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How to Unify a Global Brand

Can a luxury label make its lipsticks and handbags feel part of the same universe, no matter where or how customers encounter them? BoF breaks down what it takes to create coherency.
A campaign for the Pacollection fragrance from Julien Dossena | Source: Courtesy
  • Chantal Fernandez

PARIS, France — Hermès' first major foray into beauty is extremely on brand.

The forthcoming lipsticks feel delightfully unlike any other beauty packaging in the market today: they come in pop colour-blocked, cylindrical cases made in the same metal found on Hermès' handbags. They recall the heels of Pierre Hardy's shoes — the creative director of jewellery and shoes designed them himself.

"The idea is a form that's both simple and playful enough to allow it to be done and redone ad infinitum," Hardy told WSJ. Magazine. "It's rare for an artistic director to think about packaging over a long period of time and not just a one-off." Leave it to Hermès to make longevity seem so fun.

Since European luxury brands are notoriously controlling over everything they release, from every piece of hardware on their bag to the furniture in their stores, a similar level of oversight over a new beauty launch seems par for the course. But in fact, it’s quite unusual.

Traditionally, luxury brands have operated their fashion and beauty businesses independently. Design, production and marketing of ready to wear and leather goods are choreographed with clockwork-like precision by the atelier, while beauty products and fragrances are licensed out to Coty, L'Oréal and other specialists. The system works for many, such as Tom Ford, whose strong point-of-view and influence over his Estée Lauder line have helped propel it to over one billion dollars in annual sales.

But separate approaches can be confusing for consumers, who may wonder why the same Saint Laurent that sells $5,000 dresses out of sleek boutiques is also behind $100 perfume gift sets at Macy's. The messaging is growing even more muddled now that consumers are likely to see ads for both side-by-side on Instagram or see one version of a campaign at home in Shanghai and a totally different version when shopping on vacation in Paris.

More luxury brands are taking Hermès’ approach, and attempting to ensure that every collaboration, retail experience and social media post feel like part of one cohesive whole. As the content and communication channels between a label and its customers become more fragmented, both globally and online, brands are finding it more essential than ever before to harmonise their strategies across diverse products and geographies.

After Kim Jones joined Dior as head of the men's collection in 2018, the brand's new Chief Executive Pietro Beccari removed many of the barriers between the men's and women's business. The brand cut the label name Dior Homme, shut down its Instagram account and reformatted stores to include merchandise aimed at both genders.

"The clothes and the clients of Maria Grazia and Kim, they speak to each other," he told the Financial Times in 2018.

At Puig, the company behind blockbuster fragrances and fashion from Paco Rabanne and Carolina Herrera, syncing up different product lines is also a priority.

The brand has to be coherent and consistent.

“The brand has to be coherent and consistent,” said José Manuel Albesa, president of brands, markets and operations at Puig. He said that aligning strategies between fragrance and fashion takes time and patience.

Paco Rabanne is selling high fashion ready-to-wear and accessible fragrances to two sets of customers, with little overlap. Until recent years, the only visible connection between those businesses was the use of metal — Paco Rabanne's signature material — in the fragrance packaging and in the models' wardrobe. Meanwhile, since 2013, designer Julien Dossena was pushing a new sporty and psychedelic vision for the brand on the runway.

Now the same team of photographers and stylists handle campaigns for both categories. And a new fragrance line, developed by Dossena and launched in 2019, further unites the brand’s approach. While sales were flat in 2018 at almost €2 billion, Puig remains set on its goal of reaching €3 billion in revenue by 2025.

How does a global luxury brand make products as diverse as lipsticks and handbags feel part of the same universe, no matter where or how customers encounter them? Read on to learn about strategies some of the world’s largest luxury brands have deployed.

Digital coherence is key

Albesa said Instagram is one of the most challenging communication channels to manage across a brand’s products, requiring crystal-clear messaging. The reaction from consumers — good or bad — is near-instantaneous.

Images from Dossena’s collections appear on Paco Rabanne fragrance’s Instagram account, and a few perfume campaign images appear on the main account as well, giving the two a more cohesive feel.

The same approach should be applied to customers in different geographies. Many brands are creating marketing specifically for the Chinese market, where they often are seeing their strongest growth. That approach has its drawbacks because Chinese luxury consumers are avid travellers, said Chloe Reuter, a Shanghai-based communications consultant who has worked with luxury brands in China for nearly two decades. They don’t want to feel treated like a separate market.

