Burberry Lenghtens its Raincoat Tails

burberryBurberry broke new digital ground in 2009 when it launched the seminal The Web site celebrated the iconic Burberry trench and the people who wear it by allowing users to submit their own trench portraits to feature on the site. The customers who love Burberry suddenly were Burberry.

The site looked lovely; it was on-brand, and it marked the first time a fashion leader featured user-generated content, Mullen says. It was also wildly popular, receiving 1.5 million visits in its first two weeks. While traffic has since dropped to just about 5,000 users per month, it’s part of a comprehensive digital plan. Burberry hosts accounts on Twitter, Google+ and the photo-sharing site Instagram. Its Facebook page boasts more than 10.2 million fans. And the brand’s YouTube page features videos of Burberry shows, events and exclusive behind-the-scenes content.

“Art of the Trench was the first symbol of success, and it told others that the Internet wasn’t a cesspool, that these efforts were still extremely aspirational,” Mullen says. “It’s hard to find real ROI in individual social and digital efforts, but if you look at them collectively, they signal a shift in the way brands communicate with their customers.”

Chief creative officer Christopher Bailey has been the voice of the brand and constantly talks about Burberry’s commitment to digital channels; in fact, digital is at the core of Burberry’s strategic plans. “Our investment in flagship markets and digital technology has enabled our global teams to continue to drive customer engagement, enhance retail disciplines and improve operational effectiveness, further strengthening brand momentum,” Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s CEO, said in response to quarterly earnings reports.

Those investments appear to be paying off. Since the fall of 2008, Burberry’s stock has gone up 258 percent, while the Dow Jones luxury index has risen 101 percent. Mullen says some call the effect “Apple pixie dust.” But it’s not just magic; Burberry has used inspired merchandising to launch a huge revival of its brand.

“Across the prestige industry — fashion, beauty, watches and leather goods — everyone looks at Burberry as an icon,” Mullen says. “The luxury industry as a whole moves slowly, but they’ve really woken up to the potential, and they have gone hard and fast to marry traditional ecommerce and social strategies.”

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