Founded more than 150 years ago, Burberry is an icon of British culture, a seasoned brand with a story to tell. In spite of its old age, however, the fashion house remains dedicated to an audience of contemporary psychographics and an age under 30. Burberry’s most recent development, “Smart Personalisation,” derives its name from a Runway Made to Order program that features product engraving and customized digital content.
This innovative strategy was introduced along with Monday’s Burberry Prorsum Fall/Winter 2013-2014 runway show. At the finale of the show, online followers were (and will continue to be for the next two weeks) able to purchase a selection of coats and bags through the Runway Made to Order service, with the promise of receiving their items in approximately nine weeks (before the pieces become available in Burberry stores). The option of engraving your name into the metal coat tag or bag plate is where Smart Personalisation comes to life.
At no additional cost, these pieces come with built-in technology (currently kept secret by the brand) that allows customers to unlock customized digital content. As Vogue explains, aligning the item with a smart phone triggers video footage showcasing the creation of that particular piece; according to Burberry’s description of the introductory video, content includes everything from original sketches and runway edits to craftsmanship and personalisation. Furthermore, the Regent Street flagship store in London is adorned with immense mirrors that transform into screens when a chip-embedded item walks in front of it. The same personalized content that would appear on a hand-held device is then streamed across the reflective surface.
Burberry’s runway show this week was also extremely digizen-friendly. The show was streamed live on the Burberry website along with other media sites, the brand’s Facebook page and its Twitter feed (a decision Burberry believes to be revolutionary). A “Burberry Beauty Booth” feature was implemented through Twitter, during which models were able to share behind-the-scenes info with their followers by utilizing the #BeautyBooth hashtag. Furthermore, an Instagram feed situated alongside the live stream showcased accessories close up as they were captured at the end of the runway. The digital initiative in this case was all-encompassing, ensuring that the brand’s cyber audience was reached across all platforms. As stated by the New York Times, there may have been 1,500 seats in the show’s audience,
“…But the audience potentially was more than 19.3 million, the number of Burberry’s followers across all digital platforms.”
This is not the first time that Burberry has headed the fashion industry’s digital race. Last year, Burberry equipped some of its flagship stores with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, allowing shoppers to view product-specific multimedia content on display screens around the store. In Fall 2010, the fashion house streamed its show live in 3D, becoming the first major brand to do so (the Huffington Post agrees). During the same time period, Burberry also premiered its Runway to Reality program which allowed specific pieces to be purchased a week after the show, forgoing the typical six-month wait.
According to Jenny Dyson, Creative Director of Pencil (a boutique content agency in London),
“Burberry’s live streaming of its catwalk shows, plus inviting customers to buy directly off the screen, is a clever digital trick to democratize the brand experience without compromising on its brand vision/luxury status.”
While some, such as the Economist, fear that brand dilution is in Burberry’s future, others are applauding the digital concentration for its vast potential. Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s CEO since 2006, is the main advocate for the brand’s digital focus and spearheads plans such as “Customer 360,” which allows Burberry to profile and database a shopper by their purchase tendencies and preferences. Avoiding critique, the plan includes an opt-in option, protecting customers’ freedom of choice and their privacy. Ahrendts seems to believe that the younger generations of luxury shoppers are the ones that remain untargeted by other high-fashion brands and their illustrious waiting lists. By appealing to the one-click audience, Ahrendts hopes to increase sales through digitized purchase options and awareness through social media.
Indeed, the New York Times alludes to the brand now having more visitors to its website per week than it has to its stores worldwide in the same time span. Even if the prices of the products remain stable, has the brand itself become more available? I do not mean simply physically (or, in this case, cyberspatially) available, but as an image more attainable. It is possible that the personal experience (or the allusion of personal) online appends brand value in a way that appeals to consumers who previously believed Burberry to be too expensive or just another pretentious brand. Either way, Burberry’s digital strategy is one that is certainly setting trends in the industry and one that is, if anything, appealing to those young and wealthy who adore luxury brands as much as they do touch-screens.