The third in a series of conversations with our Corporate Members, where we will explore and discuss the future of the luxury industry, we spoke with Jonathan Chippindale, CEO and co-founder of Holition, a provider of augmented reality and 3D marketing solutions to premium brands.
Holition started as an ‘idea’ when a somewhat disparate group of luxury marketers, technologists, futurists and retail experts spotted the potential of employing a new technology, augmented reality, to help identify better ways to sell jewellery on the shop floor. Originally head of marketing at Garrard, followed by over a decade as marketing director at De Beers, Johnathan describes himself as neither ‘a creative nor a technologist’ but someone who has had to learn fast in the twelve or so months since Holition became commercial.
The creative services agency, which specialises in emerging technologies, has now completed projects for Boucheron, Vogue, Tacori, Hannah Martin, Tag Heuer and Tissot, at retailers such as Selfridges, Dover Street Market, Harrods and Bloomingdales. We caught up with Johnathan to explore why augmented reality is a particularly important technology for luxury brands, which brands are already using it to advantage and where the industry is headed in the future.
Holition was launched to bring together luxury goods and augmented reality, tell us some more about the opportunity you identified in the market, in launching this business…
We saw that use of this technology could bring a variety of tangible and quantifiable benefits to retail in general – one being the opportunity to present far more stock to customers than could be held in a store, another to help customers to design their own bespoke pieces and virtually ‘wear’ them before having them manufactured, while yet another allowed a greater connection between retail and online e-commerce. Aligned to this were interesting marketing and visual merchandising opportunities that led to a growing sense that we were looking at a real revolution in the way brands and retail would be dialoguing with the consumers of tomorrow.
The ‘idea’ quickly spun up momentum as the technology focussed and improved. Other technology firms experimenting with augmented reality looked broadly across all channels and segments but never concentrated on one sector. They were, and indeed ‘are’, solely technology providers, while Holition takes the other tack, operating only within luxury but going very deep, taking brands on new, exciting digital journeys.
A still from the Holition application developed for Tatler, where readers can try on £10 million of jewellery using augmented reality
Since then we have seen an upsurge in the demand for more experiential, creative executions that has gently but firmly nudged us into interesting new territory. Now the conversation is all about the ‘digital journey’, taking brands and their customers along new communication channels through the creation of bespoke digital solutions, which in turn provide a synergy between the real world and interactive online content.
A great example of this is the project we have just completed for Tatler, a long-established yet fashionable society magazine that fully appreciates that their customer-base is increasingly using digital alongside more traditional print media and was looking for an idea that would take readers from the pages of the magazine onto the website for additional content. We took trophy rings from classic Bond Street brands, including Chanel, Faberge, De Beers, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Cartier and others, and allowed Tatler readers the once in a lifetime chance to “Try on £10 million of jewellery in 10 minutes”.
Jessica Walsh, Tatler’s Jewellery Editor, was right on the money when she said, “Digital technologies are changing the way in which people interact with both media and brands, and what excites me is that we have brought together the oldest magazine in the world with an industry steeped in heritage and tradition – and combined the two to create a ‘first-time’ digital innovation”.
A brief showcase of some of Holition’s latest released projects and technologies
What do you think has driven the luxury industry’s recent embrace of digital and technology? Particularly when it has been comparatively slow to embrace e-commerce and social media?
Luxury remains an extremely broad church, and as with any group, there are the early adopters as well as those who need to take a little longer to get to their own comfort level. And the type of technology we can offer and the myriad of ways it can be integrated into a digital marketing strategy, e-commerce or social media campaign can be intellectually challenging – this is all very new after all. Pre-digital, marketing channels operated in conjunction with each other while rarely touching. Digital marketing is changing this, by intertwining all these marketing ‘strands’ of multi-communications into one combined digital experience. We’re working with a client at the moment, one of the largest jewellery brands in the world, and their entire marketing is being driven solely by the need to create digital content that can be used to drive viral media and network dependent campaigns.
