In the last year, Apple has poached two high-profile fashion execs. Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve back in July and this week, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts. Ahrendts was instrumental in increasing Burberry’s retail footprint and is joining Apple to head up retail operations.
One is an anomaly, but a matching set begs the question: is Apple a luxury company? Now more than ever.
Apple has flirted with the low end of the market with not great results. In the iWatch space, competing on price point seems like a nonstarter. With Samsung already off and running with the Galaxy Gear watch at $299, there’s only going to be so much pricing differentiation that the market can bear.
Instead, Apple is positioning itself as a luxury brand that can be fashionable enough to be worn alongside a Burberry trench or with a pair of YSL Tributes.
If wearables are going to make it to the mass market, then they have to be something that more than geeks are willing to wear.
They have to be cute.
A phone is functional — you need it. I’d make the argument that you don’t need a watch. I haven’t worn one in over a decade.
But both Samsung and Apple are sending clear signals that their wearables are a fashion item. Samsung had a big presence during the Spring runway shows, putting the Galaxy on the runway in New York, London, and even South Africa Fashion Week.
The other big player in wearables, Google, has made a few high profile forays into fashion. Right now, Google Glass makes you look asinine. In future iterations of Glass, I believe they’ll go the opposite way. Instead of making them more beautiful, they’ll make Glass so unobtrusive that they fade into the background.
Even the way you buy a luxury item is very different from the way you buy a phone or a laptop. It’s more tactile, emotional, and visceral. It’s going to be interesting to see how Angela Ahrendts brings her experience in creating an aspirational brand to the Apple store experience.
Risky but right
Ahrendts and Deneve are two high-profile fashion executives who both come with a high price tag. These are risky hires, but they’re a move toward Apple investing in wearables and embracing it’s position as a luxury brand.
For shareholders, that has to be justified by the impact of wearables on the entire business — not just one iWatch product but an overall closer alignment between technology and fashion and thinking of Apple as the first luxury tech brand.
Wearables will eventually be the way that we interact with most of our technology. Why would you carry a phone when you can wear it inside a piece of clothing?
But for wearables to become a mainstream thing, fashion companies and tech companies will need to be more closely aligned than ever. Technology companies have to continue putting more emphasis on making beautiful things and fashion companies have to figure out how to make their beautiful things functional.
What if every auto purchase came with the assumption that you were going to share it? Would that change the way you buy?
I was at an event a few weeks ago where General Motors debuted the new Cadillac ELR — a plug-in electric coupe done with all the luxury you would expect in a Cadillac. Lovely car. More efficient than traditional gas-powered cars. Enough on-board gadgetry and personalization settings to keep a smartphone addict consumed.
The truth is: I live in downtown San Francisco and I’m probably not going to buy a car anytime soon. But I do have a Zipcar membership and regularly use both Lyft and Uber.
I’m typical of the young professional urban consumer who lives in a major metropolitan area and under other circumstances might be buying a car, but instead prefers the non-ownership model of the sharing economy.
So how does an automotive brand engage me?
Imagine if auto brands bought into the sharing economy and released an entire fleet of Cadillacs (or Lexuses or Fords) that could be signed up for and shared within a city.
General Motors has dipped a toe into peer-to-peer sharing with an investment in Relay Rides and enabling OnStar subscribers to easily share their cars through the Relay Rides mobile app. I love the idea of a car company leading with the assumption that everyone who buys a car may be at some point share it.
Daimler has also done some experimenting in the sharing economy with the Car2Go service, but their fleet of small electric cars is less about the car brand experience and more about the convenience of picking up a car only when you need it.
Users of the sharing economy have a reputation for being brand agnostic, but we’re just as brand conscious as any other consumer. We still cling to our affinity for Android or iPhone. And the sharing of clothing via sites like Bag Borrow or Steal or Rent the Runway is about nothing if not extending your fashion brand buying power.
Brand sharing is the new brand owning
Technology has given us the ability to share at scale and the movement toward collaborative consumption has given us even more consumptive power — power that can be used to experience brands in a completely new way.
Brands who embrace the sharing economy can find an entire customer base that they couldn’t engage before. Combining the convenience and community of these platforms with the desire of consumers to experience the brands they love gives consumers the opportunity to have a completely new brand experience.
Consumer brands should be empowering us to experience their products in the way that we want — not by owning, but by sharing.