Above The Noise: Burberry's Story
In 2009 when most luxury brand retailers were hunkering down, slashing prices and personnel, and manoeuvring to survive the global recession, Burberry, a British luxury fashion house, had a record year. Not only did they report record profits, but they also garnered accolades for their customer experience. In fact, The Luxury Institute published independent research concluding that Burberry offered the best customer experience in the retail luxury market. It's likely no coincidence that they delivered outstanding customer experience and they made a lot of money.
Burberry, an old company with new ideas
Recognized around the world for their signature trench coats and trademarked plaids, this iconic fashion institution was founded by Thomas Burberry in 1856. Dozens of economic cycles and a couple of World Wars later, this company has emerged as one of the most forward-thinking and successful companies in the global market this century. In 2010-11 Burberry was again included in Interbrand's Top 100 Global Brands, was recognized as the 13th most innovative company in the world by Fast Company magazine, and received the Inaugural Innovation Award at the 2010 British Fashion Awards. This staid old company that is the epitome of sophistication and British design is anything but quiet and boring. Their brand is strong and growing stronger, and their message is clearly heard above the noise.
"Burberry's story shows the importance of knowing what your brand stands for, staying true to it and making sure the decisions you make support it, not devalue it," affirms Shaun Smith, a thought-leader on the subject of customer experience strategy and co-author of "BOLD - How to Be Brave in Business and Win."
Why Burberry has a successful brand
Smith cites three simple common characteristics of companies like Burberry that have a successful brand, a brand with a message that cuts through the digital disruption, rises above the fray and succeeds. "They stand up, stand out, and stand firm. Even during the most difficult times they are relentless in pursuit of improvement, zealous in communication and take action in accordance with what is best for their brand, not just their bottom line. In short, they are bold. Not reckless; just bold. They stand out from others because they stand up for something. They have an unshakeable belief in what they stand for, and they let their actions follow their beliefs."
While other companies were rolling up and dying, Burberry was rolling out the new burberry.com website. The site, live in six languages and transactional across 45 countries, is known as Burberry World, and is the ultimate expression of the Burberry brand, allowing customers globally—in many cases for the first time—to connect with all its aspects, from heritage, to music and video, to the full product offering. Through the use of dynamic audio-visual content the site becomes a place to engage, entertain and interact. And it provides the ultimate online luxury shopping experience through a personalized customer service offer that includes the ability to Click to Chat and Click to Call in real time and in 14 languages. The site provides a powerful center for ongoing efforts to build the Burberry community around the world.
But as Smith points out, Burberry's brand doesn't start with the technology—it starts with a clear purpose. The technology is just a tool for delivering it. "If you focus your entire business on entertaining and engaging your customers and brand the experience they have, then you don't need to waste additional marketing dollars on fancy or phony campaigns trying desperately to persuade people that you are different or better. That's what Robert Stephens meant when he said that marketing is a tax you pay for being unremarkable."
"Customer equity creates brand equity. You will already have a growing legion of advocates telling everyone how remarkable you are—and accelerating that word-of-mouth effect is the great opportunity that digital, mobile and social media offers."
Keeping their brand consistent across channels, Burberry aggressively set out to capture not just market share, but mind share. "They integrated digital media with all their other marketing activities so that it works with them as an integrated whole—it's not treated as a separate and disconnected part of their marketing mix," Smith explains.
Burberry was the first luxury brand to attract more than 3 million fans on Facebook, and they currently have nearly 17 million. They stream their runway shows— previously closed-door events for invited guests—live over the Internet to more than a million people across 180 countries around the world. Their interactive website, artofthetrench.com, continues to inspire people around the world and across generations to share their experiences of the iconic trench coat. In the first year after it launched, the site received more than 11 million page views.
"Burberry has an authentic brand, a clear purpose and a genuine story," says Smith. "And that cuts through the noise. I believe that the purpose that drives the brands we studied often stems from a strong personal conviction or vision rather than data.
Why other companies fail
Where Burberry succeeds, most companies fail, and Kevin Clancy, co-author of "Your Gut is Still Not Smarter than Your Head," says that with a few exceptions, there's not much good news in the marketing world. Existing brands are becoming commodities, and new products and services continue to fail at an appalling rate. "More than nine out of ten new products do not make it. Brands have no selling message—only about 7 percent have a clear selling message and communicate a real reason for people to buy their brand. Without a reason to buy a brand, it frequently comes down to price."
Clancy says the key to giving people a reason to buy your brand—the way to be heard above the noise—is to determine what the consumers' problems are that don't pertain to price and offer them a solution to that problem that is substantial and compelling. How do you find out what the problems are?
Unlike Smith, Clancy believes that data, not gut-instinct, is the best indicator, and he argues that brands should use marketing processes to research their way to a strategy or brand positioning. "The problem and the solution become obvious once you have the data. Superior research improves targeting, positioning, new offerings and more."
"Listen to what people are saying, measure it and offer a solution to the largest problem that does not pertain to price. If you only address price, then you will become a commodity."
"Now I certainly don't disagree with him on the importance of listening to customers, but I believe you have to start with your purpose or positioning if you are to arrive at true insight rather than simply data," Smith counters.
If Burberry were just another luxury clothier, their brand would be just another commodity. No amount of Internet savvy or well-placed advertisement can transform mediocrity into sustainable success. But if you begin with a remarkable product or service that offers a solution to a problem, and create a brand that is consistent, authentic and unique, then people will hear you.