Burberry’s Art of the Trench social media site is now live. When Burberry announced the site a few months ago, I discussed Burberry’s brand options in creating the site. Now we can examine the site close up. Initially, the site consists of hundreds of top quality fashion shots of models/people in Burberry trench coats. You click on the photos you like, register your approval, enter a comment, or share the photo with a friend. You can even submit your own Burberry trench photo for consideration—assuming it meets the very high standards of the site.
Art of the Trench appears to be a collaboration between Burberry and Facebook, with a Burberry front end and Facebook back end. Burberry defines the brand identity and manages the “content,” while Facebook (apparently) handles key parts of the social software side. It’s as if the Burberry brand has absorbed a large segment of Burberry’s existing Facebook page. Quite seamlessly, too.
As far as I can tell, you must be a Facebook member (and sign up with Facebook Connect) to comment or submit photos to Art of the Trench.
Burberry’s brand options
In my previous post on Art of the Trench I noted that Burberry could opt for a fan site, at the lowest level of social media, or could aim higher, toward an interactive brand platform geared toward collaboration and co-creation with Burberry customers. Fan sites are marketing and PR tools. Co-creation sites are innovation tools. With the latter approach, Burberry could explore the trench as a deeper part of culture, with an eye to creating new customers in new market spaces.
A fan site
It appears that Burberry has settled for a fan site. The site’s stated purpose is “to celebrate the Burberry trench coat” as “a living document of the trench coat and the people who wear it.” To my eye the site currently seems more of a “celebration” of Burberry rather than a discovery or exploration—where Burberry might lead its customers on a unique brand journey.
As a fan site, Art of the Trench works as a rolling ad/PR campaign, where Burberry provides photographs of attractive people in stylish Burberry trench coats. As noted above, fans can click on images they like, make comments, or share photos with others. Over time, the site may have value as a means of generating customer feedback. The highly visual layout would seem to work well with an international audience, which Burberry certainly has.
The Art of the Trench does not seem to encourage high levels of user interaction. I did not see the word “interactive” on the site. (I may have missed it.) Burberry states that it wants customers to be “involved,” but the level of involvement seems constrained. As a fan, one’s role is mostly to “celebrate” Burberry. Only positive clicks (“I like it”) are allowed. There doesn’t appear to be any mention that fans are part of any Burberry team.
Submit your own photo—but don’t expect too much
A key “social” feature of Art of the Trench is that users can submit their own photos. A photo must be portrait orientation, outdoor, with the submitter or a friend wearing a Burberry trench. However, fans who submit photos should not set their hopes too high. From Burberry’s content guidelines:
We will use our absolute discretion when selecting photographs for inclusion on the Site. Please do not email us asking why your photograph has not been selected. You should expect only a very few photographs are likely to be selected. We hope you will not be disappointed if your photograph does not make it.
I’m assuming Burberry would reject unsuitable photos with a polite “thank you” note, as befits a classy company.
Burberry and the brand dilemma
Sooner or later every brand finds itself on the horns of a dilemma. It needs an iron fist to manage its brand identity, yet it also needs an open hand to join with its customers, since it has no future without them. Every brand vacillates, vibrates ping-pongs between these two poles. Some years back Burberry had its brand hijacked by Chavs, with devastating results, so it’s no surprise to see Burberry today in a mode of absolute and total control.
The questions: Is the “open hand” fan site of Art of the Trench sufficient to create and retain customers? Can Burberry get by with customers who are “involved,” but not really “interactive” with the brand?
The potential weakness of Burberry’s approach
The potential weakness of Burberry’s Art of the Trench approach is that it’s a brand stage, and not a brand platform. It can style and pose before its fans, but it cannot leverage them strategically. Burberry’s biggest threat is that a competitor will change the brand game and leverage its customers in ways that an iron-fisted Burberry cannot. The challenger doesn’t have to create a better (or more fashionable) trench coat to do this. It needs to create a different (and deeper) customer context of the trench. Social media, the open hand par excellence, may be the lever.
For brands, there’s also the possibility that sites like Art of the Trench may in fact look backward, rather than forward. The future may belong to personal brand applications, where the brand is a direct drive, with no need to be staged.
Burberry’s Twitter page (@Burberry) announces the Art of The Trench mission as, “A living celebration of the trench coat and the people who wear it.” That’s an all-inclusive statement that some might interpret as going beyond the Burberry brand proper. It could work wonderfully for Burberry, but I sense that the site is focused exclusively on the Burberry brand.