Brands Shouldn’t Ignore the Influence of Instagram in China


As luxury brands search for new and cost-efficient ways to connect with Chinese luxury consumers, Instagram influencers remain largely untapped as stakeholders for brand building. To be sure, working with Instagram influencers presents some apparent hurdles, from a lack of awareness among Chinese luxury consumers, to geopolitics that can be tricky to navigate, to the on-going ban on Instagram in China.

For all these hurdles, however, we know that millions of Chinese-speakers continue to follow the latest snaps of their favorite Chinese celebrities and influencers on the platform. For many who live abroad or have returned from education abroad since 2012, Instagram has opened up a window to a global world of fashion influencers and trendsetters that do not have accounts on Chinese social media. What’s more, numbers by social analytics firm Napoleoncat point to 2.6 to 3.7 million mainland China-based Instagram users in any given month.

This begs the question: when it comes to marketing to Chinese luxury consumers, could Instagram influencers give Weibo KOLs a run for their money?

Instagram Influencers are Visible on Chinese Social Media

Together with analytics firm Influenpedia, an ROI-driven influencer platform, we analyzed Weibo conversations over a period of three months of ten fashion influencers with Instagram followings over 200,000, but no official presence on any Chinese social media. While mentions ranged from 1 to 30 per week, the audience engaging in discussions was highly targeted, with 80 percent of Weibo posts made by women under the age of 30. This is an audience actively following international fashion influencers, and therefore likely to have an opinion of luxury brands based on their collaborations around the world. More significantly, in many cases, the mentions come from top-tier media accounts and Chinese KOLs, who regularly feature the influencers across their social platforms.

Two such popular Instagram icons are U.S. reality-star turned fashion icon Olivia Palermo — six million followers on Instagram — who has her latest fashion snaps featured daily on Olivia PalmeroDaily, a fan-made account on Weibo, with 125k followers. Ever-present in media articles and social posts Weibo and WeChat, over the past three months her style has been featured in Elle China, Harper’s Bazaar, and referenced by top fashion KOLs Mr. Bags and Shiliupo. And then there’s Chiara Ferragni, the Italian fashion businesswoman and Instagram royalty, with over 16.3 million followers, who has herself been the object of 140M+views and 47K+ discussions on Weibo under the hashtag #Chiara Ferragni#.

The Opportunity for Luxury Brands

Without actively engaging on Chinese platforms, top fashion Instagram influencers already have an always-on visibility that has largely fallen under the radar of luxury brands in China. This does not mean that luxury brands should start featuring Instagram influencers in all their China campaigns, and, as with Chinese KOLs, any collaboration has to be authentic and culturally sensitive. The content has to be relevant to the brand, the influencer, and the target audience.

These influencers are highly experienced with luxury brands, yet unknown to a vast portion of Chinese luxury consumers waiting to expand their fashion — and social — horizon. When it comes to introducing the influencers to Chinese netizens, brands have an opportunity to become part of the global window on the fashion world and grow their own social media loyalty in China.

The Lowdown

Through Chinese media, KOLs and fan clubs, Instagram influencers represent a channel to a niche, globally minded Chinese audience that is tuned-in the latest happenings outside of China’s fashion ecosystem. Equally, marketing teams in China may find in Instagram influencers both a source of quality content, as well as an opportunity to shake-up the current social marketing environment with new but credible stakeholders.

 

Gregory Cole and Chen Liang are Co-Founders and Directors of strategic communications consultancy CDGL. Based across London and Hong Kong, the team consults for global and Chinese luxury brands looking to engage Chinese consumers around the world.





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What AI Can Do for Luxury Brands: Interview


Millennials and Generation Z are ushering in the rise of a new data-driven experience economy, and to the luxury sector that traditionally prides itself on offering top-notch goods and services, they must realize that today’s younger customers are looking beyond that. They want to be engaged on an emotional, sensorial, or even intellectual level. In short, they want an unforgettable experience, and often they want those experiences to be personal and exclusive. Therefore, it’s become crucial for luxury brands to provide customers with the right service at the right moment. Artificial intelligence (AI), which uses the latest technologies to learn from buyer experiences, offers them the best solutions.

In our conversation with Daniel Langer, CEO of the luxury and lifestyle brand development company Équité, Jing Daily attempts to discover what exactly AI means to the luxury industry today, what obstacles are keeping some brands from fully embracing this technology, and if there are any foreseeable consequences in applying AI to the luxury business.

Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité. Courtesy image

Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité. Courtesy image

Why do you think the luxury industry has been relatively slow in embracing artificial intelligence compared to others?

The luxury industry has been slower to digital [platforms] than other sectors. Just about ten years ago, most luxury CEOs I talked to told me that there would be no luxury brand selling online ever. Those CEOs either retired or were fired for a good reason. Now, digitization is on top of the luxury industry’s agenda. Hence we see brands that are much more open today, with some players like Gucci, Dior, Chanel, and even Rolls-Royce shifting an enormous focus to digital. Advanced data querying, machine learning, and AI require much more competency than many in-house teams have. Few companies in the world truly master AI, and very few can combine AI with luxury strategies as Équité does.

How can AI improve the customer experience?

First of all, let me clarify that when most people speak about AI, they mean something different. The word is very often overused. “Advanced data querying” would be more precise in many cases. AI is just a component of it and makes sense in specific cases where complex connections between data points need to be identified. Advanced data analytics can help to document and improve the consumer experience by generating insights and making sure that each customer always receives personalized service. As an example: Imagine that you regularly shop at your local Louis Vuitton store, let’s say in Shanghai. They know you, and the service experience is tailored to you. Then you travel to Hong Kong on a business trip. Ideally, the store staff should know all about your history and preferences, and you should feel at home. What you don’t want is to feel like a stranger just because you are not at your home store or because you access the brand online. All touchpoint experiences need to be connected and seamless. But that’s not yet AI, that would be a holistic CRM [customer relationship management] system.

