Marketing Luxury - how Burberry reshapes the entire notion of luxury brands through social media

Written by: Daniel Berglund

During 2015, the designer brand Burberry decided to break all norms of luxury fashion with their social media activities, creating one of the most talked about marketing campaigns of the year, reaching millions of people all over the world. Here's why they did it.

In the world of luxury, tradition, exclusivity and exclusion are key terms. Luxury brands are about elevating oneself from the rest, to distinguish and to stand apart (Kapferer, 2012), not about sharing and including the masses. Although in 2015, the British fashion giant decided to do just that. By launching a marketing campaign via the social media apps Twitter, Snapchat and Periscope, it managed to reach nearly 100 million people world-wide (Digiday, 2016), creating a huge boost in brand equity. 

Burberry runway during the London in Los Angeles Fashion Show 2015.  The entire show streamed live via Periscop e. Picture from mosnarcommunications.com

Burberry runway during the London in Los Angeles Fashion Show 2015. 

The entire show streamed live via Periscop e. Picture from mosnarcommunications.com

 

The standard procedure of fashion weeks is usually about who best can keep the secret. Fashion houses try to minimize the amount of information that leaks regarding preparations and set-up, everything to generate as much publicity as possible about the actual show. This was not the case at the LA Fashion Week where Burberry did the exact opposite, using Snapchat to post short videos of all the preparations leading up to the show. But most importantly, fans could follow the entire show live on Periscope. Everything neatly directed by Burberry marketing managers and ultimately generating what Burberry CFO Carol Fairweather called "the best results ever in terms of digital engagement" (Momentology, 2015).

This marketing campaign was not an exception, rather the grand finale of a long engagement to social media made by the fashion giant. Already back in 2006, then Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts declared that the company aimed at being the first fully digital luxury brand (Digiday, 2015). This is no small commitment in an industry defined by excluding those unable to afford it and that doesn't consider itself consumer driven (Kapferer, 2012). More so, luxury brands pride themselves to stay above client's demand, whilst for example FMCG brands willingly bend to the wishes of their customers (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009). So why bother? Why commit to something that borderline contradicts the entire foundation of luxury?

 

In awe of the unobtainable

To fully understand why Burberry would choose to venture into seemingly unchartered territory, one must first understand what characteristics that actually define a luxury brand. The first thing that comes to mind when talking about luxury in general is naturally price. Luxury brands and their products require a significant price premium comparedto other  products with similar features (Heine, 2012). But this is not the only defining characteristics of a luxury brand,there are many things with a high price that wouldn't qualify as luxury. The price in itself defines rather the wealth of the buyer, than the social distinction that essentially is luxury (Kapferer & Bastein, 2009).

More than price, consumers demand a higher quality along with tasteful aesthetics (among many), when buying a luxury product. But above all others, what consumers are looking for is ra rity (Heine, 2012). Luxury companies achieve this rarity by limiting production and setting a high enough price to exclude the masses from purchasing the product or enlisting the service. In short, consumers want to be the only one, or a part of an exclusive group of people able to obtain the brand. This is essentially what luxury is all about, sometimes referred to as the "DNA of Luxury" (Kapferer & Bastein, 2009, pp 4).

With this statement occurs a natural exclusion, i.e. luxury products exclude a great number of people unable to afford or acquire it. In short, one could say that luxury products mean wanting something that not everyone can get, and the more people that can't get it, the better it is. As you've probably guessed, this is where social media comes in. By using Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat and Periscope, Burberry have in a brilliant way created the admiration and wanting of millions upon millions of people. Subsequently increasing the number of people left out, unable to join the club. What's even more impressive with this feat, is that people themselves choose to participate and co-create. It's not forced, one-way communication as is the case with traditional marketing activities.

But is that all, is Burberry merely using social media to create outsiders, admiring from afar? Of course not, social media plays a much bigger role than that.

 

Catch 'em early

When performing traditional marketing, one segments the market, finds a target consumer for the marketing efforts and then implements them. All efforts towards consumers not included in the target audience is essentially a waste of money (Kapferer & Bastein, 2009). So when Burberry tweets about how to wear a cashmere scarf or live broadcast their runway show on Periscope, do they then market to a specific target audience that should buy the scarf and no one else? Probably not. Besides, one hardly goes looking for a £600 scarf on Twitter.

Instead, what Burberry does with these social media efforts is create admiration and loyalty. The majority of users on Periscope is between 13 and 34 and the usage declines rapidly with age (Tubefilter, 2015). Twitter has a slightly higher average age but is predominantly used by a demographic between 18 and 30 (Sproutsocial, 2015). Now, it's unlikely that the average 16- year-old could afford a £600 scarf, let alone a £6000 dress. But one day they might, and when that day comes, guess which brand they are going to turn to! The former CEO of BMW once said that his job was to make sure that the 18-year-olds in the country would decide that, as soon as they had the money, they would buy a BMW (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009). The same goes for the social media activities of Burberry. When all of the young men and women one day can afford luxury apparel, Burberry should be the natural choice.

The function of social media is therefore to create an emotional bond with potential customers. Previously, the sole aim of luxury firms has been to build social status. Now the aim is rather focused on emotional attachment for the customer, with the end goal of achieving brand loyalty (Cailleux, Mignot and Kapferer, 2009).

 

Looking ahead

What all this tells us is that the aim of the former Burberry CEO to become the first fully digital luxury brands wasn't such a bad idea after all, all things considered. If the company stays active and relevant, there is a good chance that it can generate a lot of future brand equity with consumers that today aren't close to being customers. But who knows what the future has in store.

What then are the key aspects to focus on in the future for Burberry and other brands alike? Well as of now, Burberry has been able to reap the benefits of first mover advantage by using the latest media in Periscope for their marketing activities. It was new and fresh which evidently was a success with the younger audience. Not to mention all the generated publicity in other forms of printed media such as biogs, fashion magazines and newspapers. But with more brands catching on (e.g. Ralph Lauren and Versace have already used it in smaller scale), Burberry can no longer be satisfied with justbeing there. Content will be key.

Since more and more brands are starting to use a multitude of social media channels, the attention span of consumers will rapidly decline. Companies can no longer afford to publish something that  isn't consistent with the target audience's perception and expectation of what is the brand. Brands looking for loyalty must make sure to align their content with their brand identity across channels to guarantee that consumers maintain that personal connection that has been deemed so vita l. Still, it remains to be seen whether that hard earned brand equity of luxury brands will fully transfer into the digital world. At least Burberry is on the right path.