My giant leap from traditional luxury marketing to influencer marketing

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After 25 years working in the luxury industry, why at age 48, I quit my job as marketing director at an iconic Swiss brand to join an influencer marketing start-up. Here is my story.

It all started 12 months ago when I met the crazy young guys from French tech company, Upfluence. At the time, I was in charge of Marketing & Communication for a very traditional Swiss watch brand. If you’re like me, you’re probably not used to suppliers talking to you about algorithms and Big Data, but that’s exactly what they were doing, and it felt as if they’d landed in my office directly from another planet! They claimed they had developed a technology which would allow me to contact millions of bloggers from all over the world and precisely select profiles with whom to partner. Not only that, but they would be able to provide me with detailed campaign reporting to measure ROI on a level that I’d never dreamed of.

I’ll be honest; my first thoughts were; Who did these young upstarts think they were? Did they really think they could tell me how to do my job? Did they realise all the experience I had in this business? I’d worked with celebrities like Brad Pitt for goodness sake! (I have to add, seeing him in his underwear has been an unforgettable career highlight !). I’m sure for them it seemed like they were talking to their grandma!

When their technology-based message did finally sink in, it did sound incredibly impressive. They persuaded me to give it a try, so I ended up at Baselworld Watch and Jewellery Show persuading 150 senior worldwide distributors to invest in an influencer marketing campaign for the launch of our key new watch model. It quickly dawned on me that I was putting my reputation (and possibly my job) on the line. This had better work!

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The campaign turned out to be a huge success for the brand: 125 articles published in 5 languages and 22 countries generated 324’000 reads at the time (and thousands more since) and over 16’000 direct visits to our website; all at a fraction of the cost of a traditional advertising and PR campaign! The bloggers also shared their articles on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram for free, reaching hundreds of thousands of additional followers and drastically over-delivering against our expectations. I felt like a star, and I could proudly face the Sales team with great results.

It was at precisely this point that I realized Influencer Marketing had the potential to transform the way the industry reached out to its customers. And I knew I wanted to be part of this transformation.  

My giant leap from traditional marketing to influencer marketing

So why did I quit the luxury industry and take the giant leap into an unknown world of influencer marketing?

We all know that this industry is pretty unique from a marketing perspective. You’re not selling a product, you’re selling a dream. You’re conveying desire around rare, high quality items to inspire devotion from your customers. It’s this emotional perspective which makes working in our sector so interesting. However some aspects had increasingly bothered me. When pitching the launch strategy of a new product, marketing departments have the reputation of spending money for nothing. This is due to the fact  that it is often very difficult to show the results of your marketing activities. With traditional advertising for example, you never know how many people saw your ad, who they are and how they engaged with your brand.

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Traditional marketing & communication strategies in the luxury industry have always been about large-scale impact: beautiful visuals, extravagant events, celebrity ambassadors and glossy catalogues. But selling these dreams through traditional means comes at a significant cost. What’s missing, critically, is a way to understand the behaviour of our consumers so we can better engage and communicate with them, as well as clearly measure the ROI of each $ spent. Quite rightly, CEOs increasingly require marketing professionals to justify their spend with very precise Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This is something I didn’t think possible until I met this small team of passionate tech people from Upfluence who showed me what applying Data Science to marketing could accomplish.

Of course, it was no easy decision to leave the luxury world that I’d known my whole career and join a relatively new but growing start-up. Influencer marketing is deeply rooted in new technology, big data and digital media, something I had very limited experience of at the time. If I was to partner with a young tech team, I would have to assimilate and master the jargon that comes with it. Plus, at 48 years old, I was concerned I was fooling myself by considering a move to a brand new area where I had everything to learn.

Nevertheless, I put my trust in my experience of the industry, my network and my abilities and decided to partner with Upfluence to bring their technology to the luxury sector. It took me a few months to master this new way of marketing luxury goods, adapt to my new environment and get a good grasp of the possibilities. But, as it turns out, it was the right decision!

Only 2 months after launching Upfluence’s luxury division in Neuchatel, Switzerland,  we have already ran 5 successful Native Advertising campaigns for famous luxury brands, with many additional campaigns in the pipeline for 2016! Influencer marketing is coming to the Luxury Industry!

My advice to you and your company when navigating the world of Influencer Marketing

  • I understand first hand that it is not easy to question the way things have always been done, to try something new and to go against the current of the industry’s culture. But today, remaining relevant in the long-term means you absolutely need to take this step. Do it for yourself first, and then bring your company up to date on the marketing front.
  • Influencer marketing represents the future of branding for luxury. It makes no sense to me that an industry that has sold social status for decades has left the word “social” out of its business strategy. Let’s not forget that social media isn’t only for teenagers. The vast majority of your customers are already using it every day.
  • If you need to go after a budget internally to try it out, work with the PR department. Influencer marketing is a natural evolution of traditional PR. It is not going to replace it, but it’ll complement it nicely and rebalance the power of journalists in our industry.
  • The luxury industry has to follow other industries in transitioning to digital and it might be the one that has the hardest time doing so. There is still a huge bias towards considering digital as “cheap” and social media users as irrelevant. Influencer marketing is proving daily that this is not true through cold hard ROI.

If you want to take a first, conclusive step in the social direction, take this one. Your life at work may never be the same, and your CEO will love you for it!

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