On top of that CRM infrastructure, AI can now help you identify complex patterns, predict what you may like, and trigger personalized customer journeys, perhaps through an automated email with specific content based on predictive analytics. Hence, the AI system ideally triggers an interaction precisely at the right moment. The ideal result is a personalized experience that excites consumers across all touch-points with relevant content.

What are some mistakes luxury brands usually make with AI?

The biggest mistake is to underestimate how game-changing this technology is. I believe that in the future, brands will either succeed by powering their customer journeys with AI-generated insights and actions or they won’t survive. That’s because competing without it means not generating enough insight, wasting digital advertising money, and using content that isn’t optimized. This is simply not sustainable over time. Brands should run on data, not on gut feeling.

Can you name one luxury brand that you think is good at utilizing AI?

The auction house Sotheby’s has impressed me with how they use advanced data technologies like AI to determine, for example, which types of paintings might receive the highest bids. Hence, the application goes far beyond the customer journey. A brand should know if a specific advertising campaign triggers a particular sale. AI can provide that if applied in the right way.

Luxury is emotional while AI is logical. Will AI change the nature of luxury?

AI is an enabler. It allows us to identify the roots of issues, make sense of behavior, and reveal otherwise hidden patterns. This, in turn, helps a brand run in a much more efficient way. Which allows us to be more creative. To me, it is not logic versus emotion. AI can lead to emotion on steroids.





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Why the Female Power Suit Is the Next Big Business in China


In the West, women’s suits have had cultural momentum during the 1970s’ feminist movement. Photographer Helmut Newton’s iconic, woman-in-tuxedo shot on French Vogue in 1975 elevated YSL’s Le Smoking look to a cultural statement — a controversial statement of femininity at the time. In 2019, the Chinese TV series “All is Well,” featuring actress Yao Chen dressed in a suit most of the time, underlines the beginning of China’s Le Smoking moment.

(“Le smoking” look by Yves Saint Laurent, published on French Vogue in 1975, shot by photographer Helmut Newton. Source: thecodemag.com

“Le Smoking” look by Yves Saint Laurent, published on French Vogue in 1975, shot by photographer Helmut Newton. Photo: thecodemag.com

Having topped Weibo’s top-ten most searched topics for 20 consecutive days and streamed over 390 million times online, “All is Well” has been a national sensation for the past two months. The series portrays the life of a typical Chinese middle-class family, which traditionally values sons over daughters, with women as “second-class” family members. Its storyline has particularly struck a chord with Chinese women through the protagonist Su Mingyu (acted by Yao Chen), who confronts the gender bias in her own family with fierce independence. Armed with a suit in every episode, Su Mingyu has dominated Chinese social media with her handsome suit styles and has led a national shopping trend for “women’s suits.”

Protagonist Su Mingyu in TV series “All is well” populated the woman-in-suit look in China lately. Photo: @YaoChen official Weibo account.

Protagonist Su Mingyu in the TV series “All is Well” has popularized the woman-in-suit look in China lately. Photo: @YaoChen official Weibo account.

On the lifestyle sharing platform Little Red Book, there are now over 4,600 posts under the hashtag #Su Mingyu outfit” that analyze the character’s fashion choices from head to toe: Burberry suit, Max Mara coat, Erdos cashmere sweater, Valextra bag, Stuart Weitman boots, and so on. Her style consists of contemporary, work-appropriate pieces from luxury brands, promoting the idea of what a new-age, successful Chinese woman looks like. Su Mingyu has projected the ideal persona that most Chinese women aspire to but are often afraid to be: luxury-suit-wearing, financially independent, and mentally strong despite going through gender discrimination all her life.

But the suit trend led by Su Mingyu didn’t happen by chance. For more than a year, an exponentially growing amount of Chinese women have been chasing after the affirmative, Alpha-female look. According to the “2019 China Fashion Data Report” issued by Alibaba, “suits” was female shoppers’ top-searched keyword on Taobao last year, with the sales volume of women’s suits surpassing that of men’s suits for the first time on January 27, 2019. Search volume for the term “大哥廓西,” literally meaning “Big-bro, shoulder-padded suit” in Chinese, grew 317 percent year-on-year, with sales increasing 39 percent. While Alibaba data shows that Chinese women are pursuing a more alpha look, Chinese men are embracing a more “feminine” style in the fashion spectrum: “lace,” “transparent,” “earring” topped the list of growing search keywords. The report expects that in ten years, the number of Chinese women owning suits will far surpass that of men.

Before the Su Mingyu suit-look dominated the Internet, female celebrities sporting suits had already started to grab the public’s attention and admiration. On February 27th, actress Tang Yan wore a beige oversized suit with a pair of street-style sneakers to the airport and made the hashtag #唐嫣西装配运动鞋# (“TangYan in suit and sneaker”) one of the most-searched terms on Weibo. Lately, a genre of posts comparing Chinese female celebrities’ suit styles has also populated China’s lifestyle accounts.

This current appetite for women’s suits has a deeper cultural connotation than just being a style trend. After all, it wasn’t until recently that the “Alpha female” image became widely accepted in the Chinese public. Historically, Chinese media tends to depict women as docile, soft-tempered characters that avoid an assertive, successful role like Su Mingyu in “All is Well.” Despite the country’s rapid modernization as a whole, patriarchal values run deep in its everyday social fabric.

The gender-charged issues that Su Mingyu experiences, such as her willingness to prove her personal worth as equal to her brothers by acing her career, are heartfelt issues that Chinese women are collectively facing today. In this context, suits have become their armor, a stylish escapade to free themselves from the outdated gender expectations they grew up with.

