LONDON, United Kingdom — In recent weeks, two major luxury fashion brands have taken the plunge and launched social networks built around their brands and products. It's not a new idea by any means, and indeed I wrote a piece on this very idea for the Financial Times almost two years ago. But, that doesn't make it any less notable because, as far as I can tell, it is the first time top fashion brands have used social media in this way. Indeed, both Gucci and Burberry went to great efforts to highlight these initiatives at last week's IHT Techno Luxury conference in Berlin.
So, have their experiments been successful? Of course we at the BoF have our own opinions, but in the spirit of democracy we thought it was the perfect opportunity to turn to the BoF community to see what you think. In our first ever BoF Twitter Poll, we asked:
The responses came in fast and furious from BoF's followers around the world, including James Gardner, CEO of the industry's leading creative agency CreateThe Group, and influential bloggers such as Bryanboy and DisneyRollerGirl. In the end, it was a no-contest knockout for Burberry which was unanimously selected as the winner.
So why did our followers feel this way? Here's a quick summary of their thoughts:
1. Burberry shows a deep understanding of how to use social media, while Gucci just jumped on the "bandwagon" without thinking first, which feels "insincere."
@alexanderlewis in London: "Gucci heard about something called social networking Burberry AOTT remixed and embraced it"
@subversiveglam: (aka, James Gardner, CEO of CreateThe Group) in New York: "Burberry AOT shows luxury brands how to effectively embrace social media. Gucci jumped on a band wagon and then fell off."
@randalltodd also from New York: "Trench: engaging. Eyeweb: limited, insincere."
@InFashionMedia in Australia: "Gucci literally places customers behind their products. Burberry features people & their products on same level."
2. Burberry creates a "visual feast" that inspires users to explore further, while Gucci quickly loses users' "interest."
@bryanboy in Manila: "I prefer Art of the Trench. It's a visual feast. Gucci on the other hand, well, I lost interest when I had to pick a city."
@DisneyRollrGirl in London: "I prefer Art of the Trench, I didn't even get beyond the Gucci homepage."
@pascalgrob in Zurich: "Definitely AOT! Burberry's approach is an art project and so pleasing to the eye...Gucci just doesn't convince"
@lolaswij in Sydney: "Art of the Trench, based on aesthetics alone! It's appropriate to judge a fashion www by it's looks, non?"
3. Burberry's offering is "fun," functionally superior, "user-friendly" and easy-to-navigate while Gucci frustrates users.
@FearlessBG in the Netherlands: "Art of the Trench! The Gucci Eyeweb is annoying to navigate and doesn't offer that much."
@djuwearit in Dubai: "www.artofthetrench.com - it's user friendly and fun."
@xanod in London: "Definetely (sic) Art of the Trench, interactive, fun and more user friendly which is exactly what people want"
In addition, we would add two more points to Burberry's successful social media outing:
4. Art of the Trench relies on editing by Christopher Bailey to ensure the integrity of the brand is maintained while Eyeweb's images often have no clear connection to the brand.
Take a gander at Art of the Trench and you will find an almost uniformly style-savvy and well-dressed crowd of international fans in their Burberry trench coats. These photos have been carefully selected and screened by Burberry to ensure a good fit with the brand. On the other hand, Gucci's site which also allows users to upload photos of themselves, is populated with a mish-mash of sometimes tacky, random images that seem to have nothing to do with the Gucci brand at all.
5. Art of the Trench is linked to a specific business objective whereas the purpose of Eyeweb is unclear.
In the same way that Ferragamo has built an identity around its shoes and Louis Vuitton has built a business around its leather goods, the trench coat has been identified by Burberry as the brand's key item. By launching this site, Burberry further cemented ownership of the luxury trench coat category. On the other hand, Gucci's site is highlighting sunglasses, which may be an important category, but isn't really a core part of the brand's DNA.
Having done such a good job, it's no wonder that within the first week the Burberry site had more than two hundred thousand visitors and registered more than 3 million page views. The challenge for Burberry now will be to create reasons for its fans to return, without the support of the wall-to-wall press coverage that supported the launch of the site. Apparently, this will be achieved by bringing in new curators and creatives to populate the site with interesting content. But, even with all of the things that Burberry have done right, methinks that it will take a significantly more than that to draw people back again and again.
As for Gucci, it's back to the drawing board. Kudos for experimenting and trying new things out, but perhaps next time Gucci may want to consider why it is jumping on the social media bandwagon and what it is aiming to achieve before punching its ticket.
Imran Amed is Editor of The Business of Fashion