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Janelle Malone: be like Burberry to reap rewards of social media

Companies spent money on social media without any idea of what to do or how to measure the returns. A smart exception is Burberry under Angela Ahrendts and Christopher Bailey.

My hands are itchy. If old wives’ tales are to believed, this means that money is on its way to me, right? Whether you buy into this fun superstition or not, stay with me. I’m living proof that this little omen truly reflects reality, and here’s why.

Two months before the summer vacation, I approached a number of companies and introduced my blog to them, presenting the concept of giving their company a voice online through various online strategies and the activation of social media tools. I explained to them that, with so many different ways to go about digital marketing these days, the most important message from the experts in communication is consistency. If you start with social media, you need to keep at it. The trouble is that most businesses don’t have the ideas, the methodology or the experience to do so. And so my approach to potential business clients was just that – I could help them to bridge the gap.

One of my primary questions to them was: what are your plans for marketing in today’s digital landscape? How much you set in your budget, and what reach and conversion to sales are you achieving?

All companies had a marketing budget they spent every month, but few had any type of measurable reach to speak of. Even fewer were able to define where their sales came from.

The reason for this comes down to a really old-school way of marketing. The advantage of modern technology is that it offers the sophistication to understand our customers better and target our message directly to them.

As I was reading the Business of Fashion website, I was pleased to find that Angela Ahrendts, the chief executive of Burberry, shared these sentiments. And she knows a thing or two about the topic. Since her appointment in 2006, the company’s stock price has risen by a staggering 250 per cent. How did she do it? By implementing a new way of marketing – connected culture.

What exactly does that mean? And how can you, as a businessperson, follow her lead? I recently wrote about the growth of the digital medium and the vast opportunities that it holds in terms of business and commerce. Ms Ahrendts’ approach to rebranding Burberry reflects this phenomenon perfectly.

“She has a brilliant commercial mind, but she also genuinely loves design and admires innovation,” says Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer. Ms Ahrendts fully trusted Mr Bailey, 10 years her junior, to inject fresh creative energy into the 157-year-old brand. She knew what set Burberry apart from its competitors was its authentically British tradition.

But though the brand might be as British as tea and scones, it still needed to appeal to a broader international market. Research across China, India and Latin America showed that luxury consumers in those markets were 25 years younger than their western counterparts. “We made the decision, very early on, that we were going to target a millennial consumer,” Ms Ahrendts says.

“We only do one or two big things a year, that’s it, but we unite everybody around those one or two big things. This is the most connected culture that you will ever find, I believe, in any industry in the world,” she says.

For all her innovation when the company went digital, today Ms Ahrendts is pragmatic. “Eight years ago, we targeted the millennial consumer, because that was the white space we needed to play in because our peers didn’t. We knew that was the customer coming out of these high-growth emerging markets,” she says. “Doing things digitally is no longer a niche [play]. Doing things digitally is how the entire world communicates.” These days, everybody is a digital customer, from her 12-year-old child to company chief executives.

It is here that Burberry actively developed another sphere – design, particularly the design of each digital avenue. “There are companies that still do everything for print. We were doing everything for desktop, but now let’s do everything for mobile and then take it back to desktop.”

For business owners looking to expand their digital reach, Ms Ahrendts advises you to ask these questions of your own brand:

• What’s your Google strategy?

• What’s your YouTube strategy?

• What’s your Facebook strategy?

“Wherever the consumer is going, we have to have a strategy, for every consumer across every one of those devices, platforms and channels.”

Burberry’s digital strategy proved to be an innovation in the world of marketing. The collaboration between Angela Ahrendts and Christopher Bailey turning into something of a legend in advertising circles. They’ve certainly got my hands itchy. And guess what? The news just came in that I’ve convinced a few more clients into helping them get their digital ambitions off the ground and online.

Janelle Malone is a wealth commentator, writer and author. You can read her blog at www.womenmoneyandstyle.com

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