2020 was an overwhelming year for the luxury industry; various challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid growth of e-commerce, and shifts in customer groups all contributed to a decline in overall luxury market sales and made it difficult for brands to break through to new audiences. The proof of the industry turmoil is in the numbers: in FY2020, one of the leading groups in the industry, Kering Group, saw sales decrease by 17.5% to €13.1 billion compared to the previous year, according to Kering’s 2020 annual results. Luxury brands around the globe struggled to recover because they shied away from online channels and relied on upscale physical stores for so many years – not wanting to cheapen their images by lowering the barriers to accessibility. However, shifting consumer behaviors as a result of the pandemic have pushed brands to embrace new digital channels and strategies.
The first brand to outperform its competitors in the industry and see profitable growth in 2021 was Gucci, one of the major sales drivers for Kering. Its shift in strategies was obvious and worth examining further through the lens of social listening to see how it used proactive tactics to make substantial revenue and brand awareness gains.
Like many luxury brands, Gucci has evolved its marketing strategy from one-to-one premium services to multi-channel communication that meets its audiences’ needs both emotionally and physically. In April 2021, Gucci initiated its “co-branding” or “crossover” collaboration with Balenciaga called “The Hacker Project.” This bold move generated record-high engagement on social platforms and ultimately helped both brands achieve outstanding growth in 2021. It also underscored the importance of innovative and up-to date social media marketing strategies in today’s complex and ever-changing market environment. As Gucci’s creative director stated, the crossover featured “incursions and metamorphoses” that integrated the concepts and designs of two brands with different attributes – but we also saw “incursions and metamorphoses” on social media that changed consumer perceptions and formed complementary consumer groups between the two brands.
Incursions: The luxury-on-luxury collab broke through to new audiences
From the perspective of social media marketing, “incursions” mean achieving greater market penetration in a competitive environment. Luxury brands are trying to expand their audience base to reach younger generations, especially millennials and Gen Z who grew up in a highly connected society during the tech boom – and whose habits and beliefs are much different than those of previous generations. These younger audiences prefer to seek insight and information via the virtual world. For brands, this means social media platforms are the ideal medium to send targeted messages and capture attention.
On social, online conversations about The Hacker Project increased dramatically as audiences reacted to the Gucci Aria runway show that featured the Gucci x Balenciaga crossover. We saw high volumes of positive user-generated content talking about the visual impact and freshness of the collection posted on social media by both Gucci and Balenciaga enthusiasts. Posters of models and celebrities wearing the new collection on Gucci’s official account, unboxing videos on social platforms, and reviews by professionals and fashion bloggers also generated significant positive buzz. According to followers, this historic collaboration is a collision of tradition and innovation that signifies a new chapter for both brands. In short, The Hacker Project turned out to be a viral event on social media.
Figure 1 Consumers’ attitudes toward The Hacker Project are mostly positive according Synthesio sentiment analysis
Metamorphoses: Luxury brands must constantly evolve to keep up with changing consumer
To adapt to changing expectations, brands must constantly evolve their marketing strategies to showcase their identity and maintain sustainable relationships with customer segments. Customers are no longer impressed by conventional marketing communications; they are looking for messages that are full of creativity, self-expression, and other attributes that imply unified corporate values. The overall idea of this unconventional collaboration was inspired by a “hybrid universe” where two brands display their aggregation with complex feeling and dramatic tension, all while retaining the distinctive styles and classic elements of both brands. In the end, the integration between contrasting atmospheres was perfectly suited to become customers’ newest obsession.
From pre-event buzz to post-event promotion, online conversation volumes about both brands have grown tremendously. We saw the first peak in social activity in April 2021 when Gucci promoted the Gucci Aria runway show with an announcement of the collaboration that featured the designer’s long notes and short videos of new collections on social media. The content caused a blaze among consumers and received more than 100k likes on social. Online mentions then reached a second peak with the launch of the new co-branded collection in November 2021. The seeding groups – aka paid media – including fashion influencers and bloggers posted entertaining try-on and unboxing videos to generate more awareness by reaching potential customers and audiences on mainstream social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.
Figure 2 #TheHackerProject generated significant buzz on social – with peaks driven by influencer content
So, what does this mean for the fashion industry? To keep up with changing consumer preferences – especially among younger generations – and increase brand awareness, brands must embrace new approaches. As the lines between competition and collaboration blur, luxury brands are realizing that they can achieve more than just mutual influence with collaborations, and many have begun to make moves even with direct competitors in their same industry.
Monitoring real-time consumer feedback to measure the impact of such collaborations – and fine-tuning marketing tactics – is crucial. Social listening provides essential insights for brands to get a comprehensive picture of the luxury industry and tap into what consumers really want.
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