela Ahrendts, Bailey has powered Burberry into the virtual and digital forefront both online and in-house via the use of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Burberry TV, its own social networking site, consumer e-brochures, digital look books, digital and e-commerce links to fashion shows, digital design tools, global videoconferencing, motion sensor lights, a monitor and iPod on every desk, Wi-Fi, Skype, a digital photo studio that can get images online in two hours and so on…

And the payback? Connectivity with ateliers and offices has reduced company air travel by 17 percent, digital look books have saved 32 tons of paper, online sales are growing rapidly and Burberry’s broad online presence provides the brand “with a much broader insight into the consumer and you can build more of a story,” Bailey said.

Sustainability, high ROI and social media brilliance… (I’m in love.)

And, speaking of consumer-insight and the building of the brand story, Ms Dryer goes on to introduce FASHIONAIR, a new multimedia fashion social network/e-commerce aggregator (still in the Beta phase) which seems to have the capability of dominating the online fashion forum through brand representation and creating a killer environment where consumers want to hang out. I’m so excited about this project, but it’s going to require a separate entry (most of which I just wrote and erased for the sake of “brevity”).

Back to the Techno Luxury conference… among the attendees were some of the most prominent fashion bloggers, in addition to the editor of The Business of Fashion and founder of the Luxury Society, Imran Amed. I was just reading this article from The Business of Fashion blog about the recent frenzy of staged social media activity surrounding Fashion Week, which was apparently discussed last week at the conference. I say staged because many brands today are eager to appear “on-trend” with our virtual lifestyles, without realizing that 1) it’s not a trend, and 2) you can’t always “fake it til ya make it” and consider yourself a leader.

While the article is definitely worth a full read and a spot in your Evernote files, I thought these two points were especially on-point:

It’s not enough to be seen to embrace social media. Brands and retailers must also build real long-term symbiotic relationships with bloggers, not short-term exploitative ones. Excellent examples of this are Lane Crawford, who from the start have supported and worked with Tommy Ton on their ad campaigns, and Burberry and DKNY who hired Mr. Schuman for his photography skills to appear on their website and in their advertisements, respectively.

Finally, consider the point made by Yuli Ziv, a New York-based fashion blogger who said to brands last week: “If you are looking for sales, make sure to provide [bloggers] the detailed product info, pricing and availability, if  SEO optimization is your top goal – make sure you use the right keywords in your pitch, if publicity buzz is what makes you satisfied – give them juicy stories, and if you simply want love – give them the reasons to love you.” It’s as simple as that.

Without beating a dead horse, it’s critical for brands to incorporate digital outreach into their full strategy, and not just dabble in social media in some back office. Yet for many brand leaders, there just isn’t an understanding of technical capabilities, much less of implementation and execution, and without an acceptance that the future is now (how cliché is that?!), they are going to keep throwing money into one-time-only buzz campaigns with no depth or continuity.

PR Diagram

As anyone who’s skilled in PR will tell you, the goal of a communications investment today is not to create an event that only provides a short burst of attention, but to create something that can grow and spread on its own. Even if it’s a PR event, there should be a build-up and then an follow-through which can maintain buzz over a period of time far longer than the initial event. Web marketing is the same… and I’m struggling to think of a better medium in history that could ever provide such long-term attention after an event, especially when considering digital video and other multimedia and social content.

This is important… and as one of those “digital natives,” I couldn’t have said it better myself:

I regularly hear reports of major online fashion properties who “can’t find the budgets” to hire young digital natives to help them amp up their online content. This is pennywise, pound foolish, especially as these young talents can be hired for a fraction of the cost of major photo shoot or big-time editor.  –Imran Amed

Finally, what strikes me as perhaps the most insightful part of this analysis is a comment left by Allistair Allen of AnOther Magazine. Put simply:

Hire more Geeks.

Thanks, Allistair.

Reading Material:

Defining Moments: Blog Around the Clock | WWD

From Couture to Conversation | NYT

Once Wary of the Web, Luxury Brands Embrace It | NYT

Luxury Brands and the Case for $4,000 Sunglasses | NYT

My Techno: A Designer Viewpoint | NYT

Nick Knight: Techno King | NYT

Gritty Glamor in Berlin | NYT

You can follow the International Herald Tribune Twitter archive of the Techno Luxury conference here.

References & Reading Material from Jefferson Hack’s Presentation:

Fashion Film on Dazed Digital:
——————————
Lady Gaga Exclusive: http://dazeddigital.com/features/LadyGaga.htm
Swarovski State of Grace: http://www.dazeddigital.com/projects/astateofgrace/Default.aspx
Westwood: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/846/1/Backstage_With_Vivienne_Westwood
Alexander Mcqueen A/W 09: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/2656/1/Alexander_McQueen_AW09
Tim Richardson – Transition : http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/1742/1/Rotation
Armani: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/651/1/AX_and_Dazed_present_a_film_by_Matt_Irwin
Carolotta Managio – Mutate: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/2349/1/Mutate
DKNY Turns 20: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/1687/1/DKNY_Turns_20
Martin Margiela: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/2367/1/Instant_Instinct

Authors:
——–
William Gibson : http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/
Marshall Mcluhan: http://www.marshallmcluhan.com/

Social Media
————
Charles Leadbeater: http://www.charlesleadbeater.net/home.aspx
Mashable: http://mashable.com/author/barb-dybwad/

Augmented Reality:
——————
Total Immersion:  http://www.t-immersion.com/
Layar: http://layar.com/layers/
Bruce Sterling: http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/

Interactive Design:
——————-
Uxbooth Blog: http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/the-future-of-interface-design/
This Happened:  http://www.thishappened.org/talks/

Future Publishing
—————–
Apple Tablet: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/09/apple-tablet-everything
Sony Flexible Full Color Paper Screen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6bkmPjVF-k&NR=1&feature=fvwp
E-Paper
: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq_2LiTxhls

Presentation Formats:
———————
Neil Perkins Presentation from IPA Social October 09: http://www.slideshare.net/The_IPA/neil-perkins-presentation-from-ipa-social-oct-09

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