This type of approach is going to be far more prevalent now that luxury has realised that their customer base is far more digitally connected than they had previously supposed. In the UK 40% of the population actively use social media, but that percentage rises to 46% for those with a HHI over £100k – the higher the income, the more likely the consumer is to be a digital consumer. Boucheron quickly saw the value in augmented reality, experiencing a 50% increase in site traffic at launch and six months after we built their application traffic is still a healthy 10% up year-on-year.
“ Pre-digital, marketing channels operated in conjunction with each other while rarely touching. Digital intertwines all these ‘strands’ into one combined experience ”
Why should augmented reality/retail be an important consideration for luxury brand marketers?
At its heart, augmented reality offers luxury brands a new way of communicating with consumers. But despite some of things I read about this technology, it is still only a communication channel needing the same type of approach as other more traditional channels like advertising and PR, and creativity still remains key in delivering the idea to the consumer in the most compelling manner. If the technology works really well it should be invisible to the consumer, and what is left is a fantastic creative user experience.
That said, one aspect of augmented reality that offers real tangible communication benefit to luxury is that it can highlight the tradition, design and craftsmanship that obviously typifies luxury, but it does so using a medium that today’s modern digitally aware consumer finds highly compelling.
Holition launch Tacori Bridal Collection at JCK Las Vegas
How are luxury brands using augmented retail/reality? Which brands are doing it well and why?
This type of technology is still incredibly new. Holition has been commercial for barely a year now so we are all at the very start of this journey, and it’s a journey that is almost infinitely variable dependent on what it is that a brand needs to communicate and ‘why’. Success seems to be dependent on a combination of two elements, the first being the extent to which augmented reality is integrated into the overall marketing campaign and the second being the brute force of the creativity behind the idea.
As an example, the Swatch Group brand, Tissot, have been real innovators in this space, taking the augmented reality platform we built for them and firmly integrating it into advertising, PR, merchandising, viral, social media and even to power pop-up stores and other more contemporary forms of marketing. They are also the brand that first started to feel the benefits of talking to consumers using this technology. They quickly realised that for a brand to feel the uplift from augmented reality, consumers first had to be driven to the brand’s website.
One way we achieved this was through putting the Tissot application into the street windows of Selfridges and Harrods, and now other famous landmark stores in other countries, so that consumers could ‘wear’ Tissot watches without having to enter the store. The metrics from this were fantastic – sales in the Selfridges Tissot boutique went up 83%, the YouTube vox-pop video of the experience attracted 45,000 unique hits in the first fortnight and this became the most successful PR campaign Tissot had ever run in the UK.
“ Mobile augmented reality allows consumers to try on products in a social atmosphere, linking the application to e-commerce offers interesting opportunities ”
What do you see as some future trends for augmented retail in the coming years?
Integrating augmented reality into various mobile platforms is going to be the next big step. Whilst the in-store experience is an important part of the luxury journey, it can be intimidating to many and a true destination store doesn’t always attract passing traffic. I’m interested in using technology to talk to consumers outside of the store, in locations and situations where they feel more relaxed, such as in a bar with friends, or where they are bored, looking for something to do. Mobile augmented reality allows consumers and their friends to try on products in a fun social atmosphere, and linking the application to an e-commerce platform offers interesting opportunities. Holition already has a mobile augmented reality platform operating for iPhone, iPad2 and Android so the future’s here now…
The other area that will be ‘big’ for augmented reality is the notion of ‘bespoke’. At it’s most basic, a consumer can design their own item, for example build up their own perfect engagement ring, or specify the colour of a item, the stitching and personalise it, then see themselves wearing it or holding it. Bespoke is an increasingly important part of luxury as it plays not to the look of the herd, but rather to customer individuality and personal taste, and augmented reality is the perfect way to experience it. But in much the same way that Google presents you with personalised advertising, mobile will in the future start to present you with augmented retail solutions individualised for you. In fact it could well be that the biggest future trend will be to find ways of filtering out unwanted content on your mobile as every advertiser fights for a share of your attention.
For others discussions regarding the future of luxury and communications, please see the following: