Design 2.0, co-creation, the brand experience and Gucci

There’s no other way to say it – Core77 puts on a rocking good party and the Design 2.0 event on February 28th was one of them. Bruce Nussbaum already has an excellent summary up as does Jack Cheng at PSFK supported by Core77’s photographs.

The key essence that evening – articulated not only by the speakers, through their presentations, but also in the conversations that followed – was that the ‘2.0’ aspect has indeed permeated into the real world. That conversations are not just important in the blogosphere but beyond it.

That branding – cocreating an experience, communicating and engaging the users, empowering and enabling  the rise of brand loyalists and communities around your ‘brand’, listening, engaging in dialogue, having a conversation – has evolved from the days of  one to many mass communication. Participation, engagement, flexibility and adaptability.

Except in some situations. The most powerful question of the evening for me, was one thrown at me by Matt Marcus, Worldwide Director, eBusiness for Gucci. He said,

Allright,you’re all going on about the Web 2.0, cocreation, participatory brand experience stuff, where the users make the brands their ‘own’, what about in the case of a luxury brand? What about a ‘maker of culture’ like Gucci? Does a luxury brand throw open the boundaries of it’s brand’s identity to enable their customers to tweak and change and ‘cocreate’ into their brand? Can a luxury brand do this? Should a luxury brand do this? Answer me this.

Aaaah, I said. Er, let me get a drink and get back to you Matt. Harrumph. Er..hmmmm. Matt is an old friend of mine from the Institute of Design – he’s a design strategist, who, as he says, has now become one with the corporate beast – one that insists he improve his wardrobe 🙂 So I knew he knew what he was asking and my answer had better be a good one.

On reflection (and knocking back the second drink) I answered Matt with a "No". Through my own experience with emerging markets and my belief that brands need to adapt themselves to the local culture and context, the nuances of customer preferences et al, in the specific case of Gucci (and other iconic luxury brands, those who, in Matt’s words, ‘create culture’) the answer would be a resounding No. No, Gucci, should not and cannot, bend or change. Gucci is Gucci, a global leader in style, haute couture, a trendsetting fashion icon in it’s own right. It should enter a new market – say India or China – on its own terms. Its very attraction, its charisma and power come from its heritage of Italian handmade high fashion high quality goods. Luxury brands create their own rules, methinks.

Lets take the example of Coach, another luxury brand – while Coach is global brand, it’s products are made in China and India and other cost effective locations. Gucci, on the other hand, is still custom made by artisans in Italy. And that was part of the story, part of the mystique. As an Indian,I know I wouldn’t pay the price for a Gucci leather handbag if it had been made in India – because I didn’t want to buy another  indian leather handbag, I could get as many of those that I wanted. Here, I was buying a Gucci bag. And all the mystique of an Italian style icon that the double G carried. (disclaimer, I don’t have a single Gucci product nor could I actually own one without giving up a first born or two)

This made me rethink some of the aspects of global brands and local markets. While cocreation and empowerment et al are extremely powerful and compelling evolutions in the market, there are, and will have to be, exceptions to the rule of ‘web 2.0’.

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12 Responses to Design 2.0, co-creation, the brand experience and Gucci

  1. To answer Matt Marcus of Gucci,
    The most important step is authentic interaction and engagement with it’s adoring pubic. I don’t think too many Web 2.0 advocates seriously expect Gucci et al to hand over design responsibilities to civilians.
    People would go absolutely nuts if there were Gucci podcasts, weblogs, and perhaps a bit of design behind the scenes Q&A from time to time.
    Shop harder,
    Doug

  2. niti bhan says:

    You mean sort of like God coming down off the mountain to talk to his peeps? I personally think it would sully the brand’s identity as aspirational or iconic. It would have then become for the ‘masses’ rather than ‘premium’, ‘exclusive’ or ‘luxury’.

  3. niblettes says:

    Douglass,
    I’m not sure if I’m reading you right here–so if i’ve gotten you wrong, please forgive me.
    There cannot now nor ever be a Luxury Brand in the 2.0 sense because the luxury brand is most intentionally and by definition the antithesis of everything 2.0 represents. Luxury brands are closed, anti-social, vicious Appollonian hierarchy to 2.0’s Dionysian leveling.
    If you think about a product as a rhetorical artifact, luxury brands are pure ethos, and displaying (cause it ain’t enough to just own a luxury brand, you must seen owning) the brand is a semiotic appropriation of all the exclusivity that brand has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build.
    So, when I wear a pair of heavy Gucci sunglasses, they say I’m better than you, they put me above you. And part of this is the mystery of the brand–how else could a simple piece of plastic make somone ridiculously think that they are better than someone else for wearing it? Mystery.
    Open up the design, expose it to the masses, let them take part and you kill the mystery, you kill the exclusion, you kill the brand, and well you kill your business.
    No sir, we won’t be seeing any Luxury Brand 2.0s

  4. niti bhan says:

    Mystery is the apt word. Luxury brands are exclusive, elusive, unknownable mysteries. they become icons on a pedestal. Their very appeal is in their inaccessibility.