In the West, suits continue to be a pivotal vehicle for women to convey an empowering message. For example, in October 2018, Lady Gaga’s wore a Marc Jacobs power suit while delivering a speech against sexual assault. It was a conscious choice to express her solidarity towards the global #MeToo movement. Although #MeToo is much more muted in China, the gender issues they face are no less complex. It’s a time when gender fluidity and “Pretty in pink” expectations are the norm to coexist for women in the workplace. The degree of assertiveness and freedom Chinese women seek in clothing is often proportional to the intensity of unfairness they live with day-to-day. For any brand that wants to stay relevant in China’s she economy, taking this social shift into account would be crucial for delivering the next truly empowering message.





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Here’s 5 masterpiece from the iconic architect


Singapore’s close relationship with Israel is an open secret but suffice it to say, the country’s relationship with one Israeli in particular is especially intimate. No, we’re not talking about Yussein Nasir of Nas Daily, we are talking about world renowned architect Moshe Safdie. The 81 year old US-based Israeli architect is not just responsible for Marina Bay Sands, but also the recently opened Changi Jewel. Safdie’s style of architecture is also represented in many of the condominium developments here.

Moshe Safdie: 5 signature masterpieces from the iconic architect

Raised in Canada, the multi-award-winning Safdie has his architectural marvels all around the world for all to admire. From Changi Airport’s new Jewel shopping extension to Marina Bay Sands, Moshe Safdie made his debut in the architecture scene with Habitat 67 in 1967. His deft ability to design for urban environments showcases much of the urban planner’s architectural leitmotif. Safdie is an ardent advocate of connected buildings with open spaces, utilising the external environment’s natural beauty and drawing it indoors.

1. Habitat 67, Montreal

Safdie had an early start in his career when at age 30,  he unveiled his first architectural opus-  Habitat 67,  as his master’s thesis. Since then, his first project has achieved international acclaim and recognition. The Montreal’s aesthetic uniqueness lay in the fact that the world had never before seen a residential complex of stacked units in such a manner. Safdie’s groundbreaking work created a new housing typology that is both effective and site adaptable. The design on Habitat 67 has also inspired AD100 architect Bjarke Ingels of BIG to design a similar form in Toronto. 

Containing 158 apartments, the complex was believed to illustrate the new lifestyle people would live in increasingly crowded cities in the world. According to Safdie, many of the original occupants still live in the building, and the architect has also kept a residence for himself there. From one glance, this complex does not look like it was built in 1967. 

In Singapore, a development reminiscent of  Habitat 67 can be found. Sky Habitat created a buzz in the region by living up to its claim of “terraced houses in the sky” –  The two residential towers in Singapore’s Bishan neighbourhood contain a total of 509 apartments, each with its own balcony overlooking a swimming pool and gardens slotted in the central void.

2. Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore

Jewel in progress

Redefining airport experiences, Safdie’s recent $1.3 billion project has all eyes on Singapore. The world-renowned architect and his firm first had to submit ideas in a bidding process to CapitaLand, which would pick the eventual winner. “As I started to sketch the design ideas, we liked the idea of a fully transparent roof over the building,” says Safdie. The sketch of a Jurrasic-like garden with the largest indoor waterfall in the world helped the architectural firm win the bid.

“I wanted to explore a new kind of urban space, a space you go to as a matter of course, because you need to shop, because you’re flying out somewhere, and yet it’s a garden — somewhere that says ‘let’s rethink what the public realm is, let’s rethink what it is to shop,’” Safdie told CNN Travel last year.

Though many architects focus on its exterior of the building, Safdie’s focus turned to its beauty within the 135,700 sq m development. Featuring the world’s tallest waterfall, five-story garden with walking trails and over 280 retail stores and F&B outlets, Jewel changes the perception of how airports should be. With the new addition of Jewel, Changi Airport is expected to hold the “World’s Best Airport” again. “I do predict now, though, that Jewel will become an icon for Singapore no less than MBS,” he told reporters on Friday (April 12), ahead of Jewel Changi Airport’s official opening on Wednesday.

3. Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Valued at $8 billion today, Marina Bay Sands needs no introduction. Recognised as an architectural icon in Singapore, this building has transformed Singapore’s skyline and gaming landscape. The internationally-acclaimed octogenarian was inspired by card decks and designed the 38-hectare multi-purpose resort complete with three 55-story hotel towers, casino, convention center, museum and shops. At its opening in 2010, Marina Bay Sands was the world’s most expensive stand-alone casino, featuring 500 tables, 1,600 slot machines, and priced at around US$6.6 billion.

However, Safde is not done with Marina Bay Sands. He was recruited to design the fourth tower at Marina Bay Sands which will be a separate hotel with 1,000 suites, a sky roof, a swimming pool, a 15,000-seater amphitheatre and a signature restaurant as part of Resort World’s billion dollar project expansion. He revealed the new tower will consist of “two curvilinear planes, wrapping around each other” and will be “crowned by a multi-level SkyPark amenity”, in contrast to the linear SkyPark of the existing property.

4. Crystal Bridges Museum of America Art, Arkansas

Owned by the Walton family and completed in 2010, the art museum functions as a place for the community and as an iconic cultural destination. The contemporary structures designed by Safdie are meant to provide plenty of views of the surrounding environment and bringing people, art and nature together in one building. Dramatic curves of the museum, use of windows, and key placement of open and green spaces easily reflects Safdie’s architecture style.

5. Raffles City, Chongqing

The $3.8 billion infrastructure was inspired by traditional Chinese sailing vessels, a nod to Chongqing’s past as a trading post. Recognised as a symbol of strong ties between China and Singapore, Raffles City Chongqing will be Singapore’s largest single development in China at $.9 billion.

