Isabelle Harvie-Watt, the head of Havas Media Group’s new global luxury arm LuxHub, tells M&M Global why luxury brands are crying out for a new approach to marketing communications.
It is not an easy time for the luxury goods sector. Big brands like Burberry and LVMH are worried about spending in China, while the eurozone teeters on the brink, meaning luxury firms are having to work increasingly hard to find a global audience.
At a time when social media, mobile and developments in ad technology have improved the possibilities for mass-market targeting, marketing to luxury consumers has remained stubbornly rooted in the past. Glossy print ads remain the favoured option for too many.
To help bring luxury brands catch up, Havas Media Group has announced the launch of LuxHub, a global consulting unit specialised in luxury brand communications.
The division, led by former Havas Media Italy chief executive Isabelle Harvie-Watt, will look to offer luxury expertise in key markets such as Milan, Paris, London, New York and Dubai.
Speaking exclusively to M&M Global, former Giorgio Armani and Versace marketer Harvie-Watt said LuxHub will focus “first and foremost” on assisting luxury brands with their digital transformation, and helping them to change deep-rooted communication habits.
“Luxury brands are playing catch-up,” says Harvie-Watt. “Many in the sector haven’t launched ecommerce yet, which is crazy in 2015. They now realise ecommerce is strategic, part of their business, and they realise they need to change the way they are communicating, to flip it over basically.”
Bridge the gap
Harvie-Watt believes LuxHub will help to “bridge” the contradictory needs of many luxury brands when it comes to agencies.
“Brands in fashion and luxury feel they need to have the focus and attention that a boutique agency can give them, but they need the structure, global footprint and expertise that a big agency can offer them,” she says.
“This division effectively bridges the gap, giving them the reassurance they need but also providing all the insight and consumer understanding that they need.”
She also insists that the structure, with LuxHub existing within Havas Media, rather than operating as a standalone agency, will most benefit clients: “You don’t want to create another agency within an agency. It’s there as an enhancer and an enabler.”
It also plans to assist “aspirational” brands targeting a luxury audience. One such client is Heineken, which is looking to position its Affligem brand as a premium beer, and has used LuxHub to devise an integrated communications plan, including content, PR and experiential elements.
LuxHub’s global footprint will be one of its most compelling advantages, reckons Harvie-Watt. With Western markets the first to roll out, including a likely New York launch during the city’s fashion week in February, the next focus will be Asia. Hubs are set to be created in Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong over the coming months.
“Asia is absolutely key, for obvious reasons. Hong Kong will be the [Asia-Pacific] HQ, because that is where most brands have their regional headquarters. And China is obviously key,” she says. A Latin American hub in Miami may follow, she adds, as well as a team in Los Angeles, to tap into the market’s “storytelling” potential.
Moreover, Havas Media is convinced that the demand for transformational consultancy from luxury clients is only likely to increase, in all regions, and that LuxHub can become an important part of its offering.
“Brands in fashion and luxury now realise that, because of the economic slowdown, because of the changing way people consumer media, they need to know who their consumers are and to develop a relationship with them,” says Harvie-Watt.
“Technology can enhance that customer experience, but clients need their hands held.”