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Luxury Brands' Passionate Embrace of the iPhone

Oct 21 2009


Sales of Apple iPhones continue at a brisk pace despite the recession and iPhone applications are currently all the rage. Not surprisingly, a number of luxury brands have recently launched iPhone applications, either in the context of a larger marketing campaign or as a means of facilitating e-commerce. I was consulted on the topic recently by IC-Agency, a Geneva-based digital marketing agency specialized in luxury marketing. I thought I would share the result of the study and some of my observations with you.

1. What should brands take into account before launching an application?

They should start by asking themselves what exactly they want to accomplish. iPhone users are constantly bombarded with new applications for their phones and only some of these are actually useful or moderately entertaining. Unless a brand knows exactly why they're launching an application and what precisely they're hoping to achieve with it, they should abstain.

2. According to you, what are the best practices in that field?

Relevance and added value are probably the most important factors to consider when developing an app. Launching an iPhone app will not achieve very much if there is no added value for the user or no genuinely relevant connection to their product.

In my opinion, the two best recent iPhone app launches in the luxury industry are Van Cleef & Arpels' "Une journée à Paris" app and Net-A-Porter's "NetApp". Each brand is pursuing a different goal (one to market, the other to add purchasing opportunities for its clients) but both are relevant to their brand or product and both add value for the user.

Van Cleef & Arpel's iPhone app was designed to support the launch of their newest boutique collection called "Une journée à Paris". They cleverly played up the theme of their new collection (a stroll through Paris) with an iPhone application that takes the browser on various excursions throughout Paris complete with addresses of noteworthy places to see and names and addresses of recommended restaurants or cafés. The application is therefore relevant to their product and adds value for the user.

Net-A-Porter's app is also brilliant because it builds on their reputation as a pioneer of luxury e-commerce and reinforces their customer-centric message. They have a very fashion-forward and increasingly mobile customer base who want all the latest looks off the runway but are not always at their desk to purchase them. NetApp therefore enables customers to make purchases on Net-A-Porter anytime, anywhere from the convenience of their iPhone. In a way, they're bringing the store to their customers regardless of where their customer happens to be at any given time. To me, this is the next logical step in the evolution of their business model which is premised on making high-end fashion accessible to all those who can afford it. NetApp is therefore a very coherent extension of their business model and adds value for the customer by offering greater convenience.

3. What can brands concretely expect from it?

It depends on the functionality of their application. In the case of Van Cleef, because their app exploits the same theme (a day in Paris), it cleverly reinforces the marketing message relating to their new product. It's subtle but powerful. The app also heightens Van Cleef's brand awareness among potential new clients (iPhone users) and gives a brand with a very rich history a cool, contemporary edge likely to resonate with a younger, tech-savvy customer who might not otherwise be inclined to consider their brand when purchasing a watch or piece of jewelry. In the case of Net-A-Porter, it extends their customer reach and reinforces the brand's emphasis on service excellence and accessibility. I suspect it also ensures fewer lost sales due to increased mobility of their customers.

4. Which evolutions do you see in the near future?

That's a tough question because things evolve very quickly on the Net and many of the new technologies pertaining to social networking are still in their infancy. It would seem that the luxury industry, while slow to embrace the Internet for anything other than the most basic form of self-promotion, has finally come to terms with the fact that the medium is here to stay and brands are adjusting their strategies accordingly.

There have been interesting uses of social media such as Twitter, most notably by Dior in the "Lady Noire Affair" campaign and Jean-Paul Gaultier's MaDame Rose-n-Roll fragrance campaign. Both brands made excellent use of Twitter to get the masses chattering about their products. I expect this trend to continue with better integrated campaigns and clever uses of the medium.

I also expect to see more "subversive" brands use Internet technology to change the established order of things. A number of high-end fashion designers are already experimenting with that technology to redefine their relationship with consumers, most notably the reliance on the traditional fashion show system and peer review as a means of reaching and influencing potential customers. We've already seen a few examples of this and the effects are quite impressive.

Net-A-Porter for instance broke new ground in July 2007 by broadcasting Roland Mouret's inaugural RM collection and offering customers the possibility to pre-order the entire collection for later delivery. Within hours of that launch, Mouret had reportedly pre-sold a whopping 60 per cent of his collection. More significantly, this result was achieved without the usual fashion industry ritual of presentation to fashion editors, review by influential critics, publication in monthly style magazines, etc. Traditional fashion industry players were effectively bypassed to reach the consumers directly. I don't know if the fashion industry realizes it yet but I think they will look back upon this event one day and identify it as a watershed moment. The Internet offers designers a means of communicating directly with end customers on a large scale and free of the usual media filters. That is immensely empowering to both the designer and the end-customer.

Most recently both Louis Vuitton and Alexander McQueen offered customers the technological equivalent of a first-row seat at their runway shows by doing a simultaneous broadcast of their runway presentations. Customers were able to discover the new collections at the same time as fashion editors and retail buyers. While neither McQueen nor Louis Vuitton's use of the Internet is particularly innovative (they're merely building on the foundation laid by Net-A-Porter with the unveiling of the RM by Roland Mouret collection back in 2007), what is significant is that these are industry leaders who are jumping into the fray. The impact is likely to be therefore greater.

The impact of these developments may not be felt right away but the seeds of change have most definitely been laid. I suspect the current show system and editorial review which has been instrumental to selling clothes for generations will continue to be transformed as both designers and consumers continue to explore new ways of using the Internet to connect with one another. It's a very, very exciting time to be a fashion consumer.

To view the entire study in slideshow form, please click here.


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Dear Helene,

I appreciate your response very much. And yes, I concur that wine has often been a contributing factor in some of my more enlightened moments. We should put it to the test again next time one of us visits the other's city!

Au revoir,

That's a great question John Agee Paris. It's also a complicated one to answer without sounding trite.

May I start by pointing out that while Net-A-Porter is well-known now, when they were launched back in the late 90's, the received wisdom was that the Internet was considered fine for selling books and discount goods but certainly no place for luxury fashion and accessories. To this day, despite Net-A-Porter's impressive growth, there are still some out there asking "Yes, but will women spend thousands of pounds on a dress without trying it on first?" The answer to that question is: Of course we will! And judging by the robustness of Net-A-Porter's financial results to date, we buy quite a bit more. It's very easy to forget that they started very small and very humble. It's also easy to forget that at the time, very few people believed in the concept.

This said, you raise a very good point in so far as technology alone is not enough. Technology will not help you if you don't have a clear understanding of what you want from it. It is also no substitute for having a clear strategy for your business. I do think however that you owe it to yourself and to your business to explore the issue (raising brand awareness, distribution via select third-party sites, etc.).

Perhaps one day if you're in London or I'm in Paris, we can discuss the topic further over a good bottle of wine. My ideas never flow as well as when there is good wine coursing through my veins.


Dear LC, I have more of a question than a comment. How do you see very small niche brands being able to harness some of this technology and have it actually translate into sales? I understand Net-a-porter's success. They themselves are well known, and they carry brands which are also well known. "Technology" always seems to be the answer to every business question these days, but as a very teeny-tiny brand myself, I've never quite been able to see how it truly helps the bottom line. I'm not a naysayer, just curious because if there is an angle I'm missing, I have yet to see it.

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