Resembling Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, ‘The Crystal’ sky bridge, designed by Safdie Architects, measures 300 meters in length, 32.5 meters in width, 26.5 meters in height, and links six of the eight skyscrapers 250 meters high up in the Chongqing sky. ‘The Crystal’ sky bridge includes a swimming pool, observation desk and retail space.

The opening of Raffles City will join the list of the genius architect’s 8 other major openings around the world including Jewel Changi Airport and Serena del Mar in Columbia. With the success Safdie brings, it is no surprise when he was named the laureate for the 2019 Wolf Prize for Architecture.

 

 

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Luxury Is Love: 3 Implications for Luxury Brands to Be Successful in China


At a recent luxury leadership workshop that we organized in Asia with the top management team of an iconic European luxury brand, I asked all participants to share with me in one sentence, what luxury is for them. One executive smiled when she pointed to her Hermès bag. She looked at me and said, “Daniel, I usually do not buy expensive things, but this bag was love at first sight: I saw it, I fell in love, I wanted it, I would have done anything to get it.”

To me, this is one of the best definitions of luxury: A brand that makes you fall in love. It expresses the intensity of the relationship between consumers and the brand. It is not a standard purchase, done casually without paying attention. In contrary, it is a conscious choice, driven by an emotional connection. It leads to a relationship that consumers describe as love.

Let’s pause here for a moment: if a luxury brand creates a love relationship — then all rules of love relationships apply. Most importantly, at all times consumers need to feel that the brand is in love with them, too. If they have the impression, that the relationship is not essential to the brand, they will break up. And when they break up — like in real life — love can turn into hate, and those consumers, who were the most vocal advocates, will now turn sour and be lost. There is no exception to the rule, and in my experience, this is where many luxury brands fail.

We find in our work with luxury brands across industries that although all managers know about the importance of customer experience management, they often underestimate the intense love relationship that customers have with their brands. Hence, while they may be good at some consumer touch points, they usually do not manage the customer journey appropriately or don’t pay enough attention to specific details.

Two examples come to my mind: first, a leading luxury hotel chain that invested a high double-digit dollar amount (north of $50 million) in renovating their flagship hotel. After the renovation, customer satisfaction was at an all-time low. Reason: they still had the same staff and did not train them to upgrade their service with the upgraded facility. Result: a mismatch between higher consumer expectations and unchanged service. The result — a broken love relationship, unhappy customers, more than $50 million wasted until the staff was trained to perform in an elevated way across every touch point. A second example, an iconic Swiss watch company that is seen by many as the pinnacle of luxury in mechanical wristwatches. A friend of mine in Hong Kong bought one of their flagship models, and a screw in the automatic movement loosened and severely damaged it. My friend, an influential, avid watch collector with an impressive collection of some of the rarest and most beautiful mechanical timepieces tried unsuccessfully to get help from the brand. Messages and emails were unanswered. Finally, they suggested that he was responsible for the loose screw inside of the movement until he came to a point where his love for the brand turned into deep disappointment. Their lack of compassion, customer service, and solution resulted in him always complaining about the brand and not buying anymore from them. I estimate that the brand lost more than $100,000 of future revenue with him, and even worse, since he is telling his story to everyone in his influential circle, a lot of potential buyers in China and Hong Kong may not buy the brand given his experience.

In both cases, consumers did not feel loved — in both instances underestimating the power of the love relationship and not having the right tools in place caused damage to the brand. So, what should brands do?

1. Define an authentic positioning

When we identify gaps for our clients in customer journeys and brand experiences, we usually see that issues start with an insufficient definition of the brand. When we apply our luxury brand model, most of the time, while brand equity seems healthy at first glance, we find gaps especially in the emotional core of the brands. In other words, the ability to inspire consumers. And inspiration is the basis for a love relationship. This goes beyond the “why” question. Only when brands are sharply defined and when this definition can be condensed and explained with a few simple words, then consumers will relate to it. In China, where the majority of luxury consumers are under 40 years old and digitally native, any brand positioning that needs more than 5 seconds to understand will fail. And a brand that is not recognized will never be perceived as relevant and authentic. In my experience, an appropriate brand equity aspiration and definition is an area that is strongly underestimated for China, especially by global brands that often rely on their worldwide playbook and then wonder why the results in China are disappointing.

2. Understand how your brand is perceived

Most brands rely on traditional market research or basic digitally-generated consumer insights. In China, this is not sufficient and will lead to failure. It is crucial to have a real-time grasp on which conversations are going on around the brand, how consumer consent is shifting and how the communication of the brand is shaping perceptions. Basic heatmaps and social listening tools are not sufficient, especially since most standard tools are breaking down with the firewalled Chinese Internet. Implementing an appropriate digital infrastructure, which should include advanced data querying and AI, and that works with Chinese consumers is indispensable. I am surprised how often I hear managers asking, do we need that? Launching in China without a clear, automatically updating data set on how consumers talk about the brand means launching in a black box and hoping for good results. Good luck with that.

3. Create communities and spread the love

Once the brand is defined in an authentic and relevant way for Chinese consumers and the infrastructure is in place to have a real-time view on consumers, it is all about building communities and providing excellent service. In my point of view, traditional advertising in China is a waste of money and should be replaced by targeted digital advertising, because it is the only way to create communities of brand lovers. With the help of KOLs (key opinion leaders), those communities can be nurtured and developed. In the best case, brands create a platform for ongoing consumer interactions in both dimensions, and this also requires advanced CRM systems. Of course, managing communities also means on a broader scale, optimizing every touch point, training staff according to the brand positioning developed before and ensuring that the love relationship is strengthened touch point by touch point.

