PARIS, France — Last week, Thierry Mugler and Clarins Fragrance Group launched a major campaign under the banner “Womanity.” They have also registered the “Womanity” trademark in a number of product categories. There’s just one thing missing: there’s no product. At least, not yet.
At the center of the initiative is womanity.com, a content site “powered by Thierry Mugler” and deployed in collaboration with Microsoft’s MSN, who is handling online media and editorial strategy. The site features an interactive “mosaic” of tiles, each containing an article, video or other piece of content designed to inspire women, respond to their current mood — and importantly, invite them to share their thoughts on femininity and what it means to be a woman today. Indeed, throughout the site, users are prompted to add their own text, images or videos to the mosaic, in response to the omnipresent question: “What does womanity mean to you?”
Clarins describes the site as a “creative commons for expression and exchange.” But it’s also a massively multi-player focus group for gathering insights and ideas that will no doubt help drive the development of the Womanity brand and Womanity products yet to come. In luxury fragrance, a category that traditionally elevates the status of the “creator” and employs top-down, command and control style marketing, this represents a remarkable shift in thinking. BoF recently had a sneak preview of the site in the brand’s Paris offices, and afterwards, caught up by e-mail with Joel Palix, President of Clarins Fragrance Group, to find out more.
BoF: First of all, what is Womanity?
JP: Today, Womanity is a new kind of interactive site, powered by Thierry Mugler, where users can express their point of view and discover interesting and fun content about what it means to be a woman nowadays. Tomorrow, Womanity will evolve as a brand at the crossroads of media and products, merging design and concepts by Thierry Mugler with user-generated content and ideas.
BoF: How is the content on Womanity curated?
JP: A large part of the content is user-generated and we use standard moderation tools to administer the site. A second part of the content is [provided] by leading and creative personalities who have been approached to give their point of view on Womanity. And finally, original content developed by our creator, Thierry Mugler himself, is proposed on the site, giving another view into his creativity and inspiration.
BoF: How does the content reflect or respond to the mood of users?
JP: This is one of the most original features of the site. Instead of classifying the content by words or rational categories like most sites, we have taken a more poetic, and I would dare to say, more feminine approach, inviting women to tag their content with a colour of their choice.
As a visitor, you can access the site through a mosaic of differently coloured content or you can select content of the particular colour that suits your mood at the moment. Through the dominant colour of the content produced in the last 24 hours, we try to express the collective mood of women at the moment: it becomes like a barometer of women’s feelings worldwide.
BoF: What do you hope to learn from this barometer, the comments people leave and the content people share? How might you apply this knowledge?
JP: Reading the mood and ideas of women on femininity provides incredibly rich material for a luxury brand like Thierry Mugler. We will be able to develop projects and products inspired by this content. However, don’t expect us to just listen to the people. The Womanity brand will be more like a true conversation between the fans of the brand and our creator.
BoF: Ferdinando Verderi, creative director at Johannes Leonardo, which is working on the project said: “The brand is ready to become whatever the users want.” Are you, in essence, crowdsourcing the future of the Thierry Mugler brand, or the Womanity brand and any products yet to come?
JP: Thierry Mugler has long been known for proposing strong and innovative concepts and ideas in the fields of fashion, perfumes and even entertainment. He is not suddenly giving up on his role as a creator. In fact, he is already creating and developing products under the Womanity banner, which will serve as inspiration for other products proposed by the Womanity fans.
We are not suddenly substituting to the creativity of the designer with that of the internet “crowd.” We are enriching the dialogue between the two, recognizing that today’s “internet generation” is more and more interested in expressing themselves and participating in the development of its preferred brands.
It must be noted that we have been doing this with our Angel, Alien and Amen perfumes for many years, involving our fans through questionnaires, consumer groups and local events. Now, we are leveraging the power of internet to foster the relationship, boost creativity and bring the Thierry Mugler brand to a new frontier.
BoF: How will Womanity make money? Is there a revenue model?
JP: Womanity is both a platform for content and an inspiration for creating products. It can potentially make money in both fields. We expect the power of the community of fans behind Womanity to be a great advantage for the success of Womanity-branded products whether they are “crowd-inspired” or more directly proposed by Thierry Mugler.
Expectations? Unlike the monologue of traditional media, the internet is inherently social. We were excited to hear that a luxury brand like Thierry Mugler was embracing this reality and launching a site that’s open and conversational. But we were also curious to see how the brand would balance this openness with the singular point of view for which luxury brands are traditionally known.
First impressions? The “mosaic” of content is visually impactful and feels like a nice metaphor for the patchwork world we now inhabit and a correspondingly textured definition of womanhood. Placing all pieces of content on the same plane — whether they are created by Thierry Mugler, Womanity’s editorial contributors, or users themselves — also feels contemporary and in tune with the democratic nature of the internet. Each piece of content is also sharable across social networks like Twitter and Facebook, a seemingly obvious gesture, but one that we’ve consistently seen other luxury brands resisting.
Most potential? Gathering insights and driving what Mr. Palix calls “crowd-inspired” innovation by monitoring what kinds of content people like, share and generate is a powerful concept that has much potential to inform real business decisions. On a broader level, this reflects a promising realization at Clarins that today’s luxury consumers increasingly want dialogue and deeper participation with the brands they love and that the true power of a brand is found in the interaction between a company and its most active fans.
What’s missing? While the site aims to be a barometer of collective mood at the moment, the “mosaic” of content feels a bit static. These days consumers expect an experience that’s percolating with new content every hour, if not every few minutes. What’s missing, first and foremost, is an experience that feels more realtime. Why not partner with select bloggers to exchange content and audience in a way that keeps the site fresh and spreads the Womanity brand across the internet?
Second, if the site aims to reflect the collective mood of women, asking them to tag content by colour seems clunky, even if the underlying idea is interesting. Instead, why not employ a sentiment analysis engine that could automatically analyse content for feeling? These kinds of algorithms have already been deployed on a number of services, including Twitter search engines Tweetfeel and Tweet Sentiments.
And third, if the intention is indeed to crowdsource product innovation, why not take a page from collective innovation platforms like My Starbucks and Dell’s IdeaStorm which overtly ask consumers to contribute ideas for future products and provide mechanisms for the most powerful ideas to rise to the top?
“The ambitions are very large,” said creative director Ferdinando Verderi on the Womanity initiative. At BoF, we’re excited to see how things develop.
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