Burberry, under the direction of (now-departing) CEO Angela Ahrendts and chief creative officer Christopher Bailey, has earned itself a reputation within the luxury industry as a digital pioneer and leader in integration, creativity and experimentation.
It all started on the back of a cocktail napkin in New York City in 2006, when the pair met to discuss their vision for the brand ahead of Ahrendts’ appointment in London.
“The number one strategy that came (from our first meeting) was all centred around the brand,” explained the CEO to Harvard Business Review. “How we needed to purify the brand message and how we were going to do that; by focusing on outerwear, by focusing on digital, by targeting a younger consumer.”
“Technology is an intrinsic part of most people’s lives,” believes Bailey. “All we’ve done is make sure to weave technology into the fabric of the company” (Telegraph). “This is how customers live,” echoes its CEO. “They wake up with a device in their hand and life begins.”
“ This is how customers live, they wake up with a device in their hand and life begins ”
In 2013 digital excellence as a cornerstone of C-Suite strategy is nothing new, but at the time it was a far more radical proposition. 2006 was the year that Facebook opened its community to the general public, the year that Twitter launched, the first time that MySpace debuted outside the United States. Social media as we know it was in its infancy. The iPhone did not yet exist.
Committing to the digital world still took some time. Burberry joined Facebook in 2009 as one of the first luxury brands to sign on with the platform. Just four years later, it has amassed over 16 million fans, leveraging its page to share catwalk, campaign and behind the scenes content, as well as brand news, store openings and milestone events.
Though Facebook constitutes its largest audience, the brand also engages consumers on Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. Its online digital flagship, burberry.com, delivers to over 40 countries, is available in five languages, and has click to chat and click to call customer service facilities in 14 different dialects.
Burberry Retail Theatre
As recently as May 2013, @BurberryService – the official Burberry customer service Twitter account – was launched, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The brand has also begun to launch regional accounts on Twitter and Facebook, in territories such as Australia, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, Japan, France and Turkey.
Again on YouTube, users can interact with all aspects of the Burberry universe, with dedicated ‘playlists’ addressing campaigns, campaigns, shows, acoustic, beauty, eyewear, childrenswear, events and even corporate news.
Then there are the numerous independent platforms, campaigns and events, ever seeking to bridge the gap between the digital and physical. In 2009 the brand launched Art of the Trench, an independent social-networking site where “trend-spotting Burberry lovers snap and share trench looks from the street.”
“ You can’t start live-streaming a show and carry on doing everything else exactly the same as before ”
Burberry commissioned photographer and blogger Scott Schuman, known as The Sartorialist, to shoot 100 different people wearing a Burberry trench or Burberry outerwear, in cities around the world. Christopher Bailey has admitted to using the site as a source of inspiration.
The brand went on to launch Runway to Reality, where initially, VIP clients were invited to key flagship stores to watch the runway show live on commanding digital screens. Each was provided with an iPad that could be used to order product direct from the catwalk, for delivery in an unheard-of six weeks.
Such functionality has since been extended to the general public viewing the live stream of shows on Burberry.com, two million or so people watching online. The same treatment has been made to the majority of its video advertising campaigns, where one can click-to-buy when viewing the films on burberry.com.
Burberry’s Art of the Trench microsite
“I felt strongly that you can’t just start live-streaming a show and then carry on doing everything else exactly the same as you were doing before,” explained Bailey to GQ. “So we started doing ‘runway to reality’, where you can click to buy as you’re watching the shows.”
“Shows traditionally were presented to the fashion buyers’ industry, but if you’re inviting the public, you can’t suddenly tell them that they have to work in the way that the industry works. That they have to wait another six months before they can get their hands on the clothes."
The brand continued to challenge the traditional BtoB fashion model with the introduction of Tweetwalk in 2011, where posted an image of each look to Twitter before it hit the runway. This was perhaps its boldest gesture of consumer affection to date, giving viewers access to product before it was seen by buyers or the press.
“ Personalisation plays a key role in Burberry’s digital strategy, in both communications & product ”
An initiative in keeping with Angela Ahrendts’ belief that social media requires a personal connection. ”We decided that Christopher would become the face (of Burberry) on Facebook. I think that is what (users) want on social media. We now countdown to the runway show and Christopher will be in the design studio, talking to the fans on Facebook. He will be backstage at the show, talking to the fans on Facebook.”
Indeed when the brand reaches a milestone on Facebook – most recently its 15 millionth like – Bailey is the one that takes to the camera to personally thank all the fans on the platform. Handwritten notes by the chief creative are also regularly viewed on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.
Personalisation also plays a key role in Burberry’s digital strategy, in both product and communications. Burberry Bespoke was launched in 2011 via burberry.com, whereby users can develop a unique trench coat online, by choosing style, fabric, colour, embellishments and heritage details.
More recently the brand launched an initiative alongside Google Chrome, whereby users can send customised virtual kisses – in Burberry lip colours – via a desktop camera or touchscreen device. The “journey” of each kiss is then “brought to life” via a 3D animation using Google Earth and Streetview products to chart its progress which is then displayed to the recipient. These journeys can then be shared via Google+.
On top of all this, Burberry has launched a digital flagship dedicated to the Chinese market, and operates profiles on Youku, Jiepang, Sina Weibo, Douban and Vogue China, with an estimated audience exceeding 11 million users.
But its most significant digital undertaking has been the launch of its London boutique on Regent Street, internally referred to as ‘Burberry World Live.’ Housed in a Grade II listed building, the store was renovated by British craftsmen “to restore a wealth of historic features, (whilst) at the same time pushing the boundaries of digital technology.”
“ The architecture & layout of the Regent Street store was dictated by the site map of the digital flagship ”
Case in point, the architecture and layout of the store was dictated by the site map of the digital flagship. Much like a ‘homepage,’ visitors walk into a space containing the whole collection, but as they move through, the offer becomes increasingly more specific as you “click through” the world of Burberry. Floor space is divided between Bespoke, Acoustic and Experiences, just as digital space is divided on burberry.com.
The brand has begun embedding digital chips into products, which activate short films telling the story of its creation from sketches to runway edits. When consumers move throughout the store, various mirrors turn into digital screens that react to the “radio-frequency identification” chips and related content is streamed to that screen.
“We had realised that we had created a lot of platforms that only exist online,” continued Bailey with GQ, “so we decided we had to bring these to life. Our approach to the store was to make a bridge between the online and offline experience. Today I think we’re less concerned about where we actually shop, and more concerned about the experience we have while we’re shopping.”
Burberry’s Regent Street Flagship
And then there is the technology that drives the entire back end of the business, bespoke social systems designed in collaboration with Salesforce and SAP. Burberry World is a suite of apps by Salesforce that allows sales, service staff and customers to interact as one community. The Chatter app allows sales and service staff to access traditional CRM and social customer data on a global scale.
For all these reasons and indeed more, all kinds of luxury and consumer brands are always on the look out for what Burberry will do next. Though for Christopher Bailey, its position as a digital leader is all about fostering innovation and never being afraid to experiment. Instead the brand will continue to focus on integration and consistency.
“We never think, ‘What’s next? What do we have to do?’’ explains Bailey. “We don’t want to check the box and do the next thing. As long as we keep thinking in terms of making sure that we integrate all our worlds, the thing I’m excited about is linking everything up together.
“Whether it’s Tumblr or Instagram or Twitter or Facebook or burberry.com , it’s a question of how we can make sure that’s one world.”
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