When consumers fall in love, this has more profound implications than what is apparent at first glance. And managing hundreds, thousands and millions of love relationships at the same time is not easy and requires utmost precision. To succeed in China, advanced technology and the right combination of luxury strategies and tools is a precondition, it is not an option. And it prepares companies for the future. Because what happens now in China is anticipating how increasingly young and digital consumers will make their brand choices worldwide.

Daniel Langer is CEO of the luxury, lifestyle and consumer brand strategy firm Équité. He consults some of the leading luxury brands in the world, is the author of several luxury management books, a regular keynote speaker, and holds management seminars in Europe, the USA, and Asia. Follow @drlanger





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LVMH Uses WeChat to Find Luxury Sales Stars of the Future


April 12 was not a usual Friday at the Lafayette Art & Design Center in Shanghai’s Huangpu District. The Inside LVMH program culminated in a “discovery day” where 120 aspiring students gathered to interact with top LVMH executives, share fresh ideas for the future of retail, and hopefully find their dream career in one of the world’s top luxury companies.

After the first Inside LVMH in Paris in 2016, the fashion house decided to stage a second edition in China, where they invited Chinese youth to discover the depth and breadth of expertise the company had to offer. “This is to promote our engagement with Chinese youth,” said Andrew Wu, LVMH Group President Greater China. “As our group pioneered direct retail operation of international luxury brands in China from 1992-1993, we have literally been ‘growing up’ with this same young Chinese generation, which is an extraordinary connection.”

On March 4, the fashion house launched a WeChat Mini Program that invited Chinese youth to explore six major business lines like fashion & leather goods and watches & jewelry via the app. In the Mini Program, students were able to listen to LVMH employees talk about their experiences, as well as sign up for the event. “In China, everyone is engaged on WeChat,” explained Eliz Ho, HR Development Director at LVMH China. “Hence, it is very logical and easy for us to connect with our target audience, which is the university students in China.”

lvmh wechat

LVMH launched a WeChat mini program to engage Chinese youth / Screenshot

Within two weeks, LVMH’s WeChat Mini Program triggered 9,500 registrations, and over 1,500 students shared their writing or video submissions for the brand’s “Client Experience of Tomorrow” talent call. Out of those applications, 200 students from more than 50 universities were selected to join store tours within 20 of the group’s Maisons, including Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chaumet, and Sephora, in Shanghai and Beijing on April 1-3. 120 of those students were awarded tickets to the big day on April 12.

Those chosen were greeted with a special challenge. They were divided into 20 teams and coached by LVMH senior executives and HR to imagine an in-store experience that would surprise and delight luxury clients of today and tomorrow. “In China, the luxury consumers are getting younger and younger,” said Ho. “We want Chinese millennials to share with us their views on creating the client experience of tomorrow — how to design new experiences and excite customers differently. Because [the students] are also our customers, so their views are the most relevant to us.”

So what specifically is LVMH looking for with their “Client Experience of Tomorrow”? Andrew Wu used an interesting analogy to explain it. “Luxury retail is like a stage. You can find set-up, lighting, music, costumes and all kinds of cultural elements. When you are a customer, you see the ‘performance’ of products. When you work in retail, you create that performance to touch your audience. Our industry is about emotions, rather than reason.”

After rounds of pitches, a panel that included Wu would vote for the winners. And while LVMH hasn’t disclosed the four winning teams and their ideas yet, what we do know is that LVMH has promised the victors a breakfast session with Andrew Wu and internship opportunities with their desired brands. Those brands also conducted speed interviews during the event, which resulted in as many as 100 internships across 25 brands. These internships covered various functions, from marketing to digital strategies, but they all emphasized luxury retail.

“The LVMH Group has much to offer,” said Anne Laure Despeaux, Employer Branding Director at LVMH. “We welcome young people who are curious, have the entrepreneurial spirit, and dare to make an impact.” And she had a bit of advice for those who aspire to enter the luxury industry as well. “What people often see from the outside is the glamorous side of working in the luxury industry, be it a fashion show or rubbing shoulders with celebrities,” she said. “Inside, it is obviously about hard work. Every day we challenge ourselves, push the boundaries, and deliver extraordinary experiences for our clients.”





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Chinese Whispers: Cartier Teams up with The Palace Museum to Host Art Exhibition, and More


In “Chinese Whispers,” we share the biggest news stories about the luxury industry in China that have yet to make it into the English language.

In this week’s edition, we discuss:

  • Cartier‘s upcoming crossover art exhibition with China’s Palace Museum,
  • JD.com’s plan of opening a futuristic store in Chongqing, and
  • Lululemon’s first spokesperson in China

1. Cartier’s next art exhibition in China taps into popularity of Palace Museum – Cartier

The renowned French jewelry brand Cartier has announced this week it will collaborate with China’s most influential cultural institution Palace Museum to co-host a special art exhibition at Meridian Gate from June 1 to July 31. It marks the brand’s second collaboration with the museum since Cartier successfully hosted a jewelry show there in 2009.

The upcoming exhibition themed “Beyond Boundary” will showcase over exquisite 830 art pieces including items from Cartier, the Palace Museum, as well as contributions from international art institutions like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Australia to royal families and personal collectors.

JD.com's first futuristic offline store will debut in Chongqing this year. Photo: Shutterstock

JD.com’s first futuristic offline store will debut in Chongqing this year. Photo: Shutterstock

2. JD.com said to debut the first futuristic offline store in Chongqing before the end of this year – Winsang

China’s second-largest e-commerce company JD.com will open its first futuristic, tech-driven offline shopping mall at Chongqing Putai Square later this year, a company spokesperson announced at an industry summit in Beijing earlier this week.

