Luxury brands have ridden the crest of a boom over recent years with the growth of the global super-rich and the burgeoning moneyed classes in emerging markets.
But the brands have struggled to come to terms with the digital revolution and the changing attitudes of technology-driven millennials.
Havas Media Group believes this is an ideal time to officially launch its LuxHub global luxury marketing consultancy, which it first set up in Milan in 2012.
The business, which also operates within Havas Media offices in London, Paris, New York and Dubai, draws expertise from across the group’s global network. It plans to launch in Frankfurt, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Moscow and Tokyo this year.
The global lead for the project is Isabelle Harvie-Watt, who joined Havas Media Group Italy as its chief executive in 2011. She has 20 years’ experience working for luxury brands in Italy such as Giorgio Armani, Versace and Tod’s.
Harvie-Watt believes many luxury brands are seeking help in navigating the digital world and need to transform their attitudes to customers. "Brands in the sector have rarely engaged in marketing; it has been very much communications-based," she says. "They haven’t had to think about building relationships with their consumers; their attitude has been: ‘This is us; this is our point of view.’
"But now things have shifted – it is the consumer’s point of view that matters. Millennials will make up the bulk of luxury consumers by 2026 and they have a different approach."
She says that many luxury brands will have to play catch-up with those such as Burberry that have adapted to the digital world – for instance, live-streaming its catwalk on Twitter. Harvie-Watt points to Tory Burch as a contemporary fashion brand that launched online before opening stores and says that Hermès has a very strong digital presence.
But Chanel, for instance, has opted for a restricted digital presence as it seeks to maintain its exclusivity, saying it won’t sell its clothes through e-commerce.
Another strand of business is for mainstream brand owners looking to make waves in the luxury market. One of LuxHub’s clients is Heineken’s Belgian specialist beer Affligem, which is positioned almost as a fine wine and is looking to target luxury audiences.
But Harvie-Watt stresses that LuxHub is not a micro-network or an "agency within an agency", as this would go against the trend towards greater integration of agency skills. "We’ve worked hard to integrate to avoid having these silos," she says.
LuxHub will have strong central teams in key markets and pull in specialist advice from across the Havas Media network. Harvie-Watt says staff with luxury brand experience will be brought in, such as Tammy Smulders from LuxHub UK. She previously ran the luxury research consultancy SCB Partners, which was acquired by Havas last year.
LuxHub will work with the existing Havas luxury specialists Havas Luxe in New York and BETC Luxe in Paris. This year, LuxHub will collaborate more closely with Havas Creative Group.
LuxHub is not the only luxury specialist among the agency networks – Leo Burnett has Atelier and McCann launched a division called Luxury Box. But its position within a media network could make it better-attuned to helping luxury brands conquer the digital world.
It will be interesting to see whether luxury brands go all out to build an online presence or decide, like Chanel, that certain elements of the digital revolution, such as fashion e-commerce, are not for them.