It was in 2006 when Burberry’s new CEO, Angela Ahrendts[i], faced the challenge of fading identity of this iconic brand which was once well known for its fancy trench coats. Rapid rise in licensing agreements in the last decades led to having the brand name on literally everything from hand-bags to belts, throw pillows, boxer shorts, cookies, fragrances, liquor, stuffed toys and watches. There were even co-branded VISA credit cards that displayed the Burberry logo.[ii]
Ahrendts recalled – “We had 23 licensees around the world, each doing something different. We were selling products such as dog cover-ups and leashes. In luxury, ubiquity will kill you. Burberry needed to be more than a beloved old British company”[iii]
#1: Techie’s voice for branding
To bring back control on designs, Ahrendts first appointed a “brand czar”,Christopher Bailey, a techno-enthusiast who hired people from gaming companies and coders along with traditional designers.[iv]
#2: Where can you find millennial? On the screens!
While fast-fashion brands such as H&M and Zara thought of millennial as “cheap”, Ahrendts and Bailey saw these millennial as potential buyers for their luxury goods. They figured that to talk to these 20-somethings, they needed to communicate in their language and that language was digital.[v] They declared that they wanted Burberry to become “the first fully digital luxury company.”[vi]
#3 Social media as the way to go
2006 was early to think about digital. iPhones and Instagram did not even exist back then! But Burberry was thinking ahead.
Burberry’s digital transformation started with investments in technology, particularly a multi-year effort to consolidate its systems and make its global operations transparent.[vii] Having a foresight of where the world was heading, Burberry was one of the first luxury brands to join Facebook in 2009.[viii] Over the years Burberry was active on all social platforms – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Polyvore, Vine, Weibo, YouKu, WeChat and others.[ix] By 2012, Burberry spent 70% of its marketing budget on digital media.[x]
Burberry used these platforms to connect with its fans by sharing their runway shows, updates on new collections and gathering feedback. Its high activity (5 posts/day on Twitter, and up to 10 during London Fashion Week[xi]) and initiatives such as Tweetwalk, enabling followers to see images of its collections before they went down the runway[xii], Tweet-activated cameras during catwalks, partnership with Japanese messaging platform “Line” to live stream the show for Line’s 180 million active monthly users appealed to millennial and kept them engaged.[xiii] In 2014, it pioneered a new “Buy now” button to sell directly from Twitter.[xiv] It was equally engaged on other platforms. E.g. Burberry’s Spring/Summer 2013 campaign video gained over 1 million YouTube views in just 48 hours.[xv]
In 2009, it delved into crowd-sourcing by introducing its website “The Art of the Trench”, inviting everyday people to post their photographs in Burberry coats.[xvi]
# Seamless omni-channel experiences
Realizing that the millennial seamlessly traverse through the online and offline worlds, Burberry opened its first tech-enabled flagship store in London’s Regent Street in 2012. This 44,000-sq. Ft. space boasted the tallest indoor retail screen in the world, a digitally enabled gallery, 500 speakers, 100 screens, mirrors that instantaneously changed into screens, RFID-tagged apparel that enabled bespoke multi-media content based on what customers touched and store staff equipped with iPads. [xvii]
“Burberry Regent Street brings our digital world to life in a physical space for the first time, where customers can experience every facet of the brand through immersive multimedia content exactly as they do online,” said Angela Ahrendts. “Walking through the doors is just like walking into our website.”[xviii]
Angela Ahrendts’ ability to tap into the latest generation (gen Y and Z) of digital consumers who use online media to follow trends, engage, socialize as well as make purchases helped Burberry stand apart from its peers and steadily grow over the years.
Smooth road ahead?
While Burberry’s entry into the nascent digital world made it an endearing brand among its young, loyal customers, it could face significant challenges ahead. Higher pace of innovation and new revelations about what’s possible in the digital world has helped its luxury peers (e.g. LVHM and Gucci) catch up. Burberry needs to continue being ahead of the curve to reap the benefits of being the digital winner.
