Burberry: The Best of British Digital Innovation
The first fashion brand to livestream its runway shows, the first to sell live from the catwalk online and in-store via iPad, the one and only brand to attempt a 3D holographic film immersion for its China launch, Burberry is the most digitally advanced fashion brand in the world and it’s utterly, utterly British.
In February this year, their autumn/winter 2011 womenswear show was livestreamed from Kensington Gardens onto the iconic 32m screen in Piccadilly Circus – an industry first. That livestream was viewed by over one million people online in more than 185 countries, while most fashion brands were showing to a few hundred people perched on uncomfortable bench seats in a tent.
Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of this young old brand, is just as focused on the company’s digital output as he is on developing the next collection.
Bailey says: "Burberry is now as much a media-content company as we are a design company, because it’s all part of the overall experience. It’s very important to consider new technologies with a light approach. Facebook, for example, is not just a mailbox. You need to keep it going, add content, create a genuine, non-deceptive relationship.”
Burberry's digital adoption is vast and varied. All Burberry store staff carry iPads that give customers access to the full global collection regardless of what is available in store. Lifesize pictures of models on iPad-style swipeable screens also display the full collection. Art of the Trench, Burberry’s own social media site, celebrating their iconic trench coat and has had over 14 million page views since launch in Nov 2009, and its Instagram profile has 80,000 users. Burberry launched on the main Chinese platforms Sina Weibo, Kaixin001, Youku and Douban in February 2011. Then there's the bespoke local language Twitter accounts in Japan, Korea, Brazil, Turkey, Mexico and Russia. Ni hao.
Unlike many old school fashion brands, notably the big Italian and French houses who have yet to fully embrace e-commerce, Burberry appreciates that we live in a digital world, and that their customers are constantly connected to the web, and each other.
“Fashion is supposed to be about making things relevant. Yes, it is luxury. Yes, it is aspiration. Yes it is supposed to be inspiring. But I think there is nothing more inspiring than talking digitally because you can get attitude, you can get music, you can get sound, you can get video and movement. You can actually articulate so much of your brand using this medium," he adds.
Their immersive experience in China this April was a jaw-dropping example of that. Hardened fashion editors and CTOs alike were rocked by the intensely real holographic rain storm that filled every wall of the new Beijing store. A mix of real live models and holograms provided the first ever runway show of its kind, and naturally, it was livestreamed online and on the huge screen outside their Beijing store (that’ the world’s second biggest outside Yankee Stadium). The effect made Ralph Lauren’s recent projection onto their new Bond Street store seem meagre in comparison.
While the trench made them famous, it’s the digital innovators at Burberry's Horseferry headquarters who are taking them into the future, and fast.
"We have an incredible team at Burberry and we all grew up with digital so it’s not something we need to remind ourselves to do it but it’s part of the culture within Burberry. Technology is the enabler and I find it incredibly liberating. Burberry is really about an experience, it’s about an attitude, it’s about the spirit, and I think it’s a lot about music. Of course, there are the clothes and bags, watches, eyewear and fragrances. But today we are all about how you interact with the brand. It’s not a one-way street anymore, it’s a two-way dialogue,” he says.
If other brands hesitate to launch into digital because it costs, Burberry are the case that says innovation pays. Revenue in the fourth quarter of last year rose 32 percent to £390 million, led by demand in China. It now trades in 45 countries, 23 currencies, six languages including Mandarin and Japanese.
Burberry will soon launch a new bespoke service for the iconic trench. In the modern Burberry tradition, it will be a neat mix of digital and heritage, based around a new digital platform that will enable customers to make their ideal trench out of more than 12 million possible combinations.