Burberry: Digitizing the Trench

Burberry’s path to digitization through use of social media, online customization, and collaboration with tech companies.

When thinking of digitization in different industries, fashion brands rarely comes up at the top of one’s list of digital-savvy companies. Burberry, with the appointment of Angela Ahrendts (now at Apple) as CEO in 2006, transformed the world of luxury fashion and its interaction with the digital world in order to attract millennial customers. Through various methods of digitization and innovation, Burberry has achieved its goal to provide an entry point to the high-end brand which, millennials have in the past, identified as being for “ladies who lunch” [1]. Since the beginning of the brand’s digitization journey in 2006, the company stock price has surged two-folds and has successfully brought its target customers closer to the brand in a way no other luxury brand has done before.

The Trench: Where it all started

In 2006, Angela Ahrendts aimed to become the first company who is fully digital. In order to achieve this vision, she set out to “purify the brand message and how we were going to do that; by focusing on outerwear, by focusing on digital, by targeting a younger consumer” [2]. In 2009, the brand launched its “Art of the Trench Coat” digital campaign, which allowed fans to take pictures with the iconic trench coat and share on the Burberry microsite for other visitors to comment or “like”. By addressing the inner needs of many young luxury shoppers to exhibit their style, Burberry has not only managed to spread awareness for the brand, but maintained its prestige by not introducing a more affordable product line for the mass [3]. In 2011, the British brand launched the “Burberry Bespoke”, allowing visitors to customize its own trench coat from the buttons to the color of the sleeves. Personalization continues to be Burberry’s focus to fulfill Millennials’ desire to differentiate themselves from their friends by having a personal statement.


Social Media is Key

Simultaneous to its Art of Trench campaign, Burberry became one of the first luxury brands to incorporate social media into its marketing strategy. The brand uses Facebook and the likes to share catwalk footage and engage directly with Christopher Bailey. In 2014, Burberry became one of the first luxury brands to sign-up to Twitter’s “buy now” button, allowing users to instantaneously purchase the brand’s products as they view the runway online [4]. Burberry’s Twitter, @BurberryService, handles customer enquires 24 hours a day to ensure client satisfaction and direct connection with the customers. The brand has virtually eliminated the leaky funnel of its customers deciding against a purchase of a product because their questions cannot be answered until the following business day, especially as they target Millennials who are constantly connected to the internet. Of course, not all young customers the brand aims to acquire will be able to afford a two-thousand dollar trench. “Burberry Kisses” was launched in partnership with Google to send a digital copy of the customer’s lip imprint onto a digital postcard, after coloring it using Burberry’s one of five lipstick shades – for free. This is one of the many ways young users fall in love with Burberry as the brand creates an environment that they want to be part of. Burberry’s products are now tiered so younger people with limited financial resources can get in on a ground level and work their way up as they age [5].


Providing the “Wow” factor

Burberry continues its innovative branding as earlier this year, presented its first “see-now, buy-now” collection. As viewers watch the runway streaming live, the show could be purchased immediately, completely changing the traditional six-months gap between showing a collection and it appearing in the shops [6]. Shoppers can not only buy products online, but while in-store, access a unified shopping cart on mobile and desktop. At the brand’s flagship Regent Street location, when chips attached to clothes approaches one of the many digital screens in the common areas, a video showing how it was worn on the catwalk will appear. Burberry has also partnered with DreamWorks last winter, featuring computer-generated versions of its iconic scarf for fans to personalize and play on the “Curve” screens in London’s Piccadilly Circus [7].



What now?

Burberry has successfully digitized its entire business in order to penetrate a younger audience than that of the traditional luxury brands. By providing seamless and innovative services to the Millennial customer, the brand has successfully created loyal fans who will be with the brand for an extended period of time. As a fan myself, I would like to see the DreamWorks and Google partnerships to expand to the rest of the globe. The entry point marketing, such as Burberry cosmetics and the Burberry Kisses campaign could further be incorporated into the brand’s emerging markets to ensure the rising generation become the brand’s biggest fans.

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[1] “An Interview with Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s Digital Transformation”. Capgemini Consulting. Web.