The 50,000-square-meter, three-floor store in Chongqing will primarily electronic products, furniture and lifestyle products. The floor plan shows the first floor is experience-oriented, allowing consumers to try on the company’s latest interactive technologies and smart devices; and the second floor is the place for entertainment, video gaming, and a kids space, while the third floor will host brands’ boutique stores. The mall is currently under construction.

Lululemon's Chinese spokesperson, Qu Chuxiao. Photo: Lululemon's Weibo

Lululemon’s Chinese spokesperson, Qu Chuxiao. Photo: Lululemon’s Weibo

3. Lululemon finds a Chinese spokesperson to aid the brand’s fast expansion in the market – Linkshop

The fast-growing high-end sportswear brand Lululemon named the Chinese actor Qu Chuxiao (屈楚萧) as its first spokesperson in the Chinese market on April 16. The 25-year-old emerging actor, who rose to fame after playing the key role in “The Wandering Earth,” China’s first commercially-successful sci-fiction film earlier this year, can help brands target consumers at the same age.





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Lancôme, Cartier and VanCleef’s WeChat Moments Ads Ranked Top in Q1


It’s not surprising that the world’s largest luxury market – China – is also one of the biggest markets for luxury advertising. Advertisers shelled out $2.1 billion in China in 2017, 53 percent of which was invested in digital channels, according to a report from media agency Zenith.

WeChat has become one of the most important digital advertising channels for luxury brands over the last year. Moments ads are one way for luxury brands to reach the 1 billion monthly active users on WeChat. The ads are posted on users’ news feeds, where they spend most of their time browsing their friends’ latest updates – it’s valuable real estate for advertisers. The mechanism of Moments ads is similar to Instagram Story feature – if a user doesn’t engage with an ad (e.g., liking, commenting, or clicking), it will disappear within 6 hours. Once opened, it occupies the entire screen, capturing the full attention of the user.

Unlike WeChat official accounts, the engagement numbers of Moments ads are not made public. So, to recognize the top performing ones, WeChat publishes a top 10 ranking every quarter, which is based on WeChat users’ interactions, including likes, comments, and shares, with the ads. Among all luxury brands with a WeChat presence, Lancôme, Cartier, and VanCleef’s WeChat Moments ads were top rated in the Q1 2019 ranking.

To make the ad experience authentic and seamless, WeChat is constantly changing how the ads are served to users. However, despite the constant updates, the formula for creating a successful and engaging ad is much the same – three winning elements include an interactive feature, video, and celebrities.

Interactive ads go mainstream
Interactive ads are now experiencing a revolution on Instagram Stories. There, brands can use functions like surveys, questions, and swiping up to click a link increase engagement beyond just “likes.” WeChat is experimenting with its own Story-like function by introducing interactive ads, in which the user can swipe through photos or tag their friends in the comment section to draw more attention to an ad. Engagement on such interactive ads is about 5 times that of non-interactive ones, according to WeChat. In Lancôme’s Valentine’s Day campaign, the user could draw a virtual heart shape to view the brand’s gift sets, which included exclusive holiday-themed perfumes and lipstick.

Video has become a must
If interactive ads have become mainstream to maximize exposure, applying video in the ads is a must. All three top-ranked luxury brands in the quarter – Lancôme, Cartier, and VanCleef – used video ads to tell their story. But the non-luxury player Forbidden City stood out: its ad featured the Forbidden City in Beijing. Once a user swiped “open” on the door, they were led to a page filled with objects that emperors used to celebrate Chinese New Year. Clicking once more, they were taken inside the palace via VR, which re-creates the vivid scenery and details that are refreshing to explore.

Star effect
Posting an imitation celebrity profile that links to a company’s marketing campaign on WeChat Moments is another new form of making the ads more social. Chinese dairy company Yili Group enlisted actress Liu Tao to give Chinese New Year wishes. Once the user clicked the post, they were directed to the product page. Swiss luxury watchmaker Tissot also showcased brand ambassadors Huang Xiaoming and Liu Yifei wearing the watches in their Moments ads. According to Tencent, celebrities drive attention — the click-through rate for such posts has improved from 6 to 10 times that of non-celebrity ads.





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How a Mall Is Bringing Everyone, Including Bernard Arnault, to Chengdu


There must be something spectacular about Chengdu IFS if French billionaire and LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault decided to visit the luxury shopping mall earlier this month to learn why his brands are performing so well there.

Chengdu IFS opened in 2014 and is now the top luxury shopping destination in the city, as well as one of the most influential premium malls in China’s Midwest region. The 210,000-sqm, nine-floor shopping mall, which was developed by the Hong Kong property company The Wharf Holdings, is today the home to over 600 luxury, fashion, and lifestyle shops and services. 15 percent of those stores are “ultra-luxury” brands, 34 percent are premium fashion brands, 18 percent are affordable luxury brands, and the rest are dining, entertainment, and lifestyle services.

A number of high-profile luxury brands from Chanel and Moynat to Moncler and Tom Ford opened their first-ever flagship stores in the region at Chengdu IFS, while brands like Dior and Arnault’s Louis Vuitton have their largest regional stores there. All of this indicates just how strategic Chengdu IFS is to luxury brands like LVMH wanting to shore up their retail networks in Chengdu, one of China’s biggest tier-two cities that holds an enormous potential of luxury consumption.

