Luxury brands must shift from interruption to relevance, says Google

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The fashion industry needs to focus in on relevancy and personalisation in order to better reach today’s luxury consumer, said Pia Stanchina, Industry Manager of fashion at Google UK, during last week’s #fashmash event in London.

While your average consumer expects to now get what they want, when they want, where they want, the same is doubly true when applied to luxury, she explained to the crowd of 75 guests – heads of digital and social media from across the fashion industry, including designer brands, retailers and relevant technology companies – who were celebrating the relaunch of Fashion & Mash at the all-new Google Glass Basecamp.

She referred to luxury consumers as “more mobile, more demanding and more connected” than ever. The stats back it up: luxury consumers have 2x the smartphone penetration of the average consumer, and 75% of them now research luxury purchases online, according to a study from Google in September 2013 called ” How wealthy shoppers buy luxury goods: a global view”.

In fact, mobile searches in most retail categories are set to overtake desktop searches in mid-December in the UK. But for luxury searches, mobile is due to overtake desktop in just the next week or two. “These consumers now expect to be able to access information at any time and from any device,” Stanchina said.

In spite of this, the luxury industry is still incredibly hesitant to facilitate it. “While no one will argue with the importance of protecting a luxury brand’s equity, a brand is only valuable as long as it is relevant,” argued Stanchina. She outlined mass retailers as having had a more experimental approach in helping them stay up to date with changing consumer behaviour. Macy’s, John Lewis, Tesco and Argos have all set up incubators and labs to test and develop new tech in-house, she said. It’s in this space we’re seeing true omnichannel strategies emerge.

For luxury meanwhile, there remains real caution around taking any missteps when it even comes to communications with customers. This is particularly the case when you look at the seasonal campaign work put out.

“On social, we instinctively understand that as the name implies, it is a forum for engagement. And yet, when it comes to the main communications that most brands produce, these will still be one-way broadcast-style flighted campaigns on TV, in the press, outdoor and online.

“And while we know our customers don’t live in a flighted world and don’t all have the same history with our brand, they all get the same message. The customer that has invested in a piece every season for the last 10 years, sees the same image as someone considering their first purchase from us,” Stanchina explained.

She called for brands to move towards an “Always Ready” approach – shifting from the sometimes on, sometimes off, activity of flighted campaigns, to being ready to interact with consumers at any point that is most relevant for them. Tailoring those interactions then becomes the critical part.

“Digital marketing technology allows us to understand exactly what the previous interactions were that a customer had with us and tailor our communications to deliver the natural next step in the conversation,” she said.

Luxury brands should be taking advantage of this to push relevant messages about products they know consumers love, rather than relying on generic ads showcasing their entire lines. They should also be responding to search queries with personalised answers based on both the content and the context of the question, said Stanchina, referring to whether said consumer is on a mobile, has been to the brand’s site before or has seen a display ad for the product they’re researching.

She added: “As Tom Ford – a man who knows a thing or two about luxury and brand building – has stated, ‘Time and silence are the most luxurious things today’. So let’s not interrupt our consumer’s time or break their silence, unless they are actually asking us to or we have something highly relevant to say to them.”