[2] “Burberry’s CEO on Turning an Aging British Icon into a Global Luxury Brand”. Harvard Business Review. Web. https://hbr.org/2013/01/burberrys-ceo-on-turning-an-aging-british-icon-into-a-global-luxury-brand

[3] “Burberry’s Blurred Lines: The Integrated Customer Experience”. Forbes. Web. http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottdavis/2014/03/27/burberrys-blurred-lines-the-integrated-customer-experience/#3f789c8a22fc

[4] “Twitter Launches Buy Button”. Vogue. Web. http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/twitter-launches-buy-button-with-burberry

[5] “Trench Coat Warfare”. Britton Blog. Web. http://www.brittonmdg.com/the-britton-blog/trench-coat-warfare/

[6] “How to buy Burberry’s September Collection straight after tonight’s London Fashion Week show”. The Telegraph. Web. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/london-fashion-week/how-to-buy-burberrys-september-collection-straight-after-tonight/

[7] “Burberry Partners with DreamWorks Animation and NOVA”. Burberry Press Release. Web. http://www.burberryplc.com/media_centre/press_releases/2015/burberry_partners_with_dreamworks_animation_and_nova


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Student comments on Burberry: Digitizing the Trench

  1. Great article Irene! I really enjoyed reading about Burberry’s new digital strategies. It seems like they are trying to strengthen their brand through two main strategies: (i) reducing the time that customers have to wait, for customer service, to buy runway clothes, to sync shopping carts; and (ii) allowing for extreme customization, of the trench coat, the kiss envelopes, and the scarves. By playing on convenience and instant gratification, they are catering to the desires of millennials globally, building brand loyalty. I agree with your suggestion to expand this technology into emerging markets–a store or screen like the one in London may be a huge hit in China or India. Furthermore, I wonder if they could tap into celebrity photos–perhaps digitally scanning Facebook or Twitter for pictures of celebs in Burberry and linking these to their site as well. Overall, super interesting!

  2. Fascinating post, Irene. It seems that Burberry has avoided the pitfall of so many retailers: seeing success on social media as an end in itself. After all, Likes, Retweets, and Comments don’t show up on a company’s balance sheet, and social buzz is great for brand awareness but does not always translate to booming sales. Most high fashion companies currently use digital communications channels primarily for brand building and little else, with varying levels of success.

    For Burberry, the introduction of lower priced merchandise seems a necessity for the millennial audience you say they were targeting on social. I’d be interested in knowing if walking these customers up the price chain is going to be a successful strategy over the long-term, or whether it’s too hard for a high-fashion house to stay relevant over time. Further, the introduction of lower priced goods has the potential to undercut the brand’s “premium” image: a significant risk.

  3. Very interesting article about how a luxury brand has adopted a promotion strategy to engage with millennials, an increasingly important target segment to stay relevant in the long-term. I found the “see now, buy now” campaign disruptive and a clear indication of the power of social media to affect change within industries.
    I am intrigued to learn more about the changes Burberry made to its operating model to complement this media campaign in a sustainable manner with minimal impact to its bottom line. Burberry would have likely needed to adapt its sourcing and production decisions and supply chain capabilities in keeping with this new strategy of selling “on-demand.” I assume, the timeline and lead times for planning, designing and producing samples for fashion shows were changed accordingly. While the campaign can prove to be an effective marketing strategy, it has significant implications on Burberry’s operations and back-end infrastructure to be able to service customer orders made with a simple click.

  4. Thanks for the post Irene. I think its very interesting how Burberry is trying to link its social media presence directly to sales. I had not even heard of the Twitter “buy now” button until this post. I’m curious as to how successful some of these attempts have been – I wonder how many consumers can truly purchase such an expensive item / brand in a seemingly spontaneous social way. I think the Burberry Bespoke is very interesting as well – I agree that this will be a major trend with the next generation of shoppers. We see it a lot with men’s clothing as “made to measure” has become very common at increasingly affordable price points. Company’s like Alton Lane, MySuit and Suit Supply specialize in this type of thing, however, they do it primarily in an unbranded way. As more companies enter the made-to-measure / bespoke market, it will be interesting to see how brands can protect their value – as a made to measure consumer myself, I tend to think about purchases more on a quality of fabric and construction than brand level.

