Who are millennials and what do they want? The answer depends on whom you ask.
Some companies consider millennials entitled, self-absorbed hipsters who flit from one app to another, satisfying their immediate needs with a tap and swipe. Others consider them the gateway to new ways of thinking, living and buying.
Wooing millennials has been particularly vexing in fashion, where high-end retailers are trying (and often failing) to court a generation that came of age during financially turbulent times. Millennials hold on to their money, favoring cheaper “fast fashion” labels such as H&M and Zara.
But one luxury company has proven that millennials will part with hundreds (even thousands) of dollars if the customer experience is right: Burberry. The British fashion house, famous for its iconic plaid, set itself apart from its peers by targeting 20-somethings in their native tongue: digital.
When former CEO Angela Ahrendts took the helm in 2006, she pushed the company to recruit the right mix of leadership, and she surrounded herself with tech-savvy talent she knew she would need. Ahrendts forged strong partnerships with Christopher Bailey, then Burberry’s chief creative officer (now Burberry’s CEO), and John Douglas, then Burberry’s chief technology officer (now chief information officer at MCM Fashion Group).
Ahrendts also hired a young marketing team, most of whose members were under age 25. Burberry jumped into Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, using bold photography to engage millennials on their own turf. Burberry launched a new website and innovative social media campaigns, including Art of the Trench, a photo platform that allows visitors to upload photos of themselves in iconic Burberry trench coats.
She also invested heavily in building an in-house digital team and created a strategic innovation council staffed with the youngest and most-forward thinking directors in the company. Creating this mix of leadership allowed Ahrendts to move quickly toward the kind of seamless digital and physical shopping experiences she knew Burberry needed to revitalize the brand.
Burberry’s stores are almost extensions of the company’s digital presence. They feature enormous screens that display live streams of catwalk shows and viral media campaigns. Radio-frequency identification tags on store merchandise let customers instantly see product information and learn about Burberry’s history, and iPads feed personalized customer information directly to store staff.
Ahrendts left Burberry last year to oversee Apple’s stores, but her approach lives on at the fashion house. Last week, Burberry gave fans on Snapchat an early look its spring 2016 line. The company also recruited Fumbi Chima as its new chief information officer. Chima, formerly of Wal-Mart Asia, will seek to expand Burberry’s use of customer analytics. Almost a decade after Ahrendts took the helm at Burberry, the company’s stock is up more than 250%, and it reports annual revenue of more than $3 billion.
Not too long ago, my colleague Darrell Rigby explored Burberry’s digital transformation in an article in the Harvard Business Review. The company didn’t abandon its stores. It just learned to speak to millennials in their language.