Decoded Future: community is what counts say Burberry and Matchesfashion
This month’s annual edition of the Decoded Future event was different for one big reason — it didn’t ‘take place’ in London as it should have done but on attendees’ screens globally. It was the first time the event had gone digital and it was largely successful, a few technical glitches aside.
Organised by trends insight firm Stylus, it brought together presenters who included some key industry players such as Burberry’s Senior VP of Digital Commerce, Mark Morris, and Hannah Fillis, Head of Social & Digital at luxury e-tailer Matchesfashion, as well as a raft of other fashion sector players.
But one of the most insightful presentations came from Stylus’s own Director of Brand Engagement, Katie Baron. She highlighted a changing world in which young consumers in particular are now participants and no longer just potential shoppers to be sold to. And other presentations throughout the day stressed the need to involve consumers in a brand much more than has been done in the past.
CONSUMERS AS PARTICIPANTS
Baron talked of “a new class of creative [young] consumer who has a self-sufficiency-based mindset” and talked about their love of the side hustle, entrepreneurial outlook and how they see themselves as their own brand.
Reaching such consumers means businesses thinking differently… very differently. She highlighted Depop as one that seems to have found the key to not only getting them to spend but to making them feel part of the process, rather than just being passive consumers.
The peer-to-peer social shopping app “understood this world of bedroom entrepreneurship from the off. It’s a brand that’s built entirely on helping fans to make something of themselves,” Baron said. She cited appealing features like its free bookable photo studios and illustrating its strength via some impressive statistics — it currently has 30m users in 147 countries and has been been enjoying 130% sales growth steadily since 2017.
And while that might make it seem like it’s intent on world domination, Baron said its appeal it partly because that’s clearly not what it’s targeting.
“This is about smaller-scale opportunistic wins, it's not the kind of wild Zuckerberg or Elon Musk moon shots,” she said, also quoting Marie Petrovicka, head of international & strategy at Depop, who said: “Gen Z doesn't want to growth for the sake of it. They may achieve it but mission and purpose is key. We are seeing the side hustle thrive because they say ‘I want to make something of myself’.”
Another business making the most of these unique Gen Z characteristics is American beauty subscription box retailer IPSY, which recently opened a huge new content creation space in LA. “Subscribers apply for access and are approved based on the frequency and quality of their social media posts. They don't have any obligation to advocate for IPSY, but the relationship-building is clear,” Baron explained.
She also cited Beautonomy, a business “rooted in the premise that it's no longer the big brands or mainstream media that set the trends. Fans here can buy products or they can establish their own ranges with customised packaging that’s sold on the site for which they receive a small commission”.
The key strand running through all of these businesses is how central consumers/community members are to what they do. Depop’s four-month pop-up last year with Selfridges, or its vintage collab with Ralph Lauren, both of which depended on individual sellers and the items they’d sourced, were key examples of this.
Baron also focused on the interaction of the physical and the digital in retail, something analysts globally are expecting to become even more important post-pandemic.
As retailers grapple with the problem of closed changing rooms and the need to quarantine returns, she highlighted Superpersonal, an AI-powered app that “captures a user’s face and micro movements as a realistic moving image before marrying that face to a body that has similar physical proportions”.
What’s the point of that? “Psychologically speaking it's enough to make us believe that it is us. Uses could include virtually trying on clothes online at speed, or letting consumers blend their image with that of a model on a brand’s e-commerce site,” Baron said.
She also stressed how, even if consumers aren’t yet used to trying on clothes virtually, digital has been impacting their brand experiences though innovations such as gaming.
So it was interesting that Burberry’s Mark Morris talked about the luxury firm’s own head-first dive into fashion gaming this year as a way to engage its community. “Gaming starts off feeling quite gimmicky and separate,” he said but it soon becomes obvious that it isn’t and it shows how the “virtual and physical start to intertwine”.
The Ratberry game achieved much more than entertaining consumers. It was also about learning more about those consumers, building up data and generally helping Burberry connect with people in its community.
Morris doesn’t see gaming as inimical to the idea of luxury as a whole, nor is he concerned that others will try to copy Burberry’s approach. “Every time you do something new and it’s perceived to be successful, then other people will follow you,” he said. “You never get virgin space for very long. Fashion shows were the exclusive domain of luxury and then you reached the point where Topshop was running a fashion show. But I don't think that anyone would say that the fashion show of a [brand like] Chanel would be undermined or devalued by what Topshop was doing.
