The pandemic has negatively impacted many consumer categories, but perhaps none so much as Luxury, which includes Travel, Hospitality and Fashion. Is 2021 poised for a rebirth for this important category? Kristen O'Hara, Hearst Magazines' Chief Business Officer, recently hosted a webinar on the future of Luxury to help answer that question.
A Changed Landscape
While past years' summits were hosted in Milan, O'Hara recalled, plans made for 2020 "changed overnight when we instantly shifted our collective priorities to the things that mattered most: the safety of our employees and their loved ones, the continuity of our business, the quality of the products that we make and the values that would guide our actions, our interactions and our reactions to the circumstances around us."
The hope is that this current period of retrenchment can lead to a rebirth of Luxury. O'Hara believes that fashion and luxury are poised to play an even more central role in our lives because of pent-up demand. Hearst, she added, is central to helping brands tell their stories, offering "the highest quality environment and the most highly engaged audiences."
The Future of Luxury Retail
Stellene Volandes, Editor in Chief of Town & Country and Editorial Director ELLE Décor, discussed the future of luxury retail with Oliver Chen, Managing Director of Luxury & Retail at Cowen and Company. For Chen, there are certain truisms about the luxury retail experience that are forever and transcend current events. "People haven't changed in the importance of intimate service and personalization," he explained. "Great customer service, as well as integrating emotions and personalization in the experience, is unchanged. But technology, mobile, artificial intelligence and personalization platforms are all great tools to offer better service."
Is there a disconnect between the advancement of technological personalization and the type of in-person interaction that luxury consumers have come to expect from salespeople? "Mobile is the new mall," Chen asserted. "All the interaction measurement that happens in the mobile phone when you are scrolling, touching, your purchasing history -- those can all be ask points that help inform what product you want, how to really make the shopping experience frictionless … and help customers save time. Time is the ultimate luxury, so convenience is a big factor."
So the convenience and ease of technology is a plus, but there could a downside. "How can luxury differentiate in a world where everything is available at all times? And what is Luxury, what is exclusivity in the age of ecommerce?" he asked. "Brands like Supreme, recommerce, how to add experiential into the material -- these are all aspects we are seeing with the Uber-fication of luxury."
For Volandes, Luxury is visceral and has been reclaimed from genericization during the pandemic. "We know what luxury is because we know what it feels like, and at the core of the luxury experience is how it makes you feel."
Chen added that Luxury is, "about heritage, craftsmanship of the brands and storytelling."
According to Chen, the future of luxury rests with the younger consumer -- especially as millionaires get younger, in part due to the rise of wealth in China -- as well as the trend towards, "casualization. Because the way people dress now is very 'dawn to dusk.' You're looking for versatility and value and a lot of the prestige is in the mix, how you sort yourself with personal style and not necessarily head-to-toe in one brand." In sum, however, it is vital to know your customer, understand that "the future is digital plus physical," and keep in mind, "the three C's -- Convenience, Curation and Culture."
Keeping Heritage Brands Relevant in an Evolving World
Maintaining a relevant presence among consumers requires the understanding that luxury is highly personal and, as Nina Garcia, Editor in Chief of ELLE, noted, "Using our access and our platforms to really communicate what is happening and how we can have more social responsibility, raise awareness of issues that are happening in our culture."
Nick Sullivan, Creative Director of Esquire, explained that, "Magazines are the original influencers, whether we are talking about politics or fashion or anything. The context of knowledge that a magazine has amassed over the years, particularly focused in its staff at any one time, is a huge responsibility to tell the right story."
Digital makes a magazine's platform bigger than ever, Garcia added. In the past year, ELLE has responded to world events by making, "Our content a little more nuanced and thoughtful than ever, with information that the reader couldn't get anywhere else and had meaning with what we were going through," she stated. Fashion coverage also changed so ELLE could keep the same quality as before the lockdown while being sensitive to the new landscape.
Luxury Data and Activation
"Luxury is all about relevance and creating desire," explained Todd Haskell, Chief Marketing Officer of Hearst Magazines. With all of the uncertainty regarding consumer attitudes during the pandemic, Hearst, like so many others in the luxury space, wondered what long-lasting changes, if any, would continue post-pandemic. "Would people still shop? Would they treat themselves? Would they indulge? Would they put on a great outfit? The answer has been undoubtedly, yes. Not despite the pandemic but because of it," he revealed, adding, "The word 'luxury' has regained its meaning. It's about feeling and experiencing something that alters a mood."
In the past year, Hearst's platforms experienced robust growth onsite, in video views and in social followers, while driving $1 billion in e-commerce activity across the network. "Content drives commerce and commerce drives content," Haskell stated. Hearst captures activity from a myriad of sources and devices, ingesting 4.2 trillion data points every month. Editors leverage this data to inform content decisions to better meet readers' needs, while on the business side, Hearst leverages data to better meet the needs of its partners. To this end, the company offers a range of capabilities including audience segmentation and content targeting powered by AI that can use Hearst's first-party data, as well as partners' data.
"The better we know our audiences, the more precisely we can deliver content experiences that speak to their needs, which helps us extract even more data and insight on the reader across every platform," Haskell noted.
Crafting Editorial Content
And how has this impacted content creation? Samira Nasr, Editor in Chief of Harper's Bazaar posed this question to Joyann King, Executive Director of Editorial Business Development, Town & Country and ELLE Décor, Nikki Ogunnaike, Digital Director Harper's Bazaar and Michael Sebastian, Editor in Chief, Esquire.
King referred to Town & Country wedding content. "2020 changed everyone's plans drastically," she noted, resulting in content pivoted to reflect pared down plans and focus on elements "that would withstand the test of time," such as jewelry information. "Use the authority in the space that you have," she advised.
"The fundamentals of content creation haven't changed though," Sebastian said. "Great storytelling remains the same as it was before the pandemic," but the way storytelling is executed has changed to accommodate social distancing and lockdown. One big change, however, is how Esquire writes about restaurants and bars. "We became advocates for the industry and the people who were struggling or out of work," and advocates about the need for government assistance, he explained.
"People are looking for community across platforms," Ogunnaike noted. "We are seeing success on Instagram, sharing beautiful imagery through our print magazines, videos from various fashion shows, coverage from the inauguration with thought pieces around that." In addition, she also sees how the fashion industry has come together in mutual support to adapt and innovate. "It's been heartwarming to see," she said.
While 2020 had challenges, it also presented new opportunities. From harnessing data-driven insights to sparking thoughtful content creation and finding new ways to get creative with technology, luxury brands can unlock powerful potential for growth in 2021.Click the social buttons to share this story with colleagues and friends.