Luxury brands can maintain their integrity online, but it requires a commitment to data, testing and flexibility across many teams, not just campaign marketers.

Randi Gladstone

Randi Gladstone, independent retail consultant

On the outside, looking in. That is how it can sometimes feel for a marketer at a luxury brand, especially when so many digital innovations just don’t seem like the right fit for the white-glove customer experience that the brand stands for.

But, for the luxury retailer, digital marketing is not about doing nothing or everything—there are valuable options in between. With a strong focus on consistent online customer experience, selective testing, and focusing on data and insights, luxury retailers can become digital powerhouses.

For fast fashion, CPG and traditional ecommerce retailers, developing an omnichannel strategy makes sense, and with so much volume, scale and speed, testing can have relatively low risks. However, for a luxury retailer that needs to maintain an elite experience for their customer base, digital amplification needs to be more strategic.

White glove means knowing your customer

Unlike fast fashion or CPG, a luxury purchase has a long lead time and needs nurturing through personalized and targeted marketing campaigns. Of course, direct mail and magazine ads are valuable, but consumers are now online. It’s the reality that luxury retailers must accommodate.

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It’s these longer lead times that retailers need to consider when determining their digital strategy, nurturing conversion through storytelling across suitable digital channels. The first step to lead nurturing comes from having the best possible insights.

The first step toward customer insight is to partner with a customer relationship management (CRM) provider to understand customer preferences and the different customer journey elements the retailer could move online. Brands can map out a nurturing story that considers seasonality, holidays and promotions and how those can affect individual buying habits. See what products customers bought as a first purchase to understand what they might like next; for example, a wallet to go with their bag or earrings at a comparable price point to a necklace.

Retailers can segment customers by category preference, sensitivity to promotional deals, and even by how frequently they browse and on what channels. Retailers now have insight into who prospects are and where they come from. CRM data can help email marketers understand the value props that motivate a faster speed to purchase.

Stay true to your luxury experience

Hublot, the luxury watch brand, resisted ecommerce channels until recently when they found a solution that continued their focus on rich experiences and customer service. They created two virtual storefronts, one from Switzerland and one in China, which use state-of-the-art technology to connect a live salesperson with a buyer and beautiful 3-D imagery of the watches. This combination of high-touch sales and high-tech ecommerce works because Hublot kept its standards consistent as it moved online.

But how does a retailer get a customer to sign up for that virtual watch appointment? That’s when nurturing campaigns come into play.

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Creativity in channels like email and SMS messaging is necessary to create that consistent customer journey—and one that takes advantage of the insights and segmentation work that can serve as the foundation of a personalized approach.

Email and campaign marketers are often up against a panel of creative talent who have successfully produced highly curated, highly visual, brand-driven campaigns for retail, print, and TV. Often, there can be major resistance internally to test personalized and targeted messaging that migrates away from a one-size-fits-all approach of keeping the beautiful imagery intact. This process is the perfect opportunity to develop a more collaborative relationship with the creative team, explain campaign objectives, and close the loop on performance after go-live. Working together is vital to ensure upfront alignment, which helps to create a streamlined and successful partnership go-forward.

Products that have been created with such detail, history and artistry can be marketed with the personalized “Amazon” approach when marketers work with creative teams and brand managers to focus on the right customer experience.

Here are a few ways to approach personalization at scale while maintaining brand integrity:

  • Plan ahead: Work with the creative team before their next assignment to create multiple versions of a campaign informed by target personas or specific categories.
  • Prove value with testing: Continuously test different concepts that drive learnings and insights to share with the organization. It might be necessary to perform periodic brand surveys to prove that the added conversions are not eroding long-term brand value.
  • Perform a competitive analysis: Look outside the organization to generate inspiration. For example, MatchesFashion.com placed well in this year’s Retail Personalization Index from Sailthru to use personalized email campaigns triggered by customer behavior. By staying competitive in the industry and exceeding customer expectations, luxury retailers can continue to find a natural niche online.
  • Design flexible email templates: Create emails that can accommodate multiple content blocks, prioritized in different combinations to personalize messaging for other individuals.

Embrace change

Closed doors are opening without hurting the exclusivity that drives luxury brands, and it’s primarily due to digital. For example, brands can livestream runway shows and share trunk shows on platforms like WeChat for immediate online purchasing.

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Bain reports that online sales for luxury brands almost doubled in 2020, increasing from 12% in 2019 to 23% in 2020. Ecommerce is set to grow, and Bain predicts it will be the leading distribution channel for luxury by 2025.

This is just the beginning of the digital renaissance for luxury brands, and consumers are leading the change. Luxury brands can maintain their integrity online, but it requires a commitment to data, testing and flexibility across many teams, not just campaign marketers.

Randi Gladstone an independent retail consultant and former head of global email marketing at Tory Burch,

 

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