Written by Linda Wölk
In part I of this post the characteristics of social media and luxury brands were explored and set into comparison. As a result social media and luxury brands seem incompatible at a first glance. However, taking a closer look social media incorporates several aspects that luxury brands can use to their advantage when promoting their exclusivity online. This second part of the post depicts examples of luxury brands that succeeded in maintaining exclusivity online and also an example that is taking exclusivity too far.
COACH – combining uniqueness and individualization
While consumers partially buy luxury products to feel part of a selective group, they also have a strong desire to express their individuality (The Business of Fashion, 2011). This goes hand in hand with the final piece of the success formula of luxury brands – ‘uniqueness’.
The luxury brand Coach found an ideal way to transfer the aspect of uniqueness to its online community by launching the contest ‘Design a Tote’. The essence of this contest was to invite consumers to co-create the brand and to satisfy the consumer’s desire for individualization. As part of the contest consumers were asked to create and send in their own unique design of a Coach Tote bag and the winning design was sold as a limited edition throughout the Coach stores (Brickfish, 2009). The contest was integrated with social media through a widget that could be added to the user’s social media pages to allow voting for the favourite design. This resulted in 3200 entries that Coach received in less than 6 weeks (Carter, 2009). At the same time Coach reinforced its heritage, by suggesting to the user its signature patterns during the design process.
This approach was very suitable for a luxury brand, as it allowed the brand to maintain its exclusivity, while also inviting consumers to collaborate and engage with the brand. Asking users to express themselves in their own designs perfectly addresses consumers’ desire for individualization. Additionally, selling the final design as a limited edition creates the impression of scarcity and rarity, which reinforces the perception of exclusivity of the Coach brand.
SWAROVSKI - Using influencers to tell the story
As mentioned in part I influencers and strong brand advocates can help a luxury brand tell their version of the brand story on social media. The advantage is that influencers have a strong base of followers and their messages are seen as highly credible, trustworthy and they can result in setting trends (Booth & Matic, 2011). At the same time influencers, when carefully selected, are highly obsessed with the brand and can act as the voice of the brand.
Swarovski made use of this strategy for the launch of its spring collection in 2014 and developed the #SwarovskiLook campaign. They connected with four international fashion bloggers to “emphasize the fashionable appeal of its collections, and also to exemplify the diversity of styles Swarovski can actually suit to.” (King, 2014, para.3). Each week for the duration of the 4-week campaign one of the fashion bloggers introduced the newest spring styles combined with Swarovski jewelry to consumers in the form of video content (an example can be found below from Amber Renae’s blog). Through these videos Swarovski aimed to present their jewelry as more fashionable and suitable for every day looks.
Did this make Swarovski lose its exclusivity? From my perspective, I wouldn’t think so, as through the selective use of these fashion bloggers Swarovski only found a way to better reach their target market. Additionally, this mechanism allowed Swarovski to follow the rules of social media, while not completely losing brand ownership online.
Video: Swarovski Launch Fashion blogger Amber Renae (Amber Renae, 2014)
BURBERRY- in need for more brand engagement
Upholding exclusivity does not mean that interaction with users is forbidden. While Burberry is hyped as one of the most forward-thinking luxury brands when it comes to the use of social media, it might be taking exclusivity too far. Burberry’s strong use of social media was best demonstrated when they unveiled their 2012 collection via Twitter and Instagram before it was presented at the London Fashion Week (Phan et. al., 2012).
Although Burberry is present on all social media platforms with a high number of followers they are not engaging with them and therefore not using social media to its maximum (Williamson, 2014). On Twitter the brand has posted 7,352 tweets but throughout them the brand is not interacting with its ordinary followers, but only with celebrities. Similarly, on Pinterest Burberry has 125,270 followers, but the brand is only following 28 and has not liked any picture taken by another user.
These two examples exemplify that Burberry might not yet be taking advantage of the unique characteristics of social media that allow luxury brands to connect with their customers in an exclusive way. Maybe Burberry should take a look at Swarovski’s social media strategy, as they seem to have understood how to connect with their target audience. Looking at Swarovski’s Pinterest page one can see that the brand has shown interest in the conversations of their followers through the 1656 likes they have given to users’ pictures.
The concepts of luxury and social media both turn the rules of traditional marketing upside down. Luxury brands with their unique characteristics are predominately faced with more challenges than other product categories when operating within the openness of social media. Some luxury brands such as Swarovski have understood how to use the characteristics of social media to their advantage. They have embraced social media’s strong focus on relationship building together with its specific mechanisms for targeting and engaged with their fans in a way that maintains the exclusivity of the brand. Other brands such as Burberry, although early adopters of social media, have not yet figured out how to be exclusive without shielding away from their customers. Maintaining exclusivity online does not mean to build a wall between the users and the brand in the hope to remain mystique and inaccessible. It should rather be to build a bridge that reaches even closer to consumers and encourages a discourse with them. With this in mind another question to think about is: how far can luxury brands go to engage with their beloved followers, before crossing the line to ordinary fashion brands.
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