Mansur Gavriel, Loewe and other luxury brands are leaning into traditional analogue marketing as a way to cut through the noise online and connect with consumers at home.
This is the first in a new series unravelling the post-pandemic shifts from consumer behaviours to luxury store footprints.
Luxury brands are betting on traditional forms of analogue marketing, such as direct mail and branded books, to diversify from digital advertising channels, where recent privacy changes make it more difficult for brands to reach customers.
Almost a decade after launching, Mansur Gavriel introduced its first direct marketing campaign this month. It comes in the form of a free 32-page book featuring new editorial imagery as well as memorable past campaigns and original artwork inspired by the brand’s signature bucket bag.
“Digital is so fast that we were missing the ability to talk about our brand, what we care about and what we stand for. [Direct mail] is a way for us to tell our story long-form, which appeals to us, because Mansur Gavriel has always been focused on art and photography and [not just clothes],” says Mansur Gavriel’s chief executive Isabelle Fevrier. Digital marketing is also becoming “much more expensive”, she adds.
In the past year, as fashion shows went online, brands found new ways to reach customers in person. Chanel, Dior, Prada, Loewe and Alighieri sent books or other physical items that offered a closer, more intimate look at their collections to top spending customers, who are increasingly expecting brands to come to them. The books, alongside other physical materials like handwritten notes are like keepsakes, rather than disposable catalogues, and “can truly bring people into our universe”, says Alighieri founder Rosh Mahtani. “There is nothing digital that could possibly compare to physical.”
Direct mail isn’t a new concept, and luxury brands have long relied on direct advertising and printed marketing materials. Acne Studios started publishing its biannual magazine, Acne Paper, in 2006. Dior sends a print magazine exclusively to high-spending customers and sells it in boutiques. And since 2014, Loewe has produced special limited-run publications to accompany every one of Jonathan Anderson’s collections. The next edition will be released by April.
As online spaces are now “flooded” with content, it’s tougher to stand out without investing in paid marketing, says Adam Alter, professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Direct mail is also becoming an advertising alternative as brands find a way to prepare for Apple and Google’s upcoming privacy changes, which will make it harder for marketers to track consumer data and personalise, says Jen Clinehens, customer experience strategy director for Havas’ global network. There are drawbacks: direct mail is expensive to do well, and tracking is more difficult. Experts say it’s still a worthy investment for luxury.
“If anything, last year taught us the importance of technology, but there’s still definitely a need for physical,” says Ben Williams, global chief experience officer at R/GA. “Physical marketing is especially relevant to the luxury space because it acts as a kind of differentiator in ways beyond products or the services that brands sell.”
Tracking direct mail
Mansur Gavriel has already seen “a clear jump in new customer acquisition” and “good conversion rates”, according to Fevrier in the days after launching its first direct mail campaign. The aim is to reach 40 per cent of current customers and 60 per cent prospective ones. A frequency for publishing has not yet been set; the next edition will be sent to customers in May, and the brand will tailor its content and frequency as it sees fit.
Ownership plays a key role in the creative industries, and consumers today may see print as a luxury, says Clinehens. “The goal is not to send direct advertising out to everybody, but to craft relationships with customers. For some of them, if they open a Chanel book and get a glossy, beautiful experience, it’s something they can collect and keep, and in that sense it almost becomes an extension of retail and the brand’s storytelling,” she explains.
Contemporary label Frances Valentine launched its first direct mail campaign in June 2020 when stores closed and trunk shows were cancelled during global lockdowns. The brand relied solely on digital marketing previously, but direct advertising offered a way to connect intimately with customers. The brand beat estimates of catalogue sales by 215 per cent, according to co-founder Elyce Arons, and it plans to double its direct advertising campaigns this year. Rather than replace digital marketing, however, it’s supplementary. “Direct mail takes the place of trunk shows because it comes directly to their homes and it feels personal. The ROI has been high, but we’re still spending more on digital than we were a year ago,” Arons says.
Tracking a sale is a challenge in analogue advertising. Mansur Gavriel has a promo code embedded in its book that acts as a “welcome offer” for new customers but also so the brand can track purchases, says Fevrier. Alter adds that direct mail is expensive to execute well, making it a better bet for larger brands and those with distinct aesthetics.
For Molly Goddard, founder of Desmond & Dempsey, which sends a Sunday paper to its customers quarterly, “it’s about building loyalty, rather than turning a user into a customer”. “We have an ambitious growth marketing strategy, which comes through Instagram and Facebook, but this is a very different point in the customer journey.”
One-to-one customer touches remain vital for luxury brands, and there’s opportunity to personalise the direct ad experience even further, says Havas’ Clinehens. “Instead of the assumption that you’re going to send out a magazine to your customer base, brands can look at their database and see what people have bought, so they can start to mould things and customise the content to address a particular client or group of customers.” For Mansur Gavriel’s Fevrier, it’s still “early days” and Apple’s IDFA and other cookie-related changes have prompted them not to rely too much on digital channels.
“Brands are realising the value of tapping into the human need for the physical when screens turn off,” adds R/GA’s Williams. He’s noticed a crucial shift among his clients who are recognising that “not one size fits all and they’re getting to understand the consumers’ perspective and who they are in order to provide them with a tangible experience that they may be wanting or needing”.