Christina Hau, Wharf China Estates Limited Assistant Director and General Manager (Retail Leasing & Operations). Courtesy photo

Christina Hau, Wharf China Estates Limited Assistant Director and General Manager (Retail Leasing & Operations). Courtesy photo

“Since the opening, the mall has achieved double-digit growth in both sales and rentals each year,” said Christina Hau, Wharf China Estates Limited Assistant Director and General Manager (Retail Leasing & Operations), about the mall’s success. “Many luxury brands are satisfied with their performance at Chengdu IFS, with a lot of them seeing their sales here entering the brand’s top three rankings in China.” This robust growth has continued even as China’s economic growth has experienced a downturn — something that usually dampens consumer confidence and affects retail performance. “Our business is still performing strongly based on the sales figures in the first quarter of this year, and the growth of many international top-tier luxury brands has not seen signs of a slowdown due to China’s macroeconomic environment,” said Hau.

The cozy and laid-back culture in Chengdu, where the locals also insist on living life to the fullest, makes it a unique place for luxury consumption. “People in Chengdu and the neighboring regions know how to enjoy life through shopping and eating… They are also less sensitive to prices compared to consumers in other Chinese cities,” Hau explained. “To them, shopping has to bring happiness and fulfillment. They are rarely fussy about prices.” That’s why as the third-largest fashion capital in China (behind Beijing and Shanghai), Chengdu has yet to experience any economic impact on the city’s luxury purchasing power.

Location, location, location

Chengdu IFS is located in one of the city’s most vibrant economic areas, the commercial Chunxi Road region, right alongside other major shopping malls and department stores like Taikoo Li and Parkson. It’s easy for consumers to travel there from all corners of Chengdu via public transportation or cabs for their shopping needs.

Its convenient location also makes Chengdu IFS a must-see for tourists. “The mall is a landmark of the city,” said Hau. “According to our client-profiling data, a great number of our customers are actually coming from outside of Chengdu and are here to travel or on business trips. For instance, they come from Guizhou, Tibet, Zhejiang, Beijing, and Shanghai. Many of them are even our gold card holders.”

But Chengdu IFS is even bigger than you think. It’s not a standalone shopping mall, but instead is part of a large-scale commercial complex that includes three “Grade A” office buildings, one luxury hotel, and one high-end service apartment building. To an extent, Chengdu IFS’s commercial concept is similar to New York City’s new landmark Hudson Yards development, which offers everything from shopping and working to dining and entertainment in the hopes that they’ll keep customers inside their economic zone for as long as possible.

Newest styles from a wide range of brands

The width of brand selection at Chengdu IFS meets the diverse needs of the city’s luxury shoppers. Consumers who prefer a conventional luxury shopping experience can visit the floors 1-3, where boutique stores from well-known luxury brands are showcasing their newest collections. “Our mall has a deep diversity of luxury goods. Some items that you won’t be able to find in Hong Kong can be found here,” said Winnie Wong, Chengdu IFS Brand & Marketing Deputy General Manager.

But Chengdu IFS also didn’t miss out on edgy or niche luxury fashion brands that have yet to gain a foothold in China but are already trending with the country’s forward-looking fashionistas. The first Lane Crawford store in China’s Midwest region is located in this part of Chengdu IFS (floors 4-7), which offers a slew of hot, young designer labels such as The Row, Thom Browne, Gabriela Hearst, and Sacai. 

Chengdu IFS is located in one of the city's most vibrant economic areas, the commercial Chunxi Road region, right alongside other major shopping malls and department stores like Taikoo Li and Parkson. Courtesy photo

Chengdu IFS is located in one of the city’s most vibrant economic areas, the commercial Chunxi Road region, right alongside other major shopping malls and department stores like Taikoo Li and Parkson. Courtesy photo

Courting high-quality customers

The quality of visitors to a mall is crucial in deciding its business performance. In this respect, Chinese supermodel Lv Yan, who is also the founder of contemporary womenswear brand Comme Moi, endorsed Chengdu IFS’s efforts to attract wealthy customers for their brands.

“Chengdu IFS has gathered a group of high-quality customers through hosting a lot of business, culture and art events, which is highly helpful,” said Lv. Her store debuted at the mall’s Lane Crawford store in early 2015. After seeing steady sales growth, Comme Moi launched a pop-up store from August 14-27, 2017, where it scored around $119,200 (RMB 800,000) in sales. Today, the brand is operating as an independent boutique store at Chengdu IFS.

Aside from gaining new customers, the mall recognizes the importance of retaining their existing ones. Chengdu IFS has designed its own VIP program that hosts over 260,000 members thus far. It also extends their shopping experience to digital platforms like WeChat, where members can participate in online events, redeem points, and purchase products on its mini-program store. A highlight of its offerings to high-end VIP clients is a concierge delivery service that ships luxury goods home for them — an initiative that’s been highly praised by the mall’s luxury brands.

Chengdu IFS’s gigantic and iconic panda sculpture, which hangs over its main entrance, is a commission created by artist Lawrence Argent. Courtesy photo

Chengdu IFS’s gigantic and iconic panda sculpture, which hangs over its main entrance, is a commission created by artist Lawrence Argent. Courtesy photo

Catering to “art-lennials”

Like many successful shopping malls around the globe, Chengdu IFS is witnessing contemporary art become a steady influence on millennials and Generation Z, and it’s actively following this trend as a way to embrace these art-lennials. Since its inception, art has been a vital part of the mall’s DNA, with unique art installations punctuating the giant space to make it feel more like a tourist attraction. For example, Chengdu IFS’s gigantic and iconic panda sculpture, which hangs over its main entrance, is a commission created by artist Lawrence Argent. The sculpture has become the most Instagram-able place of the mall today, attracting hundreds and thousands of visitors to come and take pictures each day.

Occasionally, Chengdu IFS is used as the venue to host large-scale city events, such as the Parcours Art Festival in September, which was a joint initiative between the Chengdu government and the high-end Parisian neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. With the mall’s help, luxury brands Fendi, Chopard, and Loewe co-presented themed art exhibitions during the festival to reach Chinese customers via creative storytelling. Moynat, Longchamp, and Comme Moi even released exclusive products to celebrate it. And this April, Chengdu IFS is once again going celebrate Tibetan culture and art as a way to bridge the gap of understanding between Tibet and the rest of China.

