Luxury Society and the Social Media Revolution in Women’s Wear Daily

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LONDON, United Kingdom — Yesterday, Women’s Wear Daily published an in-depth report about Luxury Society, a project which was first announced on BoF in March of this year. Since the Luxury Society Whisper Campaign began, more than 2000 luxury professionals from over 50 countries have joined the community.

Accompanying the main piece was an interview I did with Cate Corcoran of WWD  on the Social Media Revolution in the fashion industry, which I’m delighted to share with BoF readers today.

Luxury Society Co-founder Imran Amed shares his thoughts on social media: what should luxury companies be doing with it? what is the business benefit? How is it changing society and retail?

On how the Internet changes communication:
“The internet does change the way people communicate, and corporations are beginning to come to terms with the fact that they cannot control everything. The luxury industry always wanted to control the way it communicated about brands. But the way the internet works is you don’t have control. What you have is a voice.
On why fashion companies are beginning to use social media, such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook:
Part of it is that advertising budgets have been slashed so much they’re looking for ways to communicate more cheaply. This is a moment of turning, a shift in the way people think about mass communications and communicating with the customer. It’s not just one way anymore, it’s a many-to-many conversation.

On the two-way nature of social media:
This is one of the things people are still coming to terms with in the industry. [social media] is not about broadcasting information. It’s also about social listening: using the tools to listen to the conversation and take feedback. the real meaning of your brand lives in these conversations. Lots of people think it’s about broadcasting because that’s the way media used to work. In the previous incarnation of media, it was one-way communication. It’s not enough to tweet once a day about what you’re selling or to put up a Facebook page.

On social media and mass events:
If you looked at facebook [the day] Michael Jackson died, something like 40 to 50 percent or higher of posts in people’s news feed was people using those platforms to say what they think about Michael Jackson. what you see is a whole bunch of different people’s emotional reactions to an event that everyone is living through together. When princess diana died, there were only 10 people I could speak to about it in the period because they were in the same physical space as me. Now I can share an experience like that with literally hundreds, and on twitter thousands, of people i don’t know. It changes the way people experience mass events. I think the fashion industry can take a big lesson from that — how do you create interest? It’s no longer about keeping people out and creating exclusivity, it’s creating something people want to be part of and enabling them to share it.

On what the luxury industry should do:
Our industry needs to sit up and take note and be open to innovative new things. it’s always scary when things are changing faster than we can understand what’s happening. ten years ago, everyone was walking around saying there was no way anyone would buy luxury goods on the internet. Now in 2009, that’s the only segment of the Luxury industry that’s rapidly growing. This [economic] crisis has created an opportunity. Fashion companies have started using fashion films on the internet to share stories and make an emotional connection about their brand. Chanel and Dior are experimenting with short films that get shared and viewed hundreds of thousands of times at no distribution cost to the company.

On the connection between social media and revenue:
If you have an engaged group of fans on a web site coming regularly to talk to each other, it will probably end up driving further dedication and loyalty to the brand. you’re probably going to create an impact on revenue and sales. People say it’s hard to make a connection between social media and sales. I think that’s true, but it misses the point. It’s not only about the impact on sales. it’s also about engagement. Our industry used to be based on personal, one-to-one relationships between proprietors and customers. As the luxury industry has expanded into a global industry, some of that personal connection has been lost. new technology enables us maybe not to replace [those relationships], but it lets us feel a little closer to the customer. and it lets customers feel closer to us.

On how the Internet has affected the fashion cycle:
The fashion cycle is a little bit of an anachronism. We still show clothes in february and they’re not available until July or august or september. by that point, images of the collection have been seen all over the internet and discussed ad nauseum on blogs and social networks and on Style.com, and by the time it reaches the store, people are already [tired of it], it’s done. The fashion cycle does not fit with the speed of communication. Instead of showing things on the runway [that won’t be in stores for several months] we should be showing things that can be bought right away. net-a-porter did this well with roland Mouret and Halston. instead of being more responsive, we’re doing more seasons and more collections, and that’s not the solution. the solution is to give people what they want when they want it.

Courtesy of Women’s Wear Daily.

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9 comments

  1. This is one of the most relevant articles about the changes in the fashion/luxury industry I have read. At Chiccane.com, we thrive on offering our customers “Just in Time” luxurious fashion, with “Looks of the Moment” that reflect the current season and clothing availability. Internet is here to stay, we should embrace its possibilities, rather than being scared of the unkown. Cheers!

  2. These are some really good points. My question for Imran is, how do you get around the lead times required by factories, magazines and stores for the clothes they’re going to (respectively) manufacture, showcase and sell? Editors and buyers need to see the clothes months in advance so are you suggesting separate presentations for industry and publicity? I think DVF mentioned this a few days ago. Or would you recommend something modeled on the collaboration between RM and Net a porter, where product is manufactured in advance of the show?

