Amble with Louis Vuitton video preview | Source: Louis Vuitton
PARIS, France — “As I think about Google’s strategic initiatives in 2011, I realize they’re all about mobile,” wrote the internet giant’s chief executive Eric Schmidt in a recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog. “We are at the point where, between the geolocation capability of the phone and the power of the phone’s browser platform, it is possible to deliver personalised information about where you are, what you could do there right now, and so forth — and to deliver such a service at scale,” he continued.
Now, following in the footsteps of location-based social network Foursquare, major internet players like Google and Facebook are meshing together location-aware mobile services like those described in Mr. Schmidt’s vision with realtime social features, driving explosive growth in an area that John Doerr of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers calls social-local-mobile, or “SoLoMo.”
Earlier this month, Louis Vuitton became the first luxury fashion brand to experiment with a “SoLoMo” service, launching a highly innovative iPhone app and corresponding website called “Amble with Louis Vuitton” that lets users share and discover inspiring places based on their physical location as they explore the cityscapes around them. BoF spoke with Pietro Beccari, Vuitton’s vice president of marketing and communications to find out more.
BoF: What is Amble?
PB: “Amble with Louis Vuitton” is the ultimate app for chic travellers. It offers new ways of capturing your travel memories and sharing them with your friends. You can also find inspiration from other Amblers, Friends of the house (including Sofia Coppola, Andre Saraiva, Elodie Bouchez, Christie Turlington and Rachel Weisz) or Louis Vuitton City Guides and inject more uniqueness into your walks.
BoF: Internet giants like Facebook are rapidly building social-local-mobile services. What was the specific opportunity that you saw for a luxury brand like Louis Vuitton?
PB: Founded in Paris in 1854, Louis Vuitton has been synonymous with the art of travel and has accompanied journeys throughout time. “Amble with Louis Vuitton” takes the art of travel to the next level, drawing on Louis Vuitton’s established expertise to offer an array of features designed not merely to facilitate travel, but to transform it into an enriching personal experience.
BoF: In a world where increasingly ubiquitous mobile devices are bringing digital mapping to the masses, is “ambling” the new luxury?
PB: Seeing the world through the eyes of Louis Vuitton is quite different than simple digital mapping devices. The House offers its vision, its expertise within the travel field and invites its friends to enrich the content in order to provide an improved experience to users.
BoF: How will Amble achieve critical mass?
PB: Amble is for chic travellers and our goal is to create a community of quality contributing users. We have developed a digital strategy that drives traffic through the app and took part of the first wave of iAds in Europe.
BoF: Does Amble generate revenue?
PB: In-app purchasing allows Amblers to buy Louis Vuitton City Guides —available in digital format for the first time — to further enrich their experience and help them discover select spots. But revenue is not the goal. First and foremost, we wanted to offer a unprecedented service to users.
BoF: Are networked services like Amble the future of marketing?
PB: Services are definitely a key component of an innovative digital marketing approach. The digital space offers a lot possibilities to explore new services fitting Louis Vuitton’s DNA: “the art of travel.”
BoF: How will Amble evolve over time? What can we expect from future iterations?
PB: We will enrich the content with more cities. More friends of the House will unveil their favourite spots. And Amblers will submit their own Ambles that might be selected by Louis Vuitton to become “curated” Ambles.
Expectations? When BoF first heard about Amble we were intrigued, and not just because this was the first luxury fashion app in the “SoLoMo” space. Rather, the name “Amble” immediately made clear that Vuitton intended to harness mobile connectivity — more often associated with efficiency and getting things done — to enable slower, more soulful experiences that would unfold beyond the screen in the physical world.
First impressions? Amble nicely leverages emerging technology to activate Louis Vuitton’s heritage in travel. Rather than just talk about “the art of travel,” this app actually brings it to life for the consumer. We particularly enjoyed the Ambles curated by “friends of Louis Vuitton” Sofia Coppola and Waris Ahluwalia, perfect spokespeople to articulate the brand’s refined but contemporary point of view. But within the first minute, a seemingly small but significant flaw became clear. Amble is not integrated into the phone’s address book, Gmail, Twitter or Facebook, making it difficult to instantly import and connect with friends.
Most potential? Conceptually, Amble is very strong. Both crowdsourced and curated, it leverages the smartphone’s GPS feature to transform the travel guide — traditionally, a static content experience — into a realtime digital service that dynamically serves up advice and information that’s contextually relevant to the user’s location. In a sentence, it’s a luxury Yelp for travel that’s as much about the journey as the destination. But the app’s greatest potential may be its ability to bring the joys of discovery normally associated with travel to the patterns of everyday life, enhancing precious moments of ‘found time’ wherever they occur — between meetings or during the daily commute — with suggestions on inspiring places or activities nearby.
What’s missing? The app’s creators were no doubt aiming at an exclusive experience. But without auto-integration into existing platforms that lets the user instantly fill the experience with friends when first configuring the app — something that can be achieved via Facebook Connect, which allows users to “connect” their Facebook identity and friends to any website or mobile experience — Amble misses an important opportunity to create immediate personal relevance with the consumer.
Furthermore, Forrester’s recent 2011 Mobile Trends report notes that location-based social networks will struggle as standalone activities as mainstream online players like Facebook integrate location into their services. This means that failure to integrate into Facebook will also limit growth potential. Let’s hope that future iterations of the app are better connected to the world’s dominant social platform.
Amble could also better incentivize engagement and encourage quality user-generated contributions. While the best user-submitted Ambles currently appear in a “curated” tab within the app, Amble could benefit from a more robust social rewards system that offers users ways to earn status and signal their taste level to others in exchange for great content, much like Polyvore does with Top Sets, a ranking that recognizes the site’s best stylists on the homepage.
Furthermore, Amble currently suggests interesting spots based on location. But we think there’s a significant opportunity to deliver inspiring Ambles that are also relevant to other parameters, like time of day. One could even integrate into a user’s calendar application to suggest nearby activities that perfectly complement existing events in the diary.
Indeed, location is just one component of a user’s context that’s captured on a mobile phone. At BoF, we look forward to seeing how future iterations of Amble might leverage “SoLoMo” to deliver enriching experiences that are even more closely tailored to the specific context of the individual.
Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion.