From architect Le Corbusier to designer Ueli Berger, Switzerland has historically been synonymous with intelligent, stylish design. As one of the rare birds that marries a storied heritage, artisanal craft, and contemporary concerns like environmental sustainability, the Swiss luxury house Bally continues the country’s long tradition.
Whether it’s the application of its iconic Bally Stripe designs, which date back to its origin as a ribbon-maker in the 1840’s, or the way it drives digital innovation today, Bally is sure to bring its valuable combination of heritage and imagination into 2021. This combination works well with China’s consumers, too, as it’s currently the house’s largest market worldwide.
With the same spirit that Carl Franz Bally pioneered the mechanization of shoemaking when he founded the company in 1851, Bally blazed a trail into the China region in the early 1980s with a strategy rooted in physical stores. Yet, creating an integrated shopping experience to engage customers in the digital space became a priority, even before COVID-19. And since 2019, e-commerce channels like Tmall’s Luxury Pavilion have helped the company drive double-digit growth.
When retail was shuttered during the pandemic, the brand relied on this channel, staples like its localized website Bally.cn and WeChat mini-program, and complementary social platforms like WeChat, Weibo, and Little Red Book. It even mounted new strategic collaborations with KOLs, including livestreaming with Mr. Bags, to cement the brand’s growth during this difficult time.
According to Bally CEO Nicolas Girotto, these initiatives have been executed with vital input from its local teams on the ground, enabling the brand to navigate China’s cultural nuances with confidence. Now, as Bally enters 2021, Jing Daily talks to Girotto about what’s next in China, communication strategies, and retaining its important inbound Chinese consumers.
Jing Daily: Firstly, after marking an unprecedented year, what does China mean to Bally in 2021?
Nicolas Girotto: China is an innovation hub. It influences Western markets powerfully through technological advancements, and its young customers are savvy and comfortable in this space. More and more traditional customers are switching to digital in the absence of physical experiences and evolving their mindset; brands must keep up. Digital prowess in China is, therefore, essential for brands to better engage with customers, both existing and new.
To capitalize on this evolution, we will continue to enhance our online presence to deepen the dialogue with this virtual customer, leveraging platforms with the right content and building our KOL network to further drive brand awareness and consideration in this digital-first era.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak challenged Bally?
NG: As much as it is a challenge, we have also seen this as an opportunity. For example, with changing behaviors and lifestyles, we have been reinforcing our historic brand values of quality, craftsmanship, and longevity, which keenly reflect the global sentiments.
We have also shifted our investments to maximize opportunities across digital, through increased allocations towards digital brand marketing to drive social media growth and expand our influencer relationships.
We have noted a faster recovery pattern in regions with a well-integrated online/offline experience driven by an advanced digital infrastructure. With a fully omnichannel offering in all of our directly-operated markets, we were able to quickly re-direct stock flows to respond to the shifting customer journey and synergize traffic to meet online demand.
This consumer-led agenda has also driven technological advancements to optimize customer relationships. We successfully developed and implemented our Clienteling App at the end of 2020 to enhance direct communications between stores and customers, empower sales staff in facilitating customer data collection, and enrich the retail experience.
Brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going anywhere, but has their role in Bally’s retail strategy changed since COVID-19?
NG: The physical experience is integral to the multi-channel customer journey, so to complement our robust digital ecosystem, as real estate opens up in the wake of the crisis, we are continuing to leverage new opportunities for retail in Asia, Europe, and the US.
This integration is crucial, and, despite the pandemic having a critical impact on physical store networks globally, the brick-and-mortar interface is still important. Our commitment to open two new stores in China — in Hangzhou Tower and Shanghai Yaohan in May of 2020 — reflects that.
We are reinforcing Bally’s positioning in China’s tier-1 and tier-2 cities while developing in main Tier-3 cities is a priority for 2021. We have new doors planned for Taiyuan Wangfujing, Chengdu Maoye, Wuxi Yaohan, and Shenzhen Yitian Holiday Plaza, as well as Shanghai Qingpu.
However, the idea of a transactional store is no longer viable. These locations are an opportunity for customers to experience the brand. Using our stores as gateways for customer engagement, we have evolved the store concept towards a cultural hub. We recently held a Bally Peak Outlook event at the Beijing China World store, engaging our customers and the local climbing community. This concept of cultural engagement is something we will roll out to key cities around the world as soon as it is safe to do so, optimizing and animating our store network globally.
So moving beyond the physical, how have the benefits of Bally’s partnership with Tmall played out over the last year specifically?
NG: Customer-centricity is a priority for Bally, and our benefits with Tmall are three-fold. Firstly, the partnership allows us to leverage Tmall’s mature ecosystem to build up our digital business map and enlarge our consumer base through sales activations and joint marketing collaborations.
Secondly, the online network provides a seamless shopping experience allowing fluid reach across Greater China and the opportunity to up-weight the customized audience segmentation with big data support from Tmall, finding new ways to acquire and retain clients.
Lastly, our solid presence enables us to promote and amplify branded content and localized campaigns to drive awareness and desirability in the market.
How does Bally approach the growing importance of KOLs and maintaining relationships with celebrities in China?
NG: Our celebrity strategy is rooted in working with advocates who align with our brand values and help us promote an authentic message to their large multi-channel audiences. These include local campaigns throughout the year, a recent example is Chinese Valentine’s Day, where we partnered with Yuan Hong & Zhang Xinyi to engage their social impact as a celebrity couple to support the romantic angle of this campaign.
We also collaborated with Mr. Bags for livestreaming and found new ways to grow our brand relationship from traditional styling and gifting. Even for livestreaming, where we have a commercial objective, we work hard to choose the right hosts to ensure a true brand experience.
Building up a collective made of long term brand advocates, such as Miss Becky and 16PO, helps us reinforce brand storytelling. Meanwhile, our partnership with actor and singer Dong Youlin for D11 offered the opportunity to tap into his important fan base to drive desirability.
Layering on top of these relationships, we honor the commitment of partnering with a Chinese brand ambassador, working with Tang Yan and Deng Lun most recently. Our SS21 campaign will feature Estelle Chen, launching on January 26.
Finally, how has the lack of global travel in 2020 impacted Bally’s interactions with local clients?
NG: With a shift toward local consumption due to the lack of tourism, we are renewing our focus on local clienteling by leveraging innovative platforms and clienteling technology to improve the customer experience both online and offline, enabling us to deepen the dialogue with our audience.
We are also focusing on amplifying our storytelling to share our values and connect further with the customer. A recent example is the launch of the Bally Peak Outlook capsule, where 100 percent of net proceeds went to future mountain protection initiatives via the Bally Peak Outlook Foundation. The digital content campaign, highlighting our Alpine origins, pioneering legacy, and commitment to mountain preservation, was complemented by in-store animations.
As internal travel has opened up within China, we have also capitalized on OOH opportunities in key city airports, especially during heightened travel periods around Golden Week and the upcoming Lunar New Year. These outdoor advertising placements reinforce brand awareness and will help to launch the new season campaigns.