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How Luxury Brands are Using Social Media to Woo A New Generation of Customers

Burberry, Michael Kors and Tiffany & Co led the digital charge, and are reaping great dividends.

iIn a world as fickle as fashion, one day you’re in – and the next, you’re out. And it appears that, these days, being “in” means leading the social media front in terms of digital innovation.

No stranger to this brave new world that has largely been approached in trepidation by the luxury sector, Burberry has been the poster child in this Internet age. In April, it became the first luxury brand to use social media app Snapchat’s Discover channel – a feature so far used only by online media outlets like Buzzfeed and Vice to create original content.

  • From Burberry's Snapchat campaign

Once thought of as gimmicky, social media is now more crucial than ever in a luxury brand’s advertising campaign, since mobile gadgets are often a consumer’s first point of contact with the world. What were once closed-door events have turned into marketing extravaganzas – and those who don’t cash in on social media’s breadth of reach will only lose out.

The point is to capitalise on millennials’ curiosity – and the prevailing fear of missing out. “To stay true to their luxury ethos would mean that the luxury brands stay off the Web, or at best have only an informational, brand-building presence on it, and limit interactive communication on the Web or social media to a select group of loyal, and by-invitation-only customers. But the challenge is to resist the temptation to join in, when most of your competitors have begun making that switch,” says Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University.

  • WOOING NEW FANS Iconic jeweller Tiffany & Co is reaching out to millennials and Generation Z by featuring up-and-coming models such as Pyper America Smith, sister of top male model Lucky Blue Smith, in its latest digital campaign #LoveNotLike. Photo: Cass Bird

And in this hyper-connected digital world, it pays to engage and interact with followers, as such two-way exchanges have been found to increase brand awareness, and eventually lead to purchases.

Authenticity is key for luxury brands in the social media space, says Tjin Lee, founder of PR and events firm Mercury Marketing & Communications, and Singapore Fashion Week. “It is important to work with people who genuinely like and support your brand, and promote it because they are passionate about it. That authenticity comes across in the content they create.”

Which was why Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and president, launched a Snapchat campaign. “There’s a mix of reality, intimacy and inclusivity that other platforms don’t really capture in the same way,” Bailey told The New York Times.

“Fans want to know how our things are made and the stories behind the scenes. They want more access and more authenticity, and, if that’s what they are demanding, then we need to listen and find new and exciting ways of democratically bringing them into our world.”


“FANS WANT MORE ACCESS AND MORE AUTHENTICITY… WE NEED TO LISTEN AND FIND NEW AND EXCITING WAYS OF DEMOCRATICALLY BRINGING THEM INTO OUR WORLD.”

– CHRISTOPHER BAILEY, BURBERRY’S CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER AND PRESIDENT


While the global luxury goods market grew 1 to 2 per cent last year, Burberry’s revenue was up 11 per cent. Over 40 million fans follow it on social media, a 30 per cent increase from that of 2015.

It’s not the only one who has reaped fruit. Iconic jewellery brand Tiffany & Co and US fashion label Michael Kors, too, have been rewarded handsomely.

  • Burberry

“Knowing our customers – who they are and how they use social media – is how we determine where we need to be,” Erica Kerner, Tiffany & Co’s Asia-Pacific vice-president for marketing, tells The Peak. “In today’s world, the question that brands ask is not whether to have a presence on social media, but how to have a strong and engaging presence on social media. The reality is that social media is a big part of people’s lives, including our customers’ and fans’.”

TO JOIN OR NOT TO JOIN

Despite well-documented successes, the luxury world is largely still reluctant to pursue social media campaigns more aggressively, for fear of ubiquity.

“There’s a heavy focus on quality, heritage, and, in some ways, a certain level of exclusivity. By being quiet or not paying attention to what’s happening on social (media), many (luxury) brands are becoming blind to how they’re being discussed online and the way social affects fashion,” James Lovejoy, social media monitoring and analytics company Brandwatch’s content researcher, told US website Refinery29.

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Critics lashed out at Burberry for hiring Brooklyn Beckham, son of footballer David Beckham and fashion designer Victoria, as photographer for its Burberry Brit fragrance campaign, but the brand had the last laugh. Instagram and Snapchat feeds of the shoot registered a reported 15 million views in the eight hours the shoot was taking place.

Brands also struggle to quantify tangible return on investment in social media, as the initial motive of such campaigns is to build awareness, inspire a particular lifestyle and create aspiration, rather than conversion to real spending. But considering today’s consumer behaviour habits, it would be remiss of luxury brands to neglect the social media front.

In a July 2015 survey by management consultancy McKinsey, three out of four luxury purchases by 7,000 shoppers were influenced by what was seen, done and heard online.

“Social media, aside from its e-commerce abilities, is no different from traditional media in its function as a communication channel,” says Doreen Kum, senior lecturer at NUS Business School’s department of marketing. “Just because a brand is more advertised does not make it more accessible or mass. A brand still maintains its positioning, through its products and pricing.

“I think the greatest challenge is to stay creative enough to break through the clutter and wealth of information that calls out for consumers’ attention.”

It is a constant balancing act, admits Kerner. “The beauty of social media is that the fans are in control of how the message is amplified, but for a luxury brand where every detail is thought through, that can be counter-intuitive. For Tiffany, being a leader in this industry and staying constantly on top of the marketing game is a challenge (because) technology changes so quickly.”

High-end brands would do better to create videos or editorial-driven content, in order to have tighter control on how they are portrayed, Lee suggests. “Chanel cleverly uses multiple channels, such as influencer seeding for its leather goods, which has a wider market appeal than, say, its fashion line, which remains more exclusive and aspirational. It creates widespread brand awareness and desire, while retaining prestige and exclusivity.”

(READ ALSO: Our watch columnist lays out why he thinks social media and haute horlogerie don’t mix.)

Where does that leave traditional advertising outlets like print? Experts tell The Peak that print and digital can be a powerful combination. Lee says: “Digital cannot yet replace the beautiful fashion spreads and photographs that you can see and touch in a print magazine. The digital disruption is here, but it has not replaced the authority or relevance that the traditional media owns as an authority, its prestige and credibility.”

Kum says: “Consumers are known to be omni-channel consumers, so brands also need to synchronise their digital presence well with their brick and mortar stores and (presence in the) traditional media.”

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Header image: (PYPER AMERICA SMITH FOR TIFFANY & CO) CASS BIRD, modified