  5. Hilmir says:

    I think having everything Gucci, Gucci podcasts, Gucci weblogs, etc would somehow kind of gut it out, expose and cheapens it, and makes it absolutely the same with what other people are doing.
    Some might view it as, oh luxury brands moving with the times, but what does that say? Something that has actually stood the test of time, successfully maintained its flavor & essence, preserving quality & fine craftsmanship, and history, has to reinvent itself, change its skin, learn new tricks to be more of what it is? Bending to the will of consumers & listening to them, instead of the other way round?
    That is soo not Gucci. Ladies *and some guys* anticipate and clamor for whatever these luxury labels throws to them every season. “Man Alive..that bag is fugly, but by damn, I gotta have it. I can and WILL incorporate it somehow *into my life*, it’s new, it’s Gucci, it’s sooo me.”
    It is elitist, elusive and borderline absolutism. And that’s exactly how they like it.

  6. niti bhan says:

    Well said, Hilmir. But I’d be curious to ask you – what kind of products/brands do you think would fall in the category of ‘adapting to the customer’ without losing the ‘sense’ of their brand? Any examples in Singapore?

  7. Hilmir says:

    I’m not sure of what the Motorola branding entity is like in the States and Europe, but in Asia, they employ an almost free-style approach to branding, product involvement & endorsement.
    Usually collaborating with youth-oriented networks like MTV SeAsia & CH [v], they readily shed their stuffy business suits approach, letting youths overrun *or maybe hijack, for the lack of a better word* logos & insignia, so its not weird to see the trademark batwing logo done in hot pink, or “re-designed” in whatever graphic style is “in” at the moment, be it hiphop graffiti or neo-goth patterns. Moto also tailors specific events for MotoUsers, like MotoRaid – an event where users might get to receive not-yet-released merchandise or maybe even meet up in person with a music act, available to Motorola clients only.
    There are rivals in Samsung’s Fun Club, or the Nokia one, but while they try to simulate offers or services at 50% enthusiasm, Moto dives into the youth frenzy, 900%, giving the customers what they want and clamor for.
    So it’s almost like a split personality between the “conventional” 70+ year old Motorola, a company founded on ingenuity of redesigning infocomm appliances, and the hip younger Motorola, finger always on the pulse, always knows what’s in and what’s out, and always in the mix.
    And that is the “sense” of Motorola to me. This keen instinctive awareness to opportunities, like 70 odd years ago when they took advantage of the advances in technology to reduce huge machines into portable devices small enough to be fitted into automobiles. And here, yet again, taking advantage of opportunities presented by ready technology now, to bridge the gap between selling phones, and actually selling a service, to strengthen & at the same time provide for its customer base.
    And don’t even get me started on how annoyingly consistent they are with creating a brand presence…they have the RAZR range, the SLVR, PEBL, ROKR, and soon, MING, RDIO & SCPL. They even updated their methodology and aptly renamed it DSGN – a 4 LETR word, hee..

  8. Niti Bhan says:

    Wow! And you don’t even work for Motorola! 🙂 That’s a powerful brand experience! HLMR
    ~ NITI
    cute image, who did that? a user group or the company themself?

  9. Niti Bhan says:

    Hilmir,
    Why don’t you have a blog yet? After reading your comments and insights today, I’m curious to know why you’re not writing more often?
    niti

  10. Lynn says:

    I think so too! HLMR has a great mind & writes well.

  11. Hilmir says:

    Haha, thanks guys. I’ve just had the opportunity of owning a lot of cellphones in the 22yrs I’ve been around, so can’t help making a few observations, and cellphones are my weakness. They just keep getting better & better, I’m a junkie.
    HLMR, wah! That takes brand loyalty to another level, lol. They should make it so that every MotoUser has their own cool 4 Letr ID..
    NITI, LYNT.. haha!
    The image was taken from the recent 3GSM World Congress convention in Spain, who knew there was such a thing! Sounds like a blast, man. Lucky the guy who got to cover the event!

  12. I really like Matt’s question. I worked with him years back in NY and I can see what he is trying to get at. However, I would disagree with your answer to him.
    Any strong brand establishes landmark elements that help to create a concept in the consumer’s mind about what the brand stands for. However, who picks up this brand and what they do with it is completely out of the control of the manufacturer. The way that Tommy Hilfiger and Krystal champagne have been adopted by the hip-hop crowds were not by intent. The audience took the brands and used them in a way that gave new meaning to the brands. Similarly, if you listen to really good fashion designers, they will tell you that they love to see how customers combine their products with other various brands to create their own style. Only cookie-cutter companies like Gap want to provide you the 100% solution to your personal identity. If you have no personality, then buy Gap. If you have a personality, then you will combine Gucci shoes, with Levi’s, a thrift shop wife-beater (a type of undershirt) and an Armani sports coat. I’m not promoting myself as a fashion guide, but the mix of various brands from various price categories only comes natural to people with real style. Those with real style can appreciate the material, detail and design of products like Gucci.
    So, my answer. Gucci is exactly the kind of company that can benefit from a participatory approach. Obviously, their ability to filter out the poser from the genius will also be important.

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