Communities in Crisis
Solutions in the era of the COVID-19 crisis for luxury retail brands.
Relationships between brands and consumers in the COVID-19 crisis have drifted through ups and downs, as day-by-day the global perspective about the future shifts. Especially in luxury, the relationship between brands and consumers is often distanced, in part caused by the fantastical nature of brand storytelling, and also by the exclusivity of becoming a client to such brands.
In recent years, many of these brands have relied on influencers and celebrities to tell stories of their imaginative brand worlds, paired with a focus on fabulous and highly exclusive events and select few points of sales. This has become a double-edged sword, as this translated to increasing conflicts of branding and exclusivity when brands joined e-commerce and social media — both considered to be founded to meet public demands for increased levels of transparency and broader accessibility. This is the reality of many brands, who neither own their own audience and content (benefiting directly from influencers who use their brand notoriety for visibility) nor their own path to consumption online.
This was not as pressing an issue until the worldwide quarantine shuttered the few connections these luxury brands had to their real clients at points of sales and special events. Their pivot to digital, which brands in other sectors such as health and wellness have tackled with gusto, has struggled against their principles of exclusivity and elusive communications. In fact, there are few brands that have managed to communicate online that everything is not at all ‘business as usual’ or a temporary inconvenience.
These businesses will be some of the ones who need to transform the way they relate to current and prospective clients to survive in the post COVID economy. Consumers have changed their behaviours — according to research by Bazaarvoice, before the pandemic, respondents to their survey’s main priorities when purchasing were quality (48%), price (47%) and brand (24%). Now, they’re mostly focused on availability (49%), price (36%) and quality (34%). To capture this changing consumer attention, we have prepared some tips and strategies.
1. Boost innovation and technology efforts
Examine internal processes for possible innovations — perhaps validation processes for documents can be moved to collaborative documents, or clogged inboxes with email chains can be turned into conversation channels for team-to-team chats. There are many solutions to innovate internal communications and processes to break down the silos usually separating individuals and teams in a workspace. The opportunity presented by the coronavirus is to innovate the way businesses operate, as it’s clear that the trend towards remote or distributed work was on track to continue and has only been accelerated by the global pandemic. This opens opportunities for globalisation and broader diversity in teams, and if implemented correctly, increases in employee satisfaction, productivity, and above all, lowers overhead costs of operations.
Research from MIT Sloan points to a fact many organizations pursuing innovation projects are already familiar with — that while 95% of the companies surveyed in the study said their most successful transformation projects were digital, 81% said that their internal capabilities were not comparable to industry leaders in the digital sector. Companies have begun to seek partnerships for innovation projects beyond their existing supply chain partners at an increasing rate. By partnering, investing in, or collaborating with industry leaders in innovation and technology, luxury brands can become leaders in the retail industry quickly by benefiting from the years of research, development and expertise of these external groups.
Improvements to the technology offerings of your organization will fluidify collaboration — both internally and externally. Not only can distributed and asynchronous teams benefit from improved digital tools to improve collaboration and information sharing, but in the long-term, end consumers will benefit from increased speed and personalization of services with AI technology, and the organization can take their feedback and reactions into account for future improvements.
The changing consumer mindset will evolve as the world integrates into the “new normal”, indicates recent research from McKinsey. Adopting digital-savvy methods increases the resiliency of a brand to manage the swaying habits of consumers during these periods, providing actionable data and reporting to better predict and anticipate their needs.
2. Boost teams and imagine the future of work
Directly improving relationships with existing clients requires connecting client-facing teams with the information to address their needs. Solutions that empower internal teams with data they need to make decisions increases the collective intelligence and efficiency of the community while maximizing the reactivity during face-time with clients. Creating a searchable database, simple access to training materials, product, process, and policy information, and even client history and requests for client-facing teams eliminates frustrating repetition for the end-consumers.
Implementing these same systems of sharing data will ultimately decrease those same frustrations internally — streamlining collaboration with more effective methods and more information. These collaborative and sharing processes help internal teams to feel that they’re contributing to the greater benefit of the organization when they’re adding to this data, and are able to more effectively bridge gaps between internal communities, instilling a culture of sharing into working life.
When organizations take the approach of considering every employee as their first client, this changes the way they begin to visualize and create the future of work in their organization. This is the first step to changing the mindset and focus from results to process. For any brand, they can begin this process by imagining how their values inform the day-to-day operations of an employee on any given team.
3. Boost experiences and personalize commerce
“Brands need to focus on implementing new methods to elevate shopping experiences, despite the strict regulations in place.”, says Gianluca Maina, CMO. “For high-end luxury products, brick and mortar retail space can become privileged product pick-up points, service centers, and by-appointment-only areas where customers can be welcomed in all safety and can be entertained during the last step of the customer journey (purchase, after-sales…)”. By providing personalized services for clients in these more intimate environments, whether at points of sale or through virtual means, brings an air of authenticity to interactions that drive emotional connections with the brand.
What beautiful brand storytelling the brand may have needs to be followed up with excellent experiences and positive emotional connections: “consumers remain hesitant to return to some of the in-person activities that were part of their daily lives before the start of the pandemic”, and so it is more important than ever to provide a unique, memorable, and compelling experience when clients are spending their valuable time with your brand (McKinsey).
There are immense amounts of useful data created from every interaction between a brand and an individual that often is overlooked. Beginning with examining this data is the stepping stone to building personalization into the experience for your clients and potential clients. For instance, if you have client files kept at every shop, start to accumulate these client files to find patterns in buying habits at times of the year for cross-sections of the population (for example the majority of 40–50-year-old males are shopping for graduation gifts for their children/relatives in the spring with a price range of $400-$600), preferences for individual client types (casual shoppers, first-time clients, etc). Building experiences that can target the needs and preferences of these individuals will make them feel valued because their actions are recognized.
Tailoring the digital approach to consider the diverse populations you are engaging with is key. There is a wealth of data to explore from social media and website traffic that can be used to create higher engagement from prospective clients and fans of the brand as well. Building and valuing these non-transactional relationships will elevate the experience of interacting with the brand beyond the point of sale. With an engaged and lively community, it can be found that clients and fans come together and advocate for the brand in other communities, and even create micro-communities of their own.
The new frontier of digital experiences has long been neglected, and it is now in the hands of any luxury brand to define a new level of white-glove service for the industry. The coronavirus pandemic has presented an opportunity for this industry to embrace change, and visualize the future of their clients and their business.
This article was produced in collaboration between Gianluca Maina — Marketing professional, CMO of the luxury brand de Grisogono; Hunter MacKinnon — product owner in Southpigalle’s Paris office; Henri d’Anterroches — the co-founder of Southpigalle; and was originally published on Medium →.
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