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Luxury: Brand Building In The Age Of Social Media.

Jul 20 2011

The Art of Cake

In an ideal world, a brand's social media activities would be fully and seamlessly integrated into its overall communications strategy. In reality, few brands actually achieve this goal either because they haven't fully understood the nature of social media and are effectively transposing old reflexes to a new genre or, don't fully believe in its potential and are merely going through the motions. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the luxury sector which, unlike the fashion industry, is still lagging far behind in terms of social media adoption and deployment.


Occasionally however, one comes across a brand or individual who not only understands the nature of social media but more importantly, understands how to harness its power. One such individual is Janet Mohapi-Banks who has made social media the cornerstone of her communications strategy for her luxury cake business. To be fair, Janet has a background in technology which gives her a leg up on most luxury entrepreneurs or executives. Still, her approach to social media holds lessons for other luxury brands, big and small. She graciously accepted to submit to a brief Q&A for The Luxe Chronicles.


1. How and when did you start using social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

I was a user of Facebook whilst at university but I "committed Facebook suicide" before I started my cake business as I didn't agree with the privacy structures in place. At present, my company has a static Facebook page that advises users to visit my website or that they can follow me on Twitter.

I first got my Twitter account in March 2007 long before I had a business. At that time it was mainly used by those in the computer industry and hadn't yet been accepted by the mainstream. By the time I had started my cake design business it was being widely used by all industries and it was the obvious choice of social media when I wanted to connect with other people in the wedding and event business.

2. When did you recognize the potential of social media for your business?

As soon as I started connecting with people in the wedding and event industry the potential of social media in general and Twitter in particular became immediately apparent. As soon as you connect with a couple of people you quickly discover other people in the industry that you would be want to connect with. In turn, other people get to know you and where you stand within the industry.


3. Can you describe your social media strategy? Is it part of your overall communication strategy or do you consider it separate?

I try to tweet every day but sometimes practical work gets in the way and I don't have the time. A lot of the time my tweets concern not only my cake business but also personal details. Although this wasn't the original plan of my business Twitter account I feel that it does have benefit. People like and enjoy getting to know the person behind the brand and I think it provides a depth to my business image that might not have been possible without social media.

I consider social media to be part of my overall marketing and PR strategy. We have a very strict company policy never to pay for advertising so social media helps to promote my business to new potential clients and a wider audience without breaching that policy. I believe that it is very important when using social media that you actually engage with your audience and you don't just broadcast to them. For social media to truly work it needs to be used as a two-way communication device.


4. What tangible gains have you derived from incorporating social media into your business practices?

Through connections made through Twitter I have been featured in numerous online blogs and in print magazines and in turn, through those appearances clients have found me. I have also developed great relationships with people in every aspect of the wedding and event industry including planners, photographers, stationers and florists. Although I would not necessarily work with all the people I have 'met' on Twitter as we have different target audiences, being known and respected in all market sectors helps to raise my company profile which is a very important part of being a luxury brand.


5. Do you have any advice for other small luxury businesses such as yours that are struggling to find a way to use social media? Things you might do differently or not at all?

As a luxury brand I think it is important not to think of social media as a way to make direct sales. Although it does sometimes happen I believe that it is more important to use social media as a way of engaging not only with potential customers but also the wider audience who dream of becoming a potential customer.

Marketing strategies of luxury brands are so far removed from that of mainstream brands that it would be ill-concieved to try to "sell" anything using social media. It is far better to simply inform your listening audience of new services or products and enable them to dream the dream.


I would like to thank Janet for so graciously accepting to answer my questions. For more information about Janet's business, I invite you to consult Janet's website or follow her on Twitter.

Sincerely,

The Luxe Chronicles

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You make an excellent point Tamar, one I happen to agree with. I would however simply point out that there are some interesting examples emerging of large, complex organizations that have overcome these internal realities and are using social media very effectively.

The Mandarin Oriental group comes immediately to mind. In light of the fact that they have hotels all over the world each with a distinct local flavor or personality, they have opted for a more diffuse or fractured strategy which carries across various social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc.). For instance, in addition to the corporate account (@MO_HOTELS), each hotel in the group has a distinct Twitter account (@MO_HKG, @MO_PARIS, @MO_BARCELONA, etc.) . Each member hotel tweets in a mixture of their local language and English and each is up to speed on the goings on in their own city. To date, this diffuse but coordinated approach seems to be working quite well for them.

I think that anytime you're dealing with a complex organization, there will be both inertia and obstacles. The interesting thing about social media is that there is no magic recipe, no pre-established road map. The genre is flexible enough to accomodate highly individual strategies provided an organization has an open mind and a willingness to experiment.

Having said all of this, I believe innovation in this domain will continue to come from smaller luxury brands who have fewer internal barriers. In part, they have no choice but to innovate where communications strategies are concerned as many of them are simply priced out of traditional mediums.

Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your insight.

All the best,

Helene

Thank you for this insightful interview, Helene! It’s always inspiring to see small businesses seeing real-world success with the help of social media.

The story is a bit different for large-scale organizations, however, and I couldn’t help but comment on your opening paragraph. You say, “few brands actually achieve this goal either because they haven't fully understood the nature of social media … or, don't fully believe in its potential and are merely going through the motions.”

In my experience, there is a third reason why many multi-national, complex organizations haven’t better integrated social. They “get it” (finally) that social media needs to be an integral part of their business but are plagued by the realities of internal operations within a large organization. Aligning different departments, divisions, and positions just isn’t as simple as outsider consultants, agencies, and the like tend to think.

I’m not making excuses for the industry, but I do think we too often (myself included) say “they just don’t get it” when in reality they do and are working to make things happen.


Best,
Tamar Koifman
@TamarStar

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The Luxe Chronicles is a collection of interviews, profiles and musings on various aspects of the luxury industry and occasionally, a rant on our celebrity obsessed culture and the dumbing down of our collective sense of style and esthetic.

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