Fendi, the ‘Incremental Innovator,’ to Focus Digital Marketing Efforts on China

To change or not to change? That is the perennial question that luxury brands have to contend with.

Italian luxury fashion house Fendi, however unlikely a candidate considering it’s 92-years-old, is one brand that seems to know how to grapple with the question. That is to say, it’s always kind of changing with the times, keeping young millennials excited by revamping its classic look. Creative elements like the Fendi “bag bug” charms and micro bags have become necessary items for streetwear fashion gurus.

What’s the brand’s secret? Influencers and digital marketing, as Fendi chief executive Pietro Beccari revealed in a recent interview with BoF China.

“Online and social media marketing becomes the center of promotion, especially in China (more so than other regions),” he said. “This is the quickest and best way to reach bigger brand awareness. If you have done it right, I believe you can communicate your branding to millions of fans via one influencer (not just as judged by the fan base but the fan type), Fendi will only invest more in digital marketing.”

Fueling Beccari’s confidence in Chinese influencers is the collaboration with the influencer known as Mr. Bags for the “Kan I” leather shoulder bag.

According to the financial report of Fendi’s parent company LVMH for the first half of 2017, Fendi continued its strong growth and enriched its leather goods lines, notably with the new Kan I model.

Here is how it worked. The Kan I model debuted in the Fendi Spring/Summer 2017 show in September 2016. It was called “a bag with an Asian aesthetic,” by one Weibo user.

Before the bag’s release in March, Mr. Bags published an article on his WeChat account that included a video about the collaboration, which marked his own video debut. It attracted over 100,000 pageviews on his WeChat account. Mr. Bags accentuated the bag’s suitability as a gift by noting how a boyfriend could use the colorful signature Kan I strap as a flirty way to ensnare a girlfriend. Another bonus the brand offered was an exclusive offer to Mr. Bags’s fans of 30 limited edition bags in a pink floral style.

Fendi’s Kan I bag. Photo: Mr.bag/WeChat

The collaboration is a great example of how brands are increasingly taking advantage of an influencers’ own fans and channels to get their message out to a broader audience while also allowing the influencers a little room to engage with audiences in their own way. For example, Mr. Bags’s message to his fans was personalized with details of his own history with Fendi such as the time he attended the brand’s Milan fashion show, when he was 22, and the CEO personally dragged him to the front row.

The Kan I bag is available in China, and Daigou shoppers in Europe are offering it at a lower price for purchase on Weibo and the social e-commerce site Little Red Book. Even though this digital influencer and all the online hype brought the Kan I bag a lot of attention, some Chinese consumers and critics don’t think the bag is destined to become a classic like the Peekaboo.

It’s interesting to note that even brands that seem resistant to change, like Fendi, can still benefit from influencers, many of whom can be hot for a brief time. French investment firm Exane BNP Paribas categorized Fendi’s innovative approach as “incrementalism,” meaning that the brand plays it safe, making changes only gradually. This is different from Gucci, which completely revamped its look under its new creative director, Alessandro Michele. Fendi’s focus on digital marketing is a way of assessing consumer reactions to its design tweaks.

The CEO is not shy about the motivation behind this strategy. “If we get 1 percent of our social media pageviews in sales,” he said, “it means our effort was worth it.”

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