Without warning and without explanation, Bottega Veneta, owned by Kering, closed its Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts earlier this week. His abrupt halt to promotion on social media left the luxury fashion world stunned.
While e-commerce will double its share of the personal luxury market in 2020, from 12% in 2019 to 23%, and its share is expected to reach 30% by 2025 when it becomes the main distribution channel for products luxury, social media has become an essential part of every luxury brand’s online strategy, until now.
People are speculating that this is just a marketing stunt to lay the groundwork for her Spring/Summer 2021 collection release, similar to the tactic musicians use before releasing a new album.
It’s all the more puzzling as in October the company was looking for a new global social media manager to “develop a comprehensive all-encompassing social media strategy from a communications-only tool to a full-funnel marketing capability. “. This ad has been removed from the Kering website, but is still available in cache.
I just finished analyzing a luxury insider survey of some 500 executives working in or supporting the luxury industry, I wasn’t that surprised. Over the past three consecutive years, this survey shows that social media is significantly underperforming the expectations of luxury companies.
Social media makes too many promises, but doesn’t deliver enough
In the latest survey, Instagram is the top performing social media channel for luxury goods and services businesses, but better is a relative term.
Only 30% of luxury businesses using Instagram said it was “very effective”. Facebook’s “very effective” metric is about half, or 16%. Pinterest and YouTube are at 9% and 8% respectively, and the efficiency ratings of Twitter, Snapchat, WeChat and TikTok are almost too low to measure. These social media channels have had consistently low ratings over the past three years.
“We have not found any marketing tools that generate qualified leads for our luxury products and services,” was among the comments from that survey. And another said: “So far nothing is working. Social media sees no real movement to take action.
With all the money, resources, and effort going into social media, you’d expect it to perform better for luxury businesses. These results are particularly telling when you consider that a majority will only invest more in internet/digital, mobile and email marketing in 2021. The budgets of everyone else – direct mail, print, outdoor, radio and television – will remain the same or be cut.
Advertising and marketing agencies that serve luxury brands expect a short fall this year. Fifty-one percent of the roughly 100 agency executives surveyed expect billings to decline. For them, internet/digital, mobile and email marketing will grow, while a majority expects customer investment in all other media to decline.
On the other hand, advertising and marketing managers have a very different view of the performance of their social media strategies.
Almost two-thirds (63%) say Instagram is “very effective” for their customers and 40% for Facebook. They also rate other social media channels as significantly more effective than company executives. Twitter is the only laggard, rated by just 10% of agencies as “very effective” for clients.
The starkly different views of luxury companies and agencies on social media show just how differently each group measures effectiveness. For agencies, it’s traffic, likes and shares. For luxury companies, it is sales that are generated by social networks.
And that’s why Bottega Veneta’s decision, under creative director Daniel Lee, to quit social media may be an indicator of an emerging trend. There’s no point attracting the right people to a luxury brand.
Looking for a new creative strategy to attract luxury customers
Dubbed the “Quiet Radical” by British Vogue, Lee has expressed his disdain for all the noise on the internet. “I don’t think much about digital presentations,” he said in an interview with Cultivated magazine. “They felt empty and took so much effort in these emotionally turbulent times, but in the end the concepts lacked depth.”
Worse still, it hinders rather than facilitates the creative process. “Everyone seeing the same things is neither healthy nor productive. It does not breed individuality.
And he asked in that September interview, “How can we speak to our audience in a way that works for them because, at the end of the day, they’re the most important thing in all of this?” He apparently answered that question now.
Creativity is fundamental to luxury. “In the world of luxury, the constant challenge is to turn creativity into profitability,” said Professor Maria Eugenia Girón, Executive Program in Luxury Brand Management, at IE Business School in Madrid.
And creativity is the underlying value of all Kering brands. “By placing creativity at the heart of its strategy, Kering enables its Houses to set new limits to their creative expression while shaping the Luxury of tomorrow in a sustainable and responsible way”, specifies the company.
I suspect Lee will apply her incredible creativity to dream up a new, more effective way to use social media and other digital tools to achieve much bigger things for the Bottega Veneta brand than she ever has before. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
QGRachel Tashjain speculated: “Perhaps the removal of Bottega is the ultimate act of stealth luxury – it will now be a brand that travels strictly by word of mouth. If only fans of a brand post about it, maybe it will travel like an industry-wide secret, with IT articles popping up organically, driven by consumer taste (imagine that!) , instead of radiating as a mandate from the business account.”
The independent Instagram account @newbottega does just that, under the editorial direction of Laura Nycole.
Social media is mass, not “class”
Isn’t genuine word of mouth what luxury brands want to deliver qualified leads? Social media is such a hodgepodge of divergent posts, from Granny’s Chicken Casserole, kids’ craft projects, photos of pets and political rants. What is the place of luxury in this world? This is not the case. Social media is mass, not “class”.
Plus, people who can actually afford luxury brands like Bottega Veneta probably won’t pay much attention to the brand’s social media posts. They are too busy living their lives and they are also over-commercialized.
They expect the luxury brands they do business with to understand them, respect them, and personalize every interaction. Bombarding them with irrelevant posts on social media is not the way to do it.
We can expect Bottega Veneta to be the first of many luxury brands to seriously re-examine their social media presence. It could well mean, like Bottega, that they are taking a break from it too.
And that could lead to a return to the print media. Read a copy of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar or another fashion book on the train or at the lunch counter communicates something about the individual that being glued to their cell phone does not.
And whether you agree with Anne Wintour, Samira Nasr, or the likes of other editors, they’ve all earned the right to feature it, contrary to what you find on social media.
Fashion books curate fashion for busy people with money to spend. Everyone in the fashion industry has pointed to the need for greater curation in response to the industry’s woes, exacerbated but not caused by the pandemic.
By opting out of social media, Bottega Veneta is simply organizing its marketing messages in a manner consistent with the luxury brand image. It is likely that other brands will follow suit.