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IRL+: The Art of Luxury Content in Physical Space
FSW dives into the idea of content strategy for IRL+ content, spaces, and experiences and how brands are missing out on opportunities to build lasting relationships with consumers.
“Advertising moves people toward goods; merchandising moves goods toward people.”
- Morris Hite
IRL luxury content is broader and richer than of other retail segments and encompasses everything from physical products to spaces and experiences. It includes touchpoints like runway shows, retail stores (both permanent and pop-up installations), sales clienteling, trade shows, and events and is more usefully denoted as “IRL+”.
Luxury brands are failing to meet consumer expectations for IRL+ luxury experiences due to, in part, a failure to use the toolkit of content strategy to engage with consumers.
Content strategy is a critical tool that luxury brands can use to deliver on consumer expectations for luxury through a needs-based approach to IRL+ content, spaces, and experiences.
Luxury is full of in-real-life (IRL) forms of content, both written and verbal. Whether through in-store advertising, runway shows, exhibits, galas, and events, or consumers speaking with a shopping associate at a boutique, content is very much an IRL phenomenon in the luxury world.
A lot of attention goes into the applications, contexts, and messaging of digital content, especially within the field of content strategy. Yet, the idea of physical content gets less focus, even though it is a core element of modern marketing, particularly for luxury brands with brick-and-mortar retail stores and partnerships.
So, how should luxury brands think about content in physical space, and what principles of content strategy matter when it comes to luxury content in physical space?
As it turns out, the basics of luxury content strategy apply equally to IRL content as they do to digital content.
Defining IRL Luxury Content
To repeat our analogy of the idea of Fashion Week as content, our go-to definition of content for luxury brands is:
Content is any touchpoint where consumers encounter your brand messaging, both digital and IRL.
Following this definition, as we explored in our recent piece on retail pop-ups, brands should think of IRL spaces like retail stores as a form of content. The same goes for all other IRL luxury spaces and experiences.
We believe that the constellation of IRL touchpoints is larger and richer than other retail segments. The long-term storytelling nature of luxury marketing and the businesses’ need to embed its products and services in historical or other social contexts opens up the opportunity and challenge of engaging customers across so many areas. The list of what potentially qualifies as IRL luxury content is lengthy and multifaceted and it should almost be denoted as IRL+:
Products and product materials, prominently including the clothing, accessories, and other products for luxury fashion brands, as well as labels, boxes, and packaging
Runway shows, collection presentations, and press previews, including the collections or products being showcased and affiliated brand creative
Retail stores, including signage, in-store advertising, sales associate/consumer interactions, and products on display
Events and marketing-focused activations like pop-ups, trade shows, collection launches, parties, and private galas
Print materials like magazine editorials, books, ads, marketing, and other external and internal brand information
But, what does it actually mean to say that IRL+ spaces and experiences are a form of content that needs a specific content strategy? What principles should brands keep in mind when thinking about content in physical contexts?
Benchmarking Luxury IRL+ Content
We have argued at length that luxury content is unique from that of other retail products. Its idiosyncrasies require a more attenuated, tailored approach that builds value and engages current and future generations of customers with long-term storytelling.
The unique qualities can make the projection of its content in physical space especially powerful. Like digital content, IRL+ content requires a structured, strategic approach to keep brand messaging and storytelling authentic, consistent, and targeted in a way that balances brand vision with consumer needs. In other words, luxury content in real-time physical space requires content strategy as much, if not more, than content in digital environments because it is inherently dynamic and constantly evolving.
For a sector that thrives on a sense of inaccessibility and high creativity, luxury has still not quite adapted to the myriad of ways in which digital content has impacted real-time content in physical space. The rapid acceleration of digital content, e-commerce, and social media has drastically changed consumer preferences and expectations for IRL+ shopping and retail. People expect hyper-personalized, hyper-localized, and customizable exclusive experiences that satisfy a desire for immediate gratification and top-notch service.
