Just 10 years ago Burberry was a brand in decline. A new CEO, Angela Ahrendts, was brought on board in January 2006 to turn around its fortunes. Along with then-designer (now CEO) Christopher Bailey, Ahrendts was charged with revamping the 150-year-old name whose image had been tarnished, beyond repair some thought.
Articles such as this in the Telegraph in 2004, charted the brand’s fall as the familiar Burberry came to be associated with the ‘wrong types of faces in the wrong types of places’. However, under the working partnership of Ahrendts and Bailey, revenue at Burberry nearly tripled in seven years. The brand successfully reinvented itself as a digital leader in the luxury fashion market, a position it continues to occupy. So, what can we learn from a brand like Burberry? A strong digital content strategy can go a long way.
From the outset, Ahrendts realised she was dealing with a damaged brand that needed to be taken in hand. In an interview with the Observer, she outlines an initial period dedicated to buying back licences that had led to a cheapening of the Burberry brand. Through licensing their famous, but rarely used tartan check, the company had come to be known for disposable fashion products that were easy to rip off rather than as a brand itself. Ultimately, the company needed a content marketing agency to come up with a strategy to revive the brand.
The challenge was to build a better brand with a new audience, one that played on Burberry’s strong heritage while appealing to young people who were interested in fashion. Ahrendts later told Harvard Business Review: ‘We needed to purify the brand message by focusing on digital and by targeting younger consumers.’
Burberry set about creating a website that was, in essence, a content hub that attracted attention and invited collaboration from fashion fans. A content marketing campaign, The Art of the Trench, launched in 2009, inviting fans of the iconic Burberry trench coat to take pictures of themselves or others in their trench and upload it to the site.
As content marketing ideas go, it was simple. It was also fun, colourful and creative – and helped create a buzz around Burberry again. The Art of the Trench also showed that Burberry understood the appeal of user-generated content.
This wave of digital activity was complemented by setting up one of the first luxury fashion Facebook pages along with a suite of other social media channels, including Twitter and YouTube. These have been popular in sharing some of the content generated and curated by Burberry.
From videos that offered behind-the-scenes glimpses into photoshoots to music videos showcasing up-and-coming talent as part of Burberry Acoustic, Burberry began creating content that helped reposition the brand as one steeped in tradition but with a cool edge. In 2015, it became the first global brand to launch a dedicated channel on Apple Music and in early 2016 it was the first fashion brand to broadcast live on Apple TV.
Burberry’s major marketing investment had shifted its focus online but its digital marketing strategy worked in tandem with offline ads. Young musicians and actors became the faces of Burberry with the likes of Eddie Redmayne and Emma Watson later joined by Romeo Beckham, George Ezra and James Bay.
The Burberry Kisses campaign in 2013 helped create an emotional response to the brand, inviting consumers to send digital messages to loved ones, sealed with a kiss. Many of Burberry’s marketing activities focused on enabling consumers to create content and removing barriers between brand and customer. It became the first brand to give back-stage sneak peaks at new collections on Twitter with ‘Tweetwalk’. It was also among the first to livestream catwalk shows to an online audience.
Although a substantial digital investment was made, it was not done at the expense of Burberry stores, which were updated to create an offline customer experience consistent with that offered online. Speaking to GQ, Christopher Bailey said: ‘We had created platforms that only exist online so we decided to bring these to life, creating a bridge between the online and offline experience. Today I think, we’re less concerned about where we actually shop, and more concerned about the experience we have while shopping.’
One example of this ‘bridge’ was the Burberry Booth, which appeared in-store during winter 2015 and allowed customers to personalise their own ads so that they appeared alongside the cast of the Burberry Christmas ads. These were instantly shareable online.
Last year, the brand announced plans to merge its men’s and women’s shows into two annual ‘season-less’ shows that will be live-streamed and instantly available.
Other designer and non-designer brands have since run or announced instantly shoppable shows, but fashion insiders will be tuning in for September’s Burberry show and to watch what this digitally savvy brand does next.