Finally, I want to leave you with one of my favorites of their digital initiatives – Burberry Kisses. In partnership with Google, Kisses was launched in 2013, aimed to “humanize technology” through emotive digital experiences – taking the lip contact from your real-life kiss and transforming it into a digital kiss print and sent to anyone in the world.[xix]
Isn’t it beautiful?
Word count: 780
[ii] Christiansen, Bryan, Salih Yildiz, and Emel Yildiz. Transcultural Marketing for Incremental and Radical Innovation, Chapter 10, The Strategic Use of Social Media in the Fashion Industry, Hanna Kontu (London College of Fashion, UK) and Alessandra Vecchi (London College of Fashion, UK & University of Bologna, Italy). Hershey, PA: Business Science Reference, 2014.
[iii] Ahrendts, Angela. “Burberry’s CEO on Turning an Aging British Icon into a Global Luxury Brand.” Harvard Business Review, August 1, 2014. https://hbr.org/2013/01/burberrys-ceo-on-turning-an-aging-british-icon-into-a-global-luxury-brand.
[iv] Mower, Sarah. “How Christopher Bailey Transformed Burberry and Redefined Brand Revivals in the 21st Century.” Vogue, November 1, 2017. https://www.vogue.com/article/burberry-christopher-bailey-legacy.
[v] “How Burberry Won Over Millennials.” Bain, February 6, 2019. https://www.bain.com/insights/how-burberry-won-over-millennials/.
[vi] Milnes, Hilary, Deanna Ting, Kristina Monllos, Tim Peterson, Deanna Ting, and Seb Joseph. “How Burberry Became the Top Digital Luxury Brand.” Digiday, March 20, 2017. https://digiday.com/marketing/burberry-became-top-digital-luxury-brand/.
[vii] Westerman, George, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee. Leading Digital Turning Technology into Business Transformation. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2015.
[viii] Doran, Sophie. “How Burberry Does Digital.” Luxury Society. Luxury Society, March 1, 2018. https://www.luxurysociety.com/en/articles/2014/01/how-burberry-does-digital/.
[ix] Leer, Courtney. “How Burberry Connects With Millennials.” Courtney, September 26, 2014. https://courtneyleer.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/burberrys-social-media-presence/.
[x] Capgemini consulting, January 2, 2012. https://www.capgemini.com/fr-fr/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/07/Digital_Transformation_Review_2.pdf.
[xi] “Case Study: Is Burberry’s Social Media Use the Best Amongst Luxury Brands?” Social Wall, October 4, 2016. https://socialwall.me/en/burberry-social-media-use-luxury-brands/.
[xii] Burberry Group plc, Annual Report and Accounts 2011/12, p.34
[xiii] McCabe, Maisie. “Burberry to Feature Tweet-Activated Camera during Catwalk Show.” Campaign. CampaignUK, April 15, 2015. https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/burberry-feature-tweet-activated-camera-during-catwalk-show/1335018.
[xiv] Kilcooley-O’halloran, Scarlett. “Twitter Launches Buy Button.” Vogue, September 9, 2014. https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/twitter-launches-buy-button-with-burberry.
[xv] a McKenzie, Sheena. “Angela Ahrendts: The Burberry CEO Who Reinvented a Heritage Brand for the Digital Age.” CNN Business, October 15, 2013. https://www.cnn.com/2013/10/15/business/the-burberry-ceo-who-reinvented/index.html.
[xvi] “Burberry Checks out Crowdsourcing with The Art of the Trench.” The Guardian, n.d. https://www.theguardian.com/media/pda/2009/nov/09/burberry-art-of-the-trench.
[xvii] “Burberry Regent Street.” Retail Innovation, January 1, 2013. http://retail-innovation.com/burberry-regent-street.
[xviii] Parr, Christopher Parr Christopher, and Christopher Parr. “Inside Burberry’s London Flagship Store.” Pursuitist, September 23, 2012. https://pursuitist.com/inside-burberrys-london-flagship-store/.
[xix] Karmali, Sarah. “Burberry And Google, Sitting In A Tree.” Vogue, June 12, 2013. https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/burberry-kisses-send-a-burberry-kiss-google-technology.