Yet, luxury brands are failing to deliver on this content at almost every turn. According to the BCG x Altagamma True-Luxury Global Consumer Insights July 2023 study, fewer than 50% of luxury consumers are actually satisfied with their overall experience with 11% citing their experience as truly underwhelming. Thinking about IRL brand-consumer interactions as content, this luxury consumer dissatisfaction suggests that luxury brand strategy for IRL+ content predominantly prioritizes business needs over consumer needs, which is a death knell for consumer-facing luxury experiences.
As we have explored, luxury is not like other industries. It is part of the experience economy and is all about quality, experience, and story. Luxury works as luxury due to what Daniel Langer calls “extreme value creation”:
A better way to approach luxury with high managerial relevance is to think of luxury as the ability to create extreme value for clients. Hence, a brand has to flip the script and take the perspective of a client.
To put this in content strategy terms, luxury brands must adopt a needs-based approach to IRL+ content if they want to truly connect with consumers in the right way. In the world of UX design, a needs-based approach prioritizes consumer needs over organizational preferences and focuses on features, functionality, and content that support a good user experience and that encourage discovery and findability, clearly communicating brand vision and values.
Best Practices for Luxury IRL+ Content
Content strategy is a critical tool that luxury brands can use to deliver on consumer expectations for luxury through a needs-based approach to IRL spaces and experiences.
Taking a strategic approach to IRL+ content pays off. Take Jacquemus’s summer Mediterranean pop-ups. Over the summer, the brand tapped into local shoppers in France and Italy through localized brand experiences, such as a branded beach takeover in Ramatuelle, France complete with bright yellow umbrellas and similarly bright pop-up shops in Portofino, St. Tropez, and Lake Como.
As Diana Pearl notes in The Business of Fashion (BoF) Essential Brand Marketing Guide (September 2023), luxury brands and digitally native brands alike are realizing the true potential of “distinct in-person experiences [to] cement a customer’s long-term affinity with a brand.” As Pearl details, “Jacquemus’ ability to bring what made the brand pop online and social media into the ‘real world’ has further strengthened its identity. As there are more channels than ever for brands to activate, consistency across those channels is key to building — and maintaining — a strong brand identity.”
The best practices that guide luxury IRL+ content strategy are the same principles that guide digital content:
Strong brand storytelling that connects brand story and creative vision to consumer values, needs, and preferences for IRL+ spaces and experiences
Omnichannel brand messaging that feels consistent, authentic, and relevant throughout every step of the customer journey across touchpoints in careful consideration of the vicissitudes of real-time interactions and physical space
A vision-centric content strategy framework and roadmap for IRL+ and digital content that clearly delineates:
Brand content vision with current state and future state goals
An information architecture that links together structured and unstructured content touchpoints and identifies content types for both digital and IRL+
Strategies for content within and across specific digital and IRL+ touchpoints, including opportunities and challenges
Qualitative and quantitative success measures to track and gauge content impact and ROI
Internal teams involved in managing and creating content for all IRL+ and digital touchpoints
Roadmap with critical timelines and milestones for content campaigns, activations, collection and product launches, and other key brand events and initiatives over time
Documented brand content guidelines with a foundational governance plan to shape and guide content creation, management, and oversight over time, as well as internal rules, expectations, and processes
The How and Why of IRL+ Luxury Content
So, how do brands assess what they’re doing now with IRL+ content, where gaps may lie, and how to approach content in a more strategic, integrated way?
Like all content strategy, luxury content strategy starts with a brand realizing that they are falling short in meeting consumer needs in some way and making the decision that they want to change or optimize their approach. Then, it becomes a matter of content-focused inventory, assessment, strategy, transformation, and training. Hiring an external content strategist or leveraging an internal strategy expert who understands the art and science of content strategy can help brands empower their IRL+ content to the next level just as they do for digital content.
After all, in this post-pandemic age, the power of IRL+ experiences has never mattered more. As Jon Haber, co-founder of creative agency Giant Spoon, told Diana Pearl in her BoF brand marketing report, “Our lives are so digital and so disconnected; driving the power of something that happens in the real world is just that much more meaningful….”
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