What does the rise of digital marketing mean for luxury brands?

As the influence of print diminishes as an advertising medium, how can firms that sell high-end products communicate with their customers in a way that doesn’t compromise their core values?

The rise of digital marketing is changing the way luxury brands engage with customers, and traditional companies must embrace what is now possible in today’s connected and mobile world or be left behind. “The luxury industry is at a turning point,” said Chris Moody, creative director at brand consultant Wolff Olins, speaking at a seminar hosted by the Guardian and held in association with Harrods Media.

An invited audience joined industry experts to debate the risks and creative opportunities for luxury brands enabled by digital technology. Digital interaction was a feature of the event itself, as audience members participated through an iPad app, submitting questions and voting on which ones should be addressed by the panel.

The automotive industry is an example of the profound change wrought by digital, said Laura Schwab, marketing director at Jaguar Land Rover.

“The amount of times people actually go to a car dealership has diminished. By the time they get to the door all they really want to do is test drive. All the research, everything, happens online.”

The implication for motoring brands is that winning that dealership visit requires engaging first with the customer online, and ensuring that compelling digital content is available. “We don’t do a lot of print,” said Schwab. “For Land Rover it is close to zero, and for Jaguar a small percentage of our budget.”

Print remains important in many sectors, but the trend is unmistakable. “Print and other media have still got high circulations,” said Harrods Media sales director Guy Cheston, “but that point will tip soon, particularly with the younger generation who haven’t grown up reading a glossy magazine every month.”

There were signs of scepticism in the audience over the merits of digital. One question submitted to the panel via the app quickly rose to the top as people voted for it to be discussed: “The return on investment (ROI) is not as big with digital, so why should we invest in digital advertising?”

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