When Aquascutum went into administration last week while Burberry announced its sales boom, I recalled a comment made by Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts in September 2011:
“You have to be totally connected to anyone who touches your brand. If you don’t do that, I don’t know what your business model is in five years.”
Her words may seem obvious, but they sum up what Burberry has done right and what Aquascutum has unfortunately not managed to do: adapting to the shifting Western consumer mindset and seamlessly integrating cutting-edge technologies that other retailers haven’t touched yet.
Since the news broke there has been a lot of online debate about who makes the best trench coats; while I’ve been loving the multiple creative uses of ‘trench’ in various headlines, that clearly isn’t the issue here. It is all about branding and marketing. Burberry's advertising over the last few years has been relentless, yes – but totally relevant. In a quick poll amongst my colleagues, some prefer the understated heritage of Aquascutum, whilst others love the fashion-forward British coolness Burberry has come to embody. Aquascutum is a great brand; it just didn’t update its retail experience quickly enough.
A successful retail experience now is about creating a seamless journey that travels through the physical and digital worlds that have come to make up our everyday lives. Burberry has achieved this by creating a world beyond its stores.
Digital has obviously been a huge part of this. A lot of brands are confused about how to complement in-store activity with digital – which social media channel is best for our brand? What should we use each one for? Should we ‘do’ an app? Not Burberry. In September 2011 it was announced that Burberry was allocating 60% of its marketing budget to digital media – way above the average. This change in direction, as well as having Christopher Bailey on board, brought a 156-year-old brand bang up to date.
It is Burberry’s particular approach to digital, though, that is so thoroughly modern and aligned with the explosion in popularity of user-generated content. The brand doesn’t use its social networking activity as a direct sales channel but rather as a way to reach new audiences and start conversations by providing constant, exclusive, cool content often featuring hot young British starlets and rock offspring. This was a strategic long-term move from CEO Ahrendts, who recognised the power of making online fans feel part of the brand. A great example of its success is ArtoftheTrench.com - Burberry’s digital platform that allows users to upload photos of themselves in Burberry trench coats. It has had 17.7 million page views since launching in November 2009. Burberry is also leading the way in the Pinterest race – check out Burberry’s Pinterest page compared to Aquascutum’s and you’ll see what I mean!
Ultimately, Burberry’s retail experience is exactly what it needs to be now: seamless and always-on, whether you’re at the fashion show, in-store, in a coffee shop or in the airport. Fashion show spectators can order the collection on their iPad as they watch it being sashayed down the catwalk; for anyone not at the show (i.e. most of us), Burberry has streamed its catwalk shows through Facebook since September 2011. In February this year the brand took another revolutionary step, live streaming its womenswear catwalk show on screens in Liverpool Street Station, Heathrow Terminal 5 and giant screens on the Burberry store facade in Beijing.
To complete its magic retail circle, all Burberry stores have plasma screen video walls with touch screen technology, allowing customers to scroll through products and outfits in store. Also, every sales assistant has an iPad which can be used to order products online. Modern luxury indeed.
Aquascutum’s coats clothed British soldiers in the trenches of the Crimean war and World War I, but with its amalgamation of unique heritage and up-to-the-minute innovation, Burberry is winning the modern retail war.