    Anjo from Orangevale, CA, United States
  3. @Anjo: Good questions, and ones that the entire industry should be thinking about. I don’t have all the answers, but think it is necessarily one or the other of the options you have presented. I think several models can be explored, partially dependent on the distribution channel (own store, wholesale or internet). Either way, it will require a lot of innovative thinking and structural change.
    The way we do things today is matched to the technology and capabilities we had in the 1950s. But things have changed. In other manufacturing sectors, including vertically-integrated high-street fashion, they can go from design to delivery in a matter of a couple of months. For major brands who control their supply chain from end-to-end, this kind of rapid go-to-market strategy could keep fresh product coming into the stores, with appropriate communication to consumers timed for arrival of product int stores. Of course, this will mean they have to take inventory risk and make predictions about what will sell, but brands should be better and better at doing this anyway.
    For internet retail, I think the Net-a-Porter model could work very well, but again this requires predicting in advance what will sell.
    The toughest challenge is the Wholesale channel, where the buying cycle is so long that it slows everything down. Brands are also struggling with the fact that wholesalers will mark their product down so much.

    Imran Amed, Editor from Vancouver, BC, Canada (post author)
  4. Inspirational points! Compared to US, however, China, the second largest luxury consuming countries in the world, still lacks e-luxury websites. That´s a huge opportunity lying there, I just wonder who will be the first one who bites the apple.

    Jasmine from Villena, Valencian Community, Spain
  5. It may be aspirational thinking for luxury companies to think a bit of twittering will solve the problem but it is a case discordance. They are precisely the focus of our discontent (as are politicians and the majority of the old hierarchy. It may not be as bloody as the French revolution but IT IS ONE NONETHELESS.
    I (who used to prescribe to the old adage of status and even worked within the industry) only shudder with cynicism when the old guard think they can still make me shed even one euro for their meaningless ideals of wealth and stature. It is DEAD. I for one no longer require such fodder in my life and hope follow.
    Leave the past mistakes behind.

    Robert I. from Montpellier, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
  6. Very interesting article about the luxury industry and the internet. I really wonder if social media like Facebook and Twitter does or would increase the revenue for such luxury brands like Yves St. Laurent or Gucci where the price point is very, very high and which, I think is not meant to be for the mass market, so to speak. It’s almost a dichotomy that luxury should no longer equate with exclusivity when that’s part of the allure. Doesn’t the notion that only a select number of people wear certain luxury brands allure shoppers to wanting to buy these luxury goods? Wouldn’t it perhaps ‘cheapen’ the brand if there was no longer an air of exclusivity with some of the oldest, most prestigious fashion brands around like Chanel or Valentino? I think Net-A-Porter’s website platform makes it unique in that it not only sells clothing but it sells an image of the clothing being worn.

  7. @DC Fashion Gal: In my opinion, Social media is more than putting messages up on ‘Facebook and Twitter’. On top of opening up more relevant channels for better-targeted reach and being a communications platform where the word can be spread more easily – it also means brands can now shape the conversations of consumers and the media. This is especially important with influential fashion bloggers by delivering ‘brand stories’ to the right places at the right time.

    On a basic level, Social Media is a tool – a channel to reach your audiences. They could be your brand loyalist to improve your relationship or a mass market audience to drive awareness and increase the aspirational aspects of the brand. You can be as ‘exclusive’ as you please.

    Take it one step further and it is more than a communications channel – it’s an environment that has revolutionlise how we market to, do business with and engage our audiences. We can now form 1-to-1 relationships with our customers and increase their loyalty with the brand. As well create brand communities where our customers can become part of the brand (and its evolution). These community members will be advocates of your brand who are more than willing to spread your messages to their social network. These engagement levels can only increase the consumer’s affinity with the brand and as a result heighten ROI.

  8. Interesting and inspirational points! A true challenge for the smaller fashion companies to overcome the problem with the long lead times though. It is so true customers do not accept waiting for what they want anylonger.
    Another point regarding social media, besides the opportunity to create awareness, loyalty etc is the very valuable information that is to be found there. I mean information first about who the firms’ customers are, but also about they wishes, wants and needs. This is something many of the smaller fashion companies have know clue about which makes profitable product developent a unneccecarily tough task. Instead of guessing: go ask them!

    Clara from Stockholm, Stockholms Län, Sweden
  9. There are some good sites out there now..Asmallworld, Qubers, Elixio, decayenne…Some luxury brands already started to advertise on these platforms…

    Isabelle from Brighton, MA, United States