“For a luxury brand, storytelling is cool, so your point of differentiation will be doing it well and this is just another area where you would do that. The thought that goes into producing a game for a luxury brand, the elements, the house codes that you're trying to tie into it, you're doing with a really high level of finish and quality”.
Burberry’s gaming strategy pre-dated the pandemic but another of its tech approaches was a direct result of the crisis — live-stream commerce.
“This was more of a necessity in China with the coronavirus situation,” Morris, explained. “The stores were closed so suddenly we were in a position where customers weren't able to see our collection. It felt like the right moment to explore live-streaming.
“Again, this was something that hasn't been tried in the luxury industry. It's been tried in other verticals like beauty and in the west had something of a connotation of shopping channels like QVC. It's something of a bold move.”
The company approached this particular method of engaging its community from the best possible angle, working with Alibaba and staging a live-streamed event with a store associate and a KOL (key opinion leader) around its bags collection.
Morris said this allowed it “to present the collection in a different way” rather than simply visually as would have been done via more traditional marketing methods. “It allowed the associate to demonstrate their excitement around the product and we were shocked by the reaction,” he said, adding that this reaction involved an audience of 1.4 million people when “we’d targeted originally 50,000 people”.
Why so successful? “It did very well because of the ecosystem,” he explained. “It was on Alibaba within the Tmall platform. We had integrated customer service and integrated appointment booking”.
And with “a lot” of people logging on, it means Burberry is “now able to engage with” a huge number of consumers around future events using the information that it gained. “Not only did we get their engagement and direct sales, but it also allows us to understand more about that group of people that were watching the show. It overachieved,” Morris stressed.
The company has since followed this with more live-stream events and the idea seems to be appealing globally: “As soon as we communicated internally, we had every other region asking about live-streaming events!”
Matchesfashion’s Hannah Fillis also highlighted the importance of using tech/comms tools creatively in a conversation with Elise Ngobi, Senior Manager of Brand Strategy at at visual marketing software company Dash Hudson. This was a good pairing for Decoded Future given that Matchesfashion makes heavy use of Dash Hudson’s products.
Fillis pointed out how important social media and seeing people as a community rather than just consumers have become to the brand as the coronavirus unfolded globally this year.
“It was always very important, but in the last six months it really has played a pivotal part in our connection to our community and the content and output that we are producing,” she said. “We've always looked at what content we can put out for our audience but what we’ve really moved to is how can we involve our community in the content”.
The company has a reputation for always responding to user comments, “acknowledging the fact that people have taken the time to shout out your brand,” Fillis added. “It goes a long way to building that feeling of inclusion.”
And inclusion drives the firm’s social strategy. “Social for us has been less about heavy product messaging and more about what content we think is relevant to people’s lives,” Fillis said. “With Covid-19, the content is wildly different to what we were looking at even four or five months ago. It’s about things that are useful, relevant and engaging and very much moving away from heavy product pictures or [being] overly promotional”.
Again, like Burberry with its game and live-streaming, all this activity isn’t just about keeping customers entertained, informed and happy, it’s about getting to know them much, much better.
“It’s not just about the public numbers, the likes and the followers,” Fillis explained. “We look at all the different metrics to see what this tells us about the audience and what they want to see”.
The company uses Dash Hudson’s Likeshop (which makes Instagram posts clickable), and Ngobi praised the fact that Matchesfashion isn’t simply “driving users to a specific product page or to branded content. [It] has its Likeshop set up to drive people to a community portal on-site, which we think is really clever and unique.”
Of course, what’s really clever is being able to offer the sense of community and to sell too.
“[Likeshop] takes your audience from engagement on Instagram, to your website,” Fillis said. “It’s a really engaging portal, it's quite addictive when you start clicking through the images and a lot of these images are also shoppable so it takes away the barrier when you're going through Instagram and thinking, I love that where is that from?”
But what’s also key is that “you don't have to shop, it's a great visual space to see what other people are wearing and doing”.
The company is also focusing on community via its podcasts and video content (IGTV) and during lockdown has been running an At Home series. “Our strategy is around content that’s useful and relevant rather than just product-specific,” Fillis said. “Cooking videos and beauty ‘getting-ready’ videos have had huge audiences. We will definitely continue with [this] as it’s really engaging and entertaining.”
But while focusing on community as well as commerce might seem like sales could be sacrificed, Fillis said it has a hugely important commercial impact too.
“What's great about social is that you get real-time feedback from your audience. We’re able to feed back what’s engaging our audience to our marketing teams. If we're starting to see a much bigger engagement on, say, swimwear than over the last few months, we feed that back into the business. It's key to remember that social is a real-time barometer of what your audience wants”.
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