The Financial Times reports that Burberry will soon launch its own social networking site, to be called Art of the Trench. This is a major step that all brands will be watching, because the future of brands will be written with personal platforms and social media. A Burberry social network could be a pioneering and potent force in advancing the Burberry brand, and its customers.
Brand strategy and social media
In this post I’ll take a quick look at the brand strategy and social media options available to Burberry in its new initiative. In large part, at least as I see it, the challenge for Burberry goes far beyond social media proper. It’s a challenge of brand innovation. Does Burberry intend to pour old marketing wine into this new social media bottle, or will it use social media to reinvent its brand to create new customer value? That’s the big question.
Pre-launch site and Burberry context
Here is Burberry’s pre-launch site, to give you a flavor. From reports, the new network is intended to make Burberry more attractive to customers by providing a Burberry-themed platform for social communication and interaction. Burberry already has 660,000 “friends” on Facebook to draw from.
For some Burberry context, watch the 9/16/09 “Customer of the future” Financial Times video interview with Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts here. (Actually, watch the entire set; it’s illuminating.)
Burberry customers and the site
Burberry intends the site to be a form of online brand experience for customers.
“These might not even be customers yet. Or they may be a customer for a bottle of fragrance or for eyewear. But these are the customers who need the brand experience, who need to feel the brand. That word-of-mouth spreads through their social networks and continues to be a positive conversation [about Burberry] . . . that is so powerful.”
Source: the FT article above.
Post pictures of yourself in your Burberry trench
At this point we don’t know the full extent of Burberry’s “social networking site.” Will it operate like a slimmed-down, brand-focused Facebook, or will it be more of a (conventional) fan site. Initial reports say the Burberry network will enable Burberry customers to post photographs of themselves in their Burberry trench coats. That seems more like fan site territory, the low end of social media. (The high end is collaboration and value co-creation.)
Potential downsides of a fan site approach
To the extent that Art of the Trench becomes a fan site, (not that it would) what are the brand downsides? The biggest downside is the opportunity cost for missing the possible brand advances through a real social network, especially one focused on value creation. Beyond that, fan sites can be brand limiting unless customers themselves are allowed to show their creative modifications to brands, or brand uses. Is Burberry open to customer mods?
The brand is more than the clothing
If Art of the Trench focuses on pictures of customers in Burberry coats, one might then ask, “What’s the sustaining attraction?” The clothes are the same. And how will all those blurry amateur pics represent Burberry’s chic fashion sense, not to mention its exacting quality? Loopy pics might damage the brand. Finally, how deep is the customer “brand experience” in seeing photos of others in Burberry outfits? Might this undercut the Burberry identity so ably set forth in exquisite photos and videos of Burberry-adorned models?