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How an audience-led approach can help luxury brands win in search

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Who’s got game? – high street vs luxury

We’ve seen the news articles of brands announcing store closures and reporting losses, such as Miss Selfridge and Debenhams. Miss Selfridge reported losses of £17.5m ahead of their flagship shutting down back in July. With that said, the competition is fierce for fashion brands in the world of search, all fighting for that share of online traffic. There are various reasons causing this shift in fashion retail such as the rising cost of overheads as minimum wage increases, and fierce competition from online competitors.

Digital innovation and technology

With the changing lifestyle of millennials (1978-1992) and Generation Z (1993-2001), these consumers enjoy the convenience of shopping from the comfort of their homes in order to spend time on other activities. Consumers are also searching for a more tailored and personalised shopping experience. The outdated department stores with rails and rails of clothing and visual merchandising on mannequins just isn’t appealing any more.

Meanwhile, online retailers provide users with the availability of catwalk videos where users can view items of clothing on a real person. How the item fits, falls and moves on the model is a great deal-breaker when it comes to driving people to purchase.

Online retailers and their apps make it possible to have that personal shopping experience that most high street stores don’t offer; with the ability to search by size, colour and even save your favourite items and receive notifications when items are back in stock. This is a massive time saver for busy millennials and Gen Z shoppers.

The likes of Amazon and H&M suggest items to buy based on previous purchases and give you insights into what others bought who also bought the same items. The likes of ASOS and Zara allow users to use image search to look for products they’ve seen on social media or in-store via their apps. You can use the Zara app to manage purchases, store pick-up and returns without you having to queue in shops.

Why are physical stores still so important for luxury brands?

Luxury brands are slightly sceptical of the digital wave, with most of their sales still being generated from in-store. I guess if it’s not broken, why fix it? However, they will benefit by encouraging their consumers to trust in their digital experience to generate online conversions; as well as to leverage and drive more in-store purchases. Digital native retailers such as Matches Fashion, Net-A-Porter and Farfetch have successfully validated that luxury consumers are willing to purchase high value goods online.

Unlike the high street, luxury boutiques that populate the likes of New Bond Street have been able to develop a premium personalised shopping experience. In fact, the in-store experience is crucial for their customers to buy. Typically, the items consumers are purchasing are high involvement purchases due to the value of the items. Therefore, there is a much wider range of consideration factors. This is also why consumers who can afford the luxury purchase still opt for the physical boutique experience over digital.

If you walk into a Louis Vuitton store, you’re greeted by a sales associate. They will talk you through all the items you want to see in detail, fabrics and hardware, design inspirations and what suits you best for your style and budget. The sales associates may also give you their business cards and drop you a courtesy message or a call when that rare item you want is available in store. Sounds like the online shopping experience, right?

High street shops can’t deliver this level of service. High street fashion brands were fast to jump on the digital wave. The need was almost essential as their millennial audience turned to the internet to shop, leaving their brick and mortar stores struggling.

What is an audience-led approach to SEO?

So, what is an audience-led approach? It is designing every element of the marketing and communications plan around the needs, behaviours and passions of identified or targeted audiences to drive the fulfilment of the defined overall objectives. This is a major key when developing a multichannel digital approach, so how can this be applied to search and SEO as part of this? Every new feature enhancement of Google is designed with the user in mind, and mobile. So, it only makes sense for search marketers to do the same!

Crawling a website, extracting some keywords and expanding on those lists to generate more keywords (keyword research), then using this to identify content gaps, to then using this to formulate an SEO strategy is great! However, you may be missing out on all sorts of keywords and phrases unique to your audiences, which can also inform you of what content you need to be producing on the website and other platforms in order to attract more of these people. Look at your audience insights first, learn about who these people are, and define shopper mind sets and what platforms they engage with at different phases of the purchase funnel.

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How can luxury fashion brands leverage a multi-channel approach to maximise conversions?

When it comes to fashion retail online, the competition on generic terms is fierce and dominated by well-established brands such as boohoo and ASOS. Typically, for generic luxury-related keywords such as ‘designer handbags’ or ‘luxury shoes’ you will find that digitally established stores and luxury online retailers such as Matches Fashion or Net-A-Porter will dominate the first page of the search results.

Therefore, for luxury brands looking to drive more traffic to their websites, they will need to be more strategic; targeting longer tail keywords, phrases and questions. Focusing on branded terms for quick wins benefits luxury retailers where the clout of their brand is the driving force of their audience who aspire to purchase from the brand or who are already familiar. For example, ‘Gucci sunglasses’ has an average monthly search volume of 33,100 vs ‘ASOS Sunglasses’ which has 2,900 in the UK.

The term ‘Gucci sunglasses’ is slightly broad considering they have a wide collection of various styles. This indicates users searching around this term are at the higher stage of the funnel, therefore, lower affinity, where they are aware of the brand and are engaging and researching. It also indicates that a portion of these users may also be aspirational and have developed product desire vs users searching for ‘Gucci rectangular sunglasses with crystals’ – where the user knows exactly what they are looking for, higher affinity and ready to purchase.

Map these branded terms against audiences, and then pivot this against the relevant platforms and media. Use these groupings to then formulate a content strategy for each of these audiences.

So, for example, for the term ‘Gucci Sunglasses’ or keyword group mapped against the audience type of aspirational 25-34-year-old females who are becoming or are affluent:

  • Keyword type – branded generic/low affinity
  • Audience interests – fashion and personal style, food, career and sustainability podcasts etc.
  • Purchase insolvent criteria – ‘How many outfits can I wear these sunglasses with?’ Care and maintenance of the sunglasses, delicacy of materials used, UV protected, hard-shell case, etc. Some of these can also be barriers to purchase.

Media for awareness:

  • Digital – social media (Instagram, influencers ad YouTube), content pages on the website. Campaign features on other online publications.
  • Traditional media – print, out of home and press/in-store events, etc.

Prioritise audiences with keywords or keyword groups where there are gaps and search opportunities to leverage against competitors. Create (where necessary) or optimise existing pages on the website for the target keyword groups to maximise on-page optimisation efforts. Then amplify this via the relevant channels and platforms. For recruitment – create content around generic keyword groups that are unique to an audience interest to barrier to purchase.

So, for example, if the sunglasses are a new launch, create an Instagram post in paid and organic formats to announce it. Use influencer marketing to reach new aspirational consumers. Influencers can demonstrate how to style them in various ways. Use digital PR to gain high authority links back to the website and to promote in-store events as well as social. Use traditional media for awareness and application. These are all key signals to Google, as well as enhancing brand credibility and the campaign to the consumer.

According to an article by Forbes, millennials represent only about 32% of spending in the personal luxury market, but by 2025 they are expected to make up 50% of the total market. With this in mind, and ever-changing shopping habits, it’s important to have digital experiences ready for these generational shifts and create experiences to lead those sceptical to research online and make their final purchase in-store.

Key points

  • Physical boutiques and stores are still crucial for the shopper experience of luxury shoppers.
  • A multi-channel approach is important for luxury fashion brands and retailers to drive online and in-store conversions. 
  • Your SEO and overall search strategy should be audience-led.
  • Luxury brands should leverage overall performance by focusing on their branded terms and mapping this against their audiences.
  • In order to recruit new people to the brand, create content and digital experiences to help with awareness. Then use digital innovations and tech to give new users options on their purchase journey.

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Tasha Amponsah-Antwi is SEO account director at Reprise.

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