Luxury brands struggling to create the right online presence

By April 02, 2015
Place Vendôme

At the present time, luxury goods brands are still finding it difficult to transpose their exclusive features into a coherent online strategy.

These days all luxury brands maintain a presence on the social networks and post videos designed to promote their products, some of which go viral and some of which do not. This means that the luxury sector has a high online profile. However it remains to be seen whether the type of digital communication being used by luxury goods companies really suits the exclusive nature of the brands. Do the channels and materials used by such firms as Chanel and Louis Vuitton really help to create value? It is not by any means certain that showing a YouTube video of their latest product next to one starring an American pop idol is a wise move. The key question here is why are they doing this? Fabrice Starzinskas, Creative Studio Director at Bright, a French agency which helps digital artists to host, distribute and monetise their work, asks whether the ultimate goal of brands whose core feature is ‘being desired by many but accessible to just few’ should be wide popularity on the Internet. A key point worth mentioning here is that people who follow luxury brands online, those who for instance ‘like’ the photos on these brands’ Facebook accounts, are generally not actually customers of the brands.

          The latest clip from Christian Dior: over 5 million views on YouTube

Various online approaches, little result

Luxury brands are in a quandary, largely because of the basic contradiction of using digital technology – which is a mass approach – to promote products that are supposed to be exclusive. Some firms – such as Hermès, with its e-commerce site where the only products you could buy online were a few of its famous squares – cold-shouldered the Internet for a long time. Conversely, a number of brands have launched into producing artistic videos which have been viewed by millions of people, e.g. Cartier’s Odyssey, which has been viewed close to 18 million times. Other brands, in a bid to align their online presence with their core values, post videos showing part of the process of making their products, as Van Cleef & Arpels has done by publishing sketches of some of its pieces of jewellery, and Christian Dior has done with its video demonstrating how its leather bags are made. These videos have garnered so few viewers – just a few thousand – that one is tempted to think those brands are not really looking to achieve mass communication.

Perhaps one solution would be to find the right intermediary to front their online communication. In other words, to find the right ambassador. The blog mode would seem to lend itself, but this is not the only way. Olivier Rousteing, the young artistic director at the Pierre Balmain fashion house, has over a million subscribers to his Instagram account. In addition to his selfies next to Rihanna, he is not shy about posing here and there with models wearing the latest Balmain creations. Customers now walk into the brand’s stores demanding to try items of clothing they have seen in photos posted on Instagram by Olivier Rousteing.

Instagram Olivier Rousteing

 The Instagram account of Balmain’s artistic director Olivier Rousteing has one million-plus subscribers

Innovation : luxury brands need to identify themselves more with new technology

However, apart from a few exceptions, luxury goods companies have always been hesitant when it comes to experimenting with technology. One might even say they seem reluctant to change. Today they are still having difficulty coming to terms with the online world and often demand guarantees of success before venturing into a new approach. This is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that some of these firms were founded over 150 years ago, and in-store customer service has always been their key differentiator. So how can they stand out in a world of technological innovation? How can their tradition of personalised service be transposed into the digital context? We should not forget that the stakes are high. Luxury brands need to be seen to excel at what they do and if they are to go the digital route must be at the cutting edge of what is happening.

Fabrice Starzinskas argues that ‟the industry now needs some disruption”. And he feels that digital art and creative technologies – “using digital through an artistic lens” – could well be among the drivers of progress for luxury goods firms. How could that work in practice? Sales areas could for instance be decorated with digital works of art and temporary art installations could be set up in luxury brand stores. The luxury goods industry must also be prepared to take risks. ‟There is no single recipe for success”, as each firm has its own values and characteristics, Starzinskas points out. Which basically means that luxury goods brands must opt for innovative approaches that reflect their personal DNA.

Van Cleef & Arpels publishes videos showing part of the jewellery-making process: 10,000 views to date

Legal mentions © L’Atelier BNP Paribas