Exclusive Interview: Bvlgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin

Italian luxury brand Bvlgari has spent the last 15 years steadily developing a strong foothold and consumer awareness in both Hong Kong and mainland China. And now that it has dozens of boutiques firmly planted across the Greater China region, the brand soon expects mainland China to supplant Japan as its top individual market, with Greater China, of course, being its largest overall market.

Following an impressive run as the CEO of TAG Heuer, Jean-Christophe Babin took the reins as Bvlgari’s CEO in 2013 and has presided over the brand’s continued global expansion and innovative digital efforts in China.

Recently, Jing Daily spoke with Babin to learn more about Bvlgari’s changing Chinese customer, the brand’s China-facing marketing strategy, and their long-term plans for this crucial market in a time of increasing uncertainty.

How has Bvlgari’s core customer in China changed over the past five years?

First, it’s becoming slightly younger, which is both structural and specific to Bvlgari’s communication approach, [exemplified by] highly aspirational Chinese millennials such as Kris Wu [the Bvlgari brand ambassador]. They are traveling independently and looking for discoveries and experiences more than Chinese tour groups, which historically focused more on shopping. Typically, Chinese customers like Bvlgari for its warm, Italian in-store experience along with the hospitality at Bvlgari Hotels — from Beijing to Dubai and Milan.

How concerned is Bvlgari about Chinese customer spending after the economic slowdown and the yuan fluctuations?

Like many luxury brands, Bvlgari owes a lot to the trust and support of Chinese clients. More than ever, in a tighter economic environment, we must strive to reinforce our desirability and relevance and to deserve their interest via our authentic Italian craftsmanship, ultimate quality, timeless creativity, transparency, and ethics — as much as our respect of their culture and values. So I’m optimistic, so long as we are uncompromising in excellence across the board.

Jean-Christophe Babin

Bvlgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin. Photo: Courtesy of Bvlgari

Many brands are depending upon Chinese customers to spend more domestically while they cut back on spending abroad. Has Bvlgari seen a greater number of Chinese customers shopping in mainland China locations in recent years?

Definitely and for several reasons. First, our network has increased in China to cover more cities and districts, including around 40 mono-brand stores today. Second, our price differential with Hong Kong vs. Europe has become quite limited. Last year, the Chinese government eased the process by lowering local taxes and implementing stricter customs control and regulating daigou channels. We see [increased domestic shopping] as a long-term trend and, therefore, have very ambitious investment plans in China for the near future.

How central is digital marketing to Bvlgari’s strategy in China and what is the brand doing to outpace its competitors online?

Bvlgari was a daring luxury pioneer on WeChat years ago in addition to our website bulgari.cn, which was designed to convey a desirable brand image while allowing online purchases. Bvlgari China has been pioneering digital communications, from creative content to the marketing budget invested across these channels. Many of our China-facing assets were developed by our Chinese team and are specific to Chinese clients and the digital landscape in China, which is probably the most advanced in the world.

What, if anything, has been most surprising to you in mainland China this year?

Our mission purpose when properly communicated, “sharing the joy of crafting the gems of nature,” is very powerful and relevant, going beyond the product and leading clients into a community of values and aspirations that have fascinating narratives and a strong sense of belonging. Following this mission has helped us become the luxury brand with the most growth this year in top Chinese malls, where we’ve delivered some of the highest productivity per square meter to landlords. But we must do better in the future to remain the most desirable luxury brand in China, which, according to the Hurun report 2019, is the case today!

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