Earlier this year when Moncler hired Gino Fisanotti as its Chief Brand Officer, it marked a decided shift in the luxury industry towards the reshaping of their executive board, one where the influence of how a brand was perceived externally has become more powerful than how a brand believes it is seen.
The appointment of Fisanotti, a Nike veteran who worked for the sportwear giant for 23 years, demonstrates how Moncler is rethinking its positioning in the world, and how it is, in its CEO and Chairman Remo Ruffini’s own words, becoming “a consumer culture company, driven by purpose, experience and a sense of community, while drawing inspiration from different worlds including entertainment, sports, art and music.”
“The chief brand officer is really someone who must make the brand directly interact with the consumer, who have become more global and more demanding,” said Rodgy Guerrera, Founder of Rodgy Guerrera and Partners, a head hunting boutique based in Milan which specialises in the recruitment of mid and high level professionals in industries like fashion, luxury and retail.
“Companies are striving to be more consