Disruptive Technology: What Fashion Startups in the Middle East Can Learn From Burberry

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When Burberry launched its FW 16 menswear collection last week on Apple TV, it entered a relatively uncharted area of consumer engagement. But with its illustrious history of pushing the envelope, it was in keeping that Burberry used disruptive technology to showcase its launch. Using iconic assets, through smart positioning, and successfully blurring lines between its physical and digital existence has ensured that Burberry protects its inherently British identity and 160-year legacy, building an ecosystem of authentic experiences.

Such commitment to innovation is laudable in the face of a slowdown in the luxury sector.  Burberry has artfully married heritage with innovation, increasing its presence on newer platforms such as Periscope and Snapchat, and collaborating with the likes of celebrated photographer Mario Testino. In fact it’s reported that the company decided not to cut any marketing budgets in spite of the economic climate. Traffic driven by these platforms has apparently resulted in mobile accounting for 40 per cent of visits to its sites and more sales in total from smaller screens.

In 2016, the challenge for luxury brands in this environment is to successfully navigate market volatility driven by currency swings and fluctuating tourist flows, says Bain & Company. The sector also has to meet consumer demand that is increasingly reflecting a “see now, buy now” mentality.

Ensuring that a customer in Mumbai, Shanghai or New York will have the same standard of experience has come to be a signature that has furthered Burberry’s unique brand of storytelling. In an interview with WIRED, Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s CEO says that design and creativity are what make Burberry tick. He added that customers must be able to ‘feel’, given that it’s human nature to have a physical experience.  He also spoke of how everything needs to live and breathe in a context, and how a product has its own history and story that needs to be told. The brand’s strategy reflects the fact that cultures around the world are interpreting and translating products differently, which in turn is unearthing unique usage insights, driving innovation. Digital adoption has allowed such a form of storytelling and understanding.

Burberry’s physical stores are driving conversations, conversations that are hosted on digital platforms, with the store mirroring a physical manifestation of its digital site. A fifth (20 per cent) of Burberry’s digital sales are now collect-in-store and a quarter (25 per cent) are made on iPads. With a unique mix of connected technologies, Burberry has successfully blended the two worlds, especially at its 121 Regent Street flagship store. Changing room mirrors flip to show images of the specific piece on the catwalk or on film interacting with RFID chips embedded in the clothes. More recently, the in-store “Burberry Booth” allowed consumers to film their own versions of ad campaigns, using clever video-stitching technology.

Its clever digital strategy ensures the successful incubation of several sub-communities within the lifestyle business, each one influential on its own. Transcending siloes and recognizing the clout of the millennials, Burberry continues to grow its digital platforms such as Art of  the Trench (microsite with crowdsourced content for lovers of the iconic trench coats) and Burberry Acoustic (featuring new talent in tastefully done videos and creative product placement). In September 2015, Burberry also became the first global brand to launch a dedicated channel on Apple Music.

Burberry might be a far-fetched model for a budding startup to replicate, but it is important for a digital strategy to be put in place right at the onset, to ensure that brands tap into the right conversations and are heard, talked about and shared by the right mix of people. Data mined from these digital platforms can help identify, attract (and keep) customers, determine prices and predict future trends.  Fashion is predicted to be driven by the rapidly rising e-commerce market, a relatively new phenomenon in the Middle East, yet one that was expected to reach $15 billion by the end of 2015.  Not restricted to e-commerce alone, digital needs to be part of the core business strategy of any fashion business waiting to spread its wings. This is already being reflected by an increase in senior digital appointments across the fashion industry. In the Middle East, with the establishment of Dubai Design District and Dubai Fashion Council, incubators are giving startups a platform that few global communities have access to. The industry stands to gain from the tech explosion in the region. In an analysis, CNBC cites Dubai’s unique geographic advantages, its economic diversification and free trade policies as giving it unique leverage to grow in this direction.  With all these promising indicators, it’s only a matter of time before we see the next big thing in fashion emerge out of the Middle East.

Video:Burberry’s Art of  the Trench campaign featuring local ambassadors in the Middle East.