  5. Very interesting article! After seeing how Longchamp has struggled with both appealing to the younger market while still maintaining luxury brand perception, it is fascinating to see how Burberry has succeeded. I had no idea that the brand had invested so heavily in digital marketing and technology to enhance the customer buying experience. Perhaps this embracing of technology could lead to the combination of technology in their clothing? We have smartphones… Could we one day have a ‘smart trench coat’?

  6. Brilliant topic and you know how unbiased I am! I really enjoyed reading an article written with a fresh set of eyes.

    Burberry has definitely done a great job with digital: not just at creating modern and inspirational products and stories thanks to technology (3D printers, CADs, digital archives etc.) but also at using the innovative content to engage younger consumers online and with social media. We made a point to partner with every up and coming tech company: Apple to film the runway with the new IPhone 5 just before its public release, Google Kisses, SnapChat, WeChat and Kakao and more recently Facebook Live and Facebook Messenger. As you mentioned, further pioneering new ways to engage with customers, Burberry led the revolution of “see now, buy now” in order to immediately convert social media buzz into sales rather than waiting 6 months for the buzz to die down before collections actually hit the stores. They also merged menswear and womenswear into one and only show, further adding variability in production requirements. See https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/how-burberry-is-operationalising-see-now-buy-now.
    These business decisions are a way to address the decreasing demand linked to the tightening macro economy. They have undoubtedly put significant strain on production and supply chain, which had never been built to handle the requirement of immediacy and are struggling to adapt to earlier timelines and increased variability. Offering immediate orders of 1 make-up SKU straight off the runway back in 2015 had already been a significant challenge.

    As to emotionally connected clothing, Burberry has larger fish to fry and has not started exploring beyond RFID technology. Nonetheless, others are exploring this route. Philips is one of them as they recently released the output of the skin exploration research. The garments of the Bubelle dress, demonstrate how electronics can be incorporated into fabrics and garments in order to express the emotions and personality of the wearer (http://www.electricfoxy.com/electricfoxy/2009/01/bubelle-blush-dress-reacts-to-emotions).

  7. What an interesting post! I think reaching younger audiences is something a lot of luxury brands are currently struggling with. The chip concept showing shoppers how the item was worn on the runway is an amazing use of technology to take the Burberry in store experience to the next level. What concerns me is the steps they’ve taken can be adopted by other luxury brands as well. Estee Lauder has created a new line the Estee Edit” using Kendall Jenner as a brand ambassador. While they focus on skin care more than clothing, nothing is stopping other luxury brands from doing the same to reach millennials (who tend to be less brand loyal than previous generations). I think Burberry can take advantage of being first to fully embrace technology in order to build nostalgia with millennials in hopes of keeping them loyal.

  8. Great post! Since moving to Boston (from LA), I have finally started to understand just how iconic the Burberry trench is. It is fashionable yet functional! I have two main questions I’d love to explore further. First, I would be interested to know what percentage of younger buyers actually do trade up as they mature. We have seen some companies struggle to make this happen in a few of our marketing cases. Especially because younger customers are getting pulled in with much, much lower cost items such as scarfs and lipsticks, do they ever really transition to $2,000 coats? Is Burberry’s digital marketing really that good? Secondly the idea of customization is really cool! In a few TOM cases, we’ve seen that while customers love customization, it can often extremely challenging to current operations. What percent of customers actually take advantage of the customizable options? And how has Burberry’s operations/supply chain adapted to this change in demand?

  9. Wow, Irene, what a great post! I have been following Angela Ahrendts’ career for a little while now and am so impressed with her vision and execution. You did such a nice job highlighting here the synergy between digitization and strengthening the brand. I think often times people can say going digital can “cheapen” the artisanal nature of brand, it can take away from the brand’s authenticity. Angela Ahrendts accomplished not only to strengthen Burberry’s brand with digital, but do so with an impressive boost in sales and profitability. Thank you for walking us through this example of great tech leadership, I learned a great deal.

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