I sit on the Board of Advisors for The Luxury Marketing Council of Connecticut-Hudson Valley (LMC). Recently, we held an event entitled: “Social Media 3.0: Thinking Through Effective Strategies to Leverage and Safeguard Digital Branding and Other Company Assets.” In a panel discussion, we explored innovative techniques for extending luxury brands’ social media content. Understanding the differentiators for luxury marketing is key to protecting luxury brands’ equity and goodwill.
After this event, I had lengthy conversations with Kathryn Minckler, Chairman of our LMC chapter (KM), and two of our speakers: Dan Strang, CEO of EventsTag.com (DS) and David Hoffman of Search Smart Marketing (DH). Below are excerpts from those exchanges.
Q. What has been the approach of luxury marketers with regard to social media?
KM. Exclusivity is one of the most critical characteristics to a lasting luxury brand. Social media, by its very definition, seems to be at odds with the concept of exclusivity. This perceived disconnection has led generally to cautious adoption of social media’s rapidly changing tools and platforms. As the millennial luxury consumer continues to gain importance and more research connects higher sales to social media events, this trend increasingly will reverse.
Q. Why does social media work for luxury marketers?
KM. Social media is at the critical juncture of many of the most significant issues facing luxury marketers, including but not limited to brand and product education, storytelling, millennial engagement, and experiential and purposeful marketing. The smart phone is becoming the medium of choice for product research and transaction. It gives great power and play to buyers who want to make educated and purposeful product choices. Social media has become the preferred tool in many instances to create and share experiences as well as knowledge.
Q. Kathryn mentions storytelling. Indeed, storytelling is crucial for luxury marketers. How does social media change the story that luxury marketers need to tell?
DS. Mass media campaigns are a large investment. To achieve a measurable return, brands often market a particular product which allows them to assess the effect on sales. This approach poses a large financial risk and can make it difficult for brands to innovate. Social media is inherently cost effective and fluid, so it allows brands to communicate in ways that are less achievable using traditional media. Its conversational nature means brands engage their audience and help them identify with the brand, which in turn increases loyalty. Research in this area indicates just how much of an impact this can have in terms of both buying from a brand they interact with and recommending it to friends.
Q. Space constraints create many legal challenges in social media. For luxury marketers, do they need more or less space to convey their message given the strength of their trademarks?
KM. When it comes to brand development, as opposed to product knowledge, it is the communication of brand values that is critical and this can be done by imagery as opposed to words to engage and educate the customer. Images and video are becoming more important than ever. How images, both those developed by the customer as well as the companies themselves, attach to brands with protection is a fascinating topic for discussion.
DS. Social marketing allows both luxury and non-luxury brands to issue short but frequent messages, and to experiment with messaging – they are not tied to marketing specific products with every message. Luxury brands in particular feel the space constraints less. Their products and image are inherently aesthetic, so their message carries well in this format. The space-constrained nature of social media can feel like a hindrance, but this forces brands to be more conversational and approachable, which is an excellent way to engage fans. Social media marketing, while sometimes seen as a standalone channel, really demonstrates its value when used in tandem with other channels to maximize the impact of luxury brand campaigns.
Q. How does the speed of social media make luxury brands feel? Threatened or excited? Or does it depend on the brand?
KM. Generally speaking, luxury brands are slow to adopt to anything that could impact the communication, experiences associated with and integrity of their brand. I don’t know yet if it is an underlying cause or effect of this phenomena but a recent survey conducted by The Luxury Marketing Council of Connecticut-Hudson Valley highlighted the lack of basic understanding and usage of social media by many senior marketing executives. We are about to engage in a parallel survey of consumers in Greenwich, Connecticut, consistently recognized as one most important luxury markets, and it will be very interesting to see how the results line up.
DS. A mixture. The speed and reach of social media can cause small issues to snowball if not managed correctly, but brands who take a positive approach to social in facilitating and steering conversations are able to use social media as an effective tool to grow the perceived value of their brand. As a fairly young marketing channel, there are also a wealth of opportunities to innovate in ways that capture both their target audience and the media’s attention, which makes this a very exciting prospect for luxury brands.
Q. Dan, could you give some examples of luxury brands that have combined event marketing with social media marketing?
DS. Burberry is leading the pack in terms of innovative marketing for fashion brands. They have used social media to allow fans who aren’t physically at their shows to interact with them. This involved live posting on Instagram, Vine and streaming their shows on Asian messaging app line, giving an increasingly wealthy Chinese audience a glimpse of the brand’s upcoming offerings. Twitter users could also tweet to the Burberry account during the show to trigger a camera to take a snap from the best vantage point which was then personalized and tweeted back. And after the show, Burberry customers could buy items from the runway monogrammed with their name and initials.
Ferrari is another innovative brand who has seen the benefit of social media and is utilizing it fully to connect with its audience. For the launch of Ferrari’s new model, it worked with EventsTag to actively encourage social posting at a launch event. Ferrari created a bespoke live social media wall, which allowed guests to become part of the spectacle by having their photos included on the display around the car. This provided encouragement to post with focused attention to the chosen hashtag. This approach helped Ferrari keep the exclusive feeling at its event, while multiplying the digital outreach by accessing guests’ considerable online network.
Q. I’ve heard it said that social media and search engine marketing are “tied at the hip”. How does this apply to luxury brands and their use of social media?
DH. When search engines are determining how a brand should rank in their indexes, they’re looking not only at “on-page” elements such as web site content, coding and performance such as page load speed. They’re also looking at a site’s “web footprint” – activity from social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. If a site is actively maintaining its social media with new posts, promotions, reviews and other content, this provides search engines with indications of fresh, current content related to the brand. In turn, if content is also being shared socially – liked, retweeted, posted by bloggers, etc. – this activity indicates to search engines that the brand is important and should have visibility in search engine results.
Q. How does this intersection of SEO and social media play a role in luxury brand protection?
DH: If you search for “Gucci” on Google, in addition to gucci.com, you’ll see Gucci’s other “web assets” help to dominate search results. The gucci.com listing is followed immediately by Google+ pages for local stores; Gucci’s Facebook; Wikipedia entry; and Twitter feed. You need to go well below the scroll before you get listings for resellers such as Neiman Marcus, news stories from GQ and Slate and other Gucci-related content. Having, and optimizing, a range of other assets helps Gucci maintain valuable search engine result “real estate.”
As shown by the above conversations, luxury brands may move cautiously into social media marketing. Once luxury brands have bought into social media, however, they tend to be innovative and trend setting with their marketing efforts. Their initial caution is wise as a measured approach serves to protect luxury brands’ reputations, intellectual property, and assets, and to fend off regulatory investigations. In addition, luxury brands’ ingenuity in creating multidimensional social campaigns often present multidisciplinary legal issues that require careful planning. Those vetting efforts certainly should be side by side with other measures, like SEO, to protect luxury brands from interlopers and counterfeiters.
Brands in other sectors may be tempted to initiate copycat campaigns. However, one size does not fit all in social media. In addition, what seems creative for one brand may create legal risk for others. At the same time, the creativity that luxury brands generate in their marketing raises the bar for other market sectors.