So, is Chengdu IFS’s success replicable? Not all cities have access to Chengdu’s desirable luxury customers (who care more about the shopping experience than price tags) but the way Chengdu IFS operates may offer some good lessons to struggling mall retailers. It has all the key ingredients: good location, high-quality client base, a solid retail network of strong brands, and most importantly, top-notch environment and services. With all of this at its disposal, it would be hard not to thrive.





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Catching Up with the Chloé Girl


The esteemed fashion house and jewel of the Richemont luxury conglomerate, Chloé, hasn’t become one of the world’s leading global luxury brands by mistake. The Maison was founded in 1952 by French fashion designer Gaby Aghion, who revolutionized the industry through innovative ready-to-wear luxury lines that were made from rare and luxurious fabrics usually reserved for the high-end market.

Today, the Chloé brand is a favorite among A-list celebrities and women who want to convey a feminine yet highly independent personality. Hollywood stars like Sienna Miller, Marion Cotillard, Camilla Deterre, and Haley Bennett have selected Chloé designs on various occasions for their light and graceful style. And with the signature bohemian elegance of their new creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi reshaping the brand, Chloé has started winning over legions of new fans, making it go-to brand not only for silk dresses but also for handbags and fragrances.

Chloé has also found success in the China market thanks to some smart social media campaigns. It inaugurated a “WeBoutique” last August as a way to “launch an exclusive version of the Faye day bag,” according to Richemont’s 2018 Annual Report. Their sales surged across the Asia-Pacific region mostly because of a host of direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns, and after implementing a strategy which better managed inventory while tightening control of products in Asian markets, the group saw their Asia-Pacific region boom to an impressive 40 percent of overall group sales in 2018.

And on June 5th, Ramsay-Levi will showcase the brand’s 2020 Resort Collection in Shanghai. The event will break down barriers for the luxury French Maison, being the first fashion show organized by Chloé outside France. It’s not expected, however, that Chloé will follow in Chanel’s footsteps staging Resort collections in different locations around the world. By selecting China, Chloé emphasizes the strong ties between the brand and its Chinese consumers.

We chatted with Chloé CEO Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye about his approach to social media, the brand’s dynamic outlook for China, and much more:

Chloé is known for free-spirited femininity and understated elegance, but over the past year China has seen a return to maximalism and logo-mania, which contrasts with Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s house style. How is Chloé responding to these trends?

We remain faithful to our [brand] DNA. We have our latest Chloé bag, the “C,” which is performing outstandingly and is not a logo product but a tool or a message because women who wear Chloé don’t want to shine ostentatiously. We don’t intend to dress the Chloé women in a way that is unnatural, so we will remain faithful to the essence of Chloé and what makes us unique. The reason women love Chloé is that we put the woman first, and we share the same values of femininity.

How has influencer marketing worked for the Chloé brand in China?

It works well because it’s a natural part of the imperceptible essence of Chloé. Gaby Aghion established the brand in 1952, and her original idea of giving women the freedom to be themselves is still very much alive. We were always about the Chloé girls. Chloé is not a logo brand and we work around the personality of the customer. The same idea of working with women is at the heart of Natacha’s designs. We have many Chloé Ambassadors, girls who wear Chloé, speak about Chloé, and represent Chloé.

There was continuous speculation that Richemont was going to sell Chloé, but instead the Group rebooted the brand with a new creative director. What’s next for Chloé and what do you plan for the brand in China?

I can confirm that Chloé continues to be part of Richemont and that we are not changing the current creative director. Natacha Ramsay-Levi joined us two years ago, and she’s doing a fantastic job. She will come to China in a couple of months and we are very lucky to have her. Natacha is bringing a modern twist to the Chloé Maison, so we are continuing on our path.

What are the risks that luxury companies encounter when entering the Chinese market?

Personally, I see no risks; I see only opportunities. I think the Chinese clients/consumers are savvy and they know a lot about fashion. They are very discerning. These shoppers can catch the trends swiftly and they learn quickly, so for luxury brands, it’s an opportunity to work in China. Especially now, when Chinese clients spend more on their luxury goods in China instead of choosing to spend outside of their native country.

Do you have any business expansion plans for China? New store openings or anything in that direction?

We have 18 stores in China. We opened a new store in IC Pudong and reopened a new store in China World. We are also present at the K11 in Shanghai and at the Galeries Lafayette in China. We work closely with the biggest partners, landlords, and department stores, but the most recent opening was IC in Pudong, which happened only a couple of weeks ago.

Chloé has delivered some successful social media campaigns like the WeChat Chinese New Year campaign and your collaboration with actor Jing Boran for the brand’s perfume launch. These creative ways of using digital storytelling have kept the brand relevant in China, but how can you be sure you’re reaching your target market, and do you think social media has diluted the brand’s sense of exclusivity?

For us, our digital presence is just another media. It’s not a dilution but an amplification of our communication. As you know Chloé stands for freedom. Our brand is an extension of the women who feel comfortable in their skin. I’m talking about women who are independent, confident, and free — and they want to be elegant too. Our essence will not change just because we communicate on digital platforms like WeChat and Weibo. We also communicate our unique identity through our Ambassadors — the Chloé girls — who only amplify our singularity. Gaby Aghion added our core qualities into the brand’s DNA. This will not change and our clients know it, and yet again that’s why Chinese women love and choose the Chloé brand. And as you know, Chinese women remain at the forefront of digital communication, so we need to customize our message and focus on digital technology. For us, social media extends our communication strategy.





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