During a keynote talk I delivered in London last week, I was asked the question: “What brands really ‘get it’ when it comes to customer experience today?” This wasn’t a naïve question. It came from one of the 100 senior marketers from the strongest global brands in the world. The question extends beyond great digital customer journeys—Zappos, Peapod, Travelocity or AirBnB— and great physical customer spaces—Nordstrom, BMW, Southwest or Virgin.
What company has so seamlessly integrated its online and offline experience that it never feels like two different companies? I’m looking right at Burberry.
Sure, Nike has combined its products and digital applications into a singular holistic experience, allowing you to track your athletic endeavors big and small, and Dove and Tide drive as many consumers to the website as they do to the shelves they live on. The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas helps you feel like you’re there even when you are shivering in Chicago, while AMC’s The Walking Dead allows you to participate in the zombie apocalypse online while your heroes take care of “live” walkers on Sunday nights.
But the brand that is truly doing the best right now at blurring the physical and digital worlds is Burberry.
The historic transformation of Burberry is well documented in many interviews, case studies and the like, including HBR’s “Burberry’s CEO on Turning an Aging British Icon into a Global Luxury Brand.” In a nutshell, Burberry underwent a seven- year transformation from an underperforming, marginalized, over-licensed, decentralized brand, to becoming one of the most beloved and valuable luxury brands in the world, tripling sales in five years. It transformed from a stodgy, beige trench coat company to one of the leading voices on trends, fashion, music and beauty, all while redefining what a world class customer experience should be, digitally and physically.
Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry and soon-to-be head of Apple Retail, articulated this best when describing Burberry’s London flagship store. “Burberry Regent Street brings our digital world to life in a physical space for the first time, where customers can experience every facet of the brand through immersive multimedia content exactly as they do online. Walking through the doors is just like walking into our website. It is Burberry World [their website] Live.” Chief Creative Officer/Brand Czar (and incoming CEO) Christopher Bailey also recently declared that Burberry is as much a content-driven company as it is a leading fashion icon.
I will leave the rest of the storytelling to others, but what Burberry has done with its customer experience is definitely worth teasing out. Where do great brand-driven customer experiences start? Here are five steps to consider, using Burberry to illustrate each:
Declare what your brand will stand for. This one was easy for Burberry’s new leadership team, led by Ahrendts back in 2006. It all tied to getting back to the glamorous fashion roots that had movie stars and the rich and famous in the 50s and 60s proudly showing off their Burberry trench coat and, in effect, selling the coat for the company—what we call “earned media” today. Trench coats represented less than 20% of their sales in 2006 and the “coat as fashion” trend exploded in the mid-2000s. Harking back to the romance of Burberry in a modern world became the brand’s mantra, and “being the leading, globally relevant, luxury British brand” became the brand’s aspiration. When you choose very purposeful words like leading, globally, relevant, luxury and British, you have, in effect, chosen the hallmarks of what your experience has to deliver upon.
Choose a target wisely. When Burberry began to relaunch their brand and truly own their new positioning, it would have been easy to choose the middle-aged man who probably already owned an old trench coat as a target. If they had gone that route, though, 2% annual growth would have continued to be the norm.
However, Ahrendts and Bailey broke free of tradition and declared they would build a brand, product and experience aimed at Millennials. Bailey stated, “Most of us are very digital in our daily lives now. Burberry is a young team, and this is instinctive to us. To the younger generation who are coming into adulthood now, this is all they know.” While it can be unfair to group them all together, more often than not Millennials are the influencers, tastemakers, official critics and reviewers in society today. They also happen to be incredibly brand loyal as a collective whole, with an increasingly attractive level of disposable income. If delivered well, this target would pay dividends to Burberry for years to come.
Design an experience that delivers your brand promise to the target audience. Once the first two objectives were in order, developing an experience became directionally straightforward. It’s not a simply a matter of fixing broken links in the customer journey, it is about understanding the customers’ needs and motivations and designing an experience that best meets that need. For the most part, high-end fashion had been about the fashion house telling you what the latest fashions were and ordering you to like it/buy it.
Burberry looked at the target customer and realized that Millennials are more influenced by peers than by anything that a fashion house might have to say. And discovery, advocacy and sharing among communities do a lot of the heavy lifting of brand-building. While a company can make a potential customer aware of its brand, current consumers and advocates help sell it.
One customer journey innovation is Burberry’s The Art of The Trench, described as “a living celebration of the Burberry trench coat and the people who wear it.” This platform successfully positions the customer as a hero, and provides a forum for him or her to proudly show off their trench coats and individual styling via selfies posted on Instagram or Pinterest. Thousands of selfies have been posted, with comments, likes and dislikes and the opportunity to shift any one of those pictures into a purchase.
Burberry also recognized that music is so interwoven into customers’ lives that it created Burberry Acoustic, a platform for new British bands looking to get a break. A few years ago, you might have seen Jake Bugg before he made it big or The Daydream Club posting videos on the Burberry Acoustic website that streamed to Burberry stores around the world. Burberry’s authentic dedication to giving young British bands an opportunity to break through, using all of its multi-media platforms, is not only on-brand but plays right into the Millennial sweet spot of getting access to music in unique and innovative ways.
Create a branded experience, branded signature touchpoints and the organizational alignment to empower employees to bring the brand to life in unique and surprising ways.
Online, Burberry created Burberry Bespoke, which allows you to design your own customized coat by choosing from hundreds of different options, from the buttons on the outside to the lining in the inside. In the store, many products are lined with an RFID tag that, when triggered, will launch a video about its craftsmanship. A dress taken into the changing room may trigger a runway video showing this jacket/dress combination on a model.
Can’t afford a Burberry jacket yet? How about throwing a Burberry Kiss to a loved one? Burberry Kisses is a collaboration with Google that allows users to kiss their touch screens and send their lip prints to loved ones—no purchase necessary. It’s a valuable entry point that whets consumer appetites that will be satisfied immediately or down the road with a Burberry purchase. Music and kisses are free of charge and build good will for a loyal customer down the road.
Internally, Burberry invests in organizational alignment and brand engagement, sending out monthly webcasts, weekly videos and previews of ad campaigns before they launch. According to Ahrendts, “Knowledge is power. So the more the associates know about the strategy, about what’s coming, the better. Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first.”
Continue to innovate the experience and the brand
Last Fall Burberry launched its first ever men’s cologne called Burberry Brit Rhythm in a totally non-traditional way—through global music events and digital media. “Inspired by the energy of live music” helped propel Rhythm to become one of Burberry’s most successful new product launches.
And in January, Burberry launched The Burberry Beauty Box in Covent Garden, a new concept space where shoppers can enjoy an exclusive collection of beauty products and accessories. Inside, you can go to the Digital Nail Bar to help virtually select the right nail shade for your skin tone while Burberry Acoustic music is playing in the background and a Millennial sales person helps you put together your perfect Burberry Gift Box.
I wonder if, for just one day, we can rename Burberry to Blurberry, to teach others how to get it right?