Luxury’s anti-social (media) brigade

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By now it’s a truism of the Facebook age that social media allows relatively small brands or individuals to attain audiences far larger than they would traditionally have reached; the barriers to entry are so low, and the potential users so high. So it’s a bit of a shocker to see the latest study from L2, the digital think tank, which looked at small-to-mid-size European luxury fashion brands and their “digital IQ” (ie, how well they use the digital space for etail/communication/marketing) and discover they pretty much … suck.

Of the 46 brands with revenues estimated at between €25-250m, not one - NOT ONE - attained the level of “genius” (to put this in perspective, in all the other studies L2 has done in this space - of larger luxury brands, beauty brands, car brands - this has never happened), and 70 per cent are actually what they term “challenged” and “feeble”. These include names like Balmain, Celine, Nina Ricci and Berluti. The top spot got seized by Agent Provocateur, thanks to their sexy short films.

Well. This sector has clearly not been paying attention to their pop culture. Have they not followed the unknown tween who posted a video on YouTube, got discovered and became one of the biggest stars of the age (say hello, Justin Beiber), or the so-so actor in minor films who maintained a tremendously high profile by tweeting to millions (take a bow, Ashton Kutcher), or the group of guys who got together in a dorm room and start selling enough trousers to become a meaningful competitor to places like Eddie Bauer (hands up mens’ wear etailer Bonobos)?

Did they not pay attention when Karl Lagerfeld, who makes it something of a personal mission statement to be ahead of the curve on all things technological, announced he had decided to re-launch his eponymous brand online only, because it is there that you get the biggest bang for your buck?

Guess not. Consider these damning facts:

- According to the L2 study, one third of the brands in their index do not support ecommerce, and less than half participate in paid internet search;

- Only 33 per cent of the brands provide any service on mobile devices;

- Only half of the brands offer site search, while 43 per cent of sites are not equipped with basic product filtering;

- two-thirds of the brand sites do not show maps to stores or post their opening hours, and almost 80 per cent do not list store services;

- Only a third of the brands offer product tweeting, and less than 30 per cent allow sharing via email.

- only 43 per cent purchase their own brand terms on Google (as a result, discount sites such as eBay and Vente-Privée were purchasing one-third of key brand terms).

Even more bizarrely, this seems to break down according to country: according to L2, “Brands headquartered in the UK register higher digital IQs than those from other countries … Italy and France continue to lag behind their British peers by a considerable margin.” Them’s fighting words!

When I asked Véronique Valcu, one of the researchers on the report, what she thought was going on, she came up with three answers:

  1. Brands headquartered in countries known for digital innovation tend to be more innovative themselves (“they are closer to the source,” she said, which is kind of like “it’s in the air”);
  2. Second, ye olde axiom about luxury being scared of loss of control: essentially, the more channels they are in, the less of an iron-fist they can use; however, as Ms Valcu pointed out, if you look at the numerical equivalents in America such as Tory Burch and Diane von Furstenberg, “they have proven that the more varied means of communication you use, the tighter you bind your consumer”;
  3. And finally, the fact that it is very hard to monetise the effects of a strong social media presence, and hence hard to convince some executives this is worth investment.

Being called “feeble” might do the trick, though.