Gucci Group: How luxury brands fast track their way to social media, community and new customers

This week I had the great pleasure of speaking at the Gucci Group Conference in Miami. Not only were they the best dressed group of attendees I have ever seen – no surprises there – which was thoroughly intimidating – still no surprises – but their conference was a wonderful example of how a brand (or brands) react to the emerging social web in a way that is truly creative, effective and inspiring. As such, I wanted to share the steps they took to demonstrate how successful creative brands are rethinking their strategies to suit a new consumer-driven marketplace.

1. The How of Tomorrow

The first aspect I want to highlight was the theme itself: ‘Embracing Uncertainty’. This phrase encapsulates the mindset demanded of brands by ever-changing technology and consumer dynamics. As such it was incredibly effective at getting their executives to move past the “why” of change to the ‘”how”. (If you work in the non-profit field, I shared some thoughts that might help here.)

2. Dismantling Beliefs and Habits

The Gucci Group, led by Global CEO, Robert Polet, then challenged their teams by dissecting uncretainty from various angles.

Bob Lord, Global CEO of Razorfish provided insight into the four technologies (cloud computing, multi-touch, mobile, agility) that will transform e-commerce in the next five years using cutting edge examples.

Jeff Jarvis, author of ‘What Would Google Do’, then expanded everyone’s understanding of media explaining that brands need to give up control to their customers and identify what business they’re really in.

I followed Jeff showing creative examples of how leading brands around the world are engaging social media to build community.

Finally Al Seckel, brain scientist and master of illusion, challenged all our current mindsets by revealing the perceptual habits and beliefs that underpin how we see the world and how they might be limiting our creativity.

3. Rethinking Everything

The Gucci Group then retired to workshops in which the representatives of the various brands (Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Sergio Rossi, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Botega Venetta, Boucheron, Alexander McQueen) mixed and matched to plot the future of the other brands. When they presented their ideas to the global board  the next morning it was amazing to see how completely they had assimilated the social technology from the day before and come up with some amazing ideas. This on top of a wonderful party that night in which Gloria Gaynor, Anastasia and Lulu totally got the group dancing (see below).

4. The Bigger Picture

Finally, as a great surprise on the last day, President Bill Clinton spoke provided invaluable insight into what an unstable, unequal and unsustainable world needs and the contribution luxury brands can make for themselves and others. He was truly inspiring both as a humanitarian and human being.

5. Un-learning to Re-invent

This process was a wonderful exercise in scaling up from the specifics of retail to a global world view, all the while dismantling ways of thinking that are deeply entrenched and had to overcome. The tension between the exclusivity of luxury brands and the social nature of community building is extreme, and their ability to reframe their thinking so quickly shows that this is possible for any brand to achieve.

6. Rebuilding from the Inside Out

What it also shows is that it’s possible in a few short days to not only understand the need to reach our to your brand community, but to embrace that internally so that brands can re-organize themselves around these new ways of thinking and marketing. Robert Polet, the Global CEO was incredibly empowering, exhorting his management teams to take risks, fail to learn and bring their full selves to bear on the future of their brands. In short, he said, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission – a mindset that enables creativity, change and collaboration while motivating executives.

My hope in sharing this is that it will provide the insights and confidence other brands need to do the same. As difficult as it may be, it is truly in their best interest to do so. As Brian Solis says, it’s far better to discover these things as an “Aha!” rather than an “Uh oh!”

Would such an approach help your company? What else do you think a brand could do to accelerate their understanding of social media?

In the meantime, here’s some fun Gucci Group-style…Gloria Gaynor, Anastasia and LuLu singing, “Burn, baby, burn…”