“A young Chinese luxury consumer — he or she is as plugged in and even sometimes more knowledgeable than a western counterpart,” Reuter said. “When brands get it very wrong with their campaigns, they are trying somehow to be too local.”

She said projects featuring Chinese celebrities can be effective when deployed on a global scale, as the country’s consumers want to see familiar messaging when they are abroad.

“Seeing Chinese brand ambassadors on global ad campaigns is powerful,” she said.

Beauty can form the core DNA of a brand

For luxury fashion brands, beauty products are often treated as lucrative side businesses. They can be more than that; lipsticks and foundations don’t change much from year to year and can offer a way to show off the core elements of a brand even as ready-to-wear chases trends or undergoes a radical reinvention under a new designer.

It's easier for a company like Puig to coordinate this messaging because it controls the licenses for its beauty and fashion lines. L'Oréal still uses the pre-Hedi Slimane logo for Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, which has led to a disconnect with the fashion side of the business that is owned by Kering.

However, in recent years the fashion and beauty divisions have hired some of the same celebrity faces for its campaigns, specifically model Kaia Gerber and actress Zoë Kravitz. Vérane de Marffy, the senior vice president of marketing for Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, told Glossy in 2018 that the beauty business had "solidified our cool-couture brand positioning," and was emphasising the history of Yves Saint Laurent, the designer, more in its product messaging.

Short term sacrifices can mean long term gain

Significant shifts in global strategy require patience. Albesa said it can take between five and 10 years to implement an unification strategy.

“We sacrifice short term business sometimes in beauty in order to be consistent and coherent in where [we] want to take the brand,” said Albesa.

A global transformation of corporate culture can also be expensive.

Moncler spent around €100 million on marketing as it rolled out its Genius series of collaborations in 2018, a 25 percent increase from a year earlier. Coordinating with outside designers to create capsule collections for pop-ups and stores required careful logistical planning. The first "House of Genius" pop-up opened in New York and Tokyo in October 2018, amplified by 32 installations at Moncler stores and 168 department stores worldwide. But the approach has paid off for the brand, with sales increasing 13 percent in the first half of 2019.

Trust local partners

Reuter said luxury teams in their European headquarters can hinder their Asian teams by not giving them the trust and space to execute projects quickly. They can miss key influencer opportunities, for example, by baulking at the cost of working with someone because they are not familiar with him or her, or moving too slowly.

“In China, you need to be brave and bold and listen to those teams,” she said. Brands that want to win in China need to give their local teams the freedom to innovate while respecting brand guidelines.

A recent Gucci collection with Mickey Mouse pegged to the year of the rat marked a successful example of reacting to Chinese cultural expectations without pandering: Gucci didn't just release a collection of bags with mice or rats printed on them. The pieces had a retro style that shoppers associate with the rest of its offering, and was appealing regardless of context and culture of origin. It felt like any other capsule the brand might release.

Reuter said young Chinese shoppers are “fed up” by old-fashioned pandering from Western brands, but the Mickey Mouse idea’s success was its clever simplicity. “It works,” she said.

Rethink the retail experience

Over the last decade of brick-and-mortar expansion, luxury flagship stores around the world have served as physical incarnations of the brand's DNA. Peter Marino, who designs stores for Louis Vuitton, Dior and Chanel, described the luxury store to the Financial Times as the "the thing that best reflects the total values of the brand" in a world where the fashion, and its creative directors, are changing at a faster and faster pace.

He described his approach for a recent Louis Vuitton flagship renovation in London as a gallery space, building in some of that flexibility for the future. Because now that luxury leaders are using pop-ups and limited edition collections to keep people coming back, stores have to be canvases for short term, future experiences. Take Gucci’s recently rolled out global pop-up shop network as an example: the strategy involves taking a smaller concept and scaling it out in stores globally where consumers are less exposed to special collections. The flagship is a base, but luxury consumers expect the same excitement that they see in the fashion capitals.

To learn more about global brand strategies, explore how Dior plugged itself into China's separate, opaque and rapidly evolving digital ecosystem in BoF's latest in-depth case study. Created exclusively for BoF Professional members, case studies explore the most important challenges facing the industry today. Click below to download.

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