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This is the second part of our interview about the stakes of influencer marketing in luxury with Anthony Rochand, President and co-founder of Les Experts du Web and Jérôme Monange, founder of Lab Luxury & Retail, and marketing and communication consultant at Studio Mode Paris and ISG Paris.
After discussing how influencer marketing is transforming the luxury sector, Anthony and Jérôme delved into the specificities of collaborating with luxury influencers and what is required to meet the high standards expected from luxury brands.
MN: Will influencers replace traditional luxury brand celebrities? What are the benefits of working with an influencer rather than a celebrity?
AR: Not necessarily replace the celebrity, as once again it all depends on the brand’s objectives. It is not because celebrities are popular that they have influence, and communities that follow them aren’t necessarily in line with the brand’s primary goal (sales, online reputation, etc.). I think it’s a good idea to investigate ‘micro’ influencers who can have significant impact on brands because of their proximity to their communities. Whether ‘macro’ or ‘micro’, influencers are embedded in the social media landscape, and are the ones that have triggered this redefining of the relationship between consumers and brands in the first place.
JM: As Jean Noël Kapferer pondered: “Does calling upon a celebrity’s status to sell products not mean that the brand needs the celebrity’s status to exist, and therefore admit that it has no status itself?”. The muse holds powerful emotional value in the eyes of luxury brands and also helps consolidate the aspect of ‘distance’ towards consumers that the luxury sector relies upon. Luxury must always have a mythological aspect and foster a dream to maintain its image of timelessness and its recognition.
Calling upon celebrities aims to contribute to the build up of a brand’s image but, paradoxically, it doesn’t bring the brand closer to its consumers. Instead it creates a sense of distance due to the perceived inaccessibility of the celebrity, and doesn’t help the brand penetrate its target audiences. The advantage of working with an influencer is that the latter adds a concrete, tangible dimension to a luxury brand that was previously out of reach, allowing the brand to make contact with its target audience or new potential customers.
From a budget standpoint, investing in a collaboration with an influencer minimizes advertising and communication costs, with some communication agencies promising attractive returns such as $7 for every $1 invested.
MN: Can you give us some examples of successful partnerships between luxury brands and influencers?
AR: Louis Vuitton is a good example. Last year, the brand launched a collection designed in collaboration with Jeff Koons to pay a tribute to famous painters such as Van Gogh and Fragonard. This was a key collaboration, because Louis Vuitton was able to demonstrate its ties with the concept of artistic patronage, and the effect was powerful. There are other interesting cases in which User Generated Content (UGC) has been incredibly successful, such as at Mercedes Benz or Tag Heuer.
JM: Some influencer names have become famous in the fashion blogosphere: Bryan Boy who lent his name to a Marc Jacobs bag, Tavi, Michelle Phan, Garance Doré, Todd Selby and Tommy Ton… A few years ago, Louis Vuitton worked with Swiss blogger Kristina Bazan for the opening of its Gstaad boutique.
Some influencers are powerful mouthpieces for brands, and notably many cosmetics brands, such as enjoyphoenix or Betty Baudier who has over 900,000 subscribers on Instagram and has already worked with Chanel, Lancaster and Gucci.
MN: Why is choosing the right influencer even more critical for luxury brands than mainstream brands? What are the most important selection criteria?
AR: Cultivating a good brand image is harder for a luxury brand because of its prestige status. Influencers will need to be authentic if they are going to relay a ‘true’ brand story and spark emotion in potential consumers. It all comes back to this idea of a genuine and human relationship with a value exchange.
We’re not necessarily speaking about sales figures, and this isn’t always the right solution if that’s your priority. In that case, you might want to look at a collaboration based on endorsements or other methods.
JM: There are celebrities, and then there are influencers. Today, some brands prefer to go for celebrities that they then transform into real influencers, such as Selena Gomez for Coach. This process is based on fame and community size.
I think the choice of an influencer for a brand needs to go beyond the size of his or her community and focus more on affinities, the convergence of themes and universes. Moreover, if influencers don’t want to be seen as a ‘corrupted’ promotional tools by their own communities - with the risk of losing members, they need to remain transparent and continue to embody the brand’s values while enjoying total freedom of tone and opinion. This goes back to luxury brands needing to let go of their communication.
MN: How can luxury brands ensure that the experience they offer their influencers is higher quality than the one on offer from more mainstream brands?
AR: By involving the influencers more in the brand culture to ensure they deliver the right message, and bring success to the influencer campaign. The brand can also help the influencers grow their reputation by involving them in content creation for example. Prestigious brands can offer premium experiences in return and although it is not everything, it can help push the partnership in the right direction.
JM: It’s like a love story if you allow me the analogy. There is no epic love story without a lasting relationship. Longevity strikes me as a key success factor in the brand and influencer collaboration. Furthermore, the sense of commitment has to be mutual notably via the co-creation of a project and a certain letting go from the brand whilst both parties stick to a predetermined framework.
Luxury brands may have set up dedicated teams that properly understand the rules of digital and brand transformation for the process. Their role is to ensure the brand message is designed hand-in-hand with the influencer but also to foster and maintain the experience over time… Because there is no love without acts of love.
MN: How do see the role of influencers evolve beyond promotion?
AR: Influencers may increasingly find themselves playing an advisory role, especially regarding content if they are bloggers, and making suggestions for brands to use in their storytelling. I think the sector is increasingly professionalizing, and over time influencers will reach the stage where they enjoy a more ‘official’ status.
JM: Another interesting aspect is that the communities of these influencers may themselves become brand advocates on a smaller or larger scale, thanks to the internet’s inherent domino effect and the adaptable nature of social media, by generating comments and stimulating discussion around their shared passion for, and interest in, the brand.
Some influencers, even micro influencers, may have rare profiles or unusual personalities that can help deepens brand identity and helps brands reconnect with contemporary lifestyle, bringing them back in touch with the world around them. Luxury and tradition, sure... But modernity and innovation, too.
Influencer Marketing, a new paradigm for luxury
We would like to thank Anthony Rochand and Jérôme Monange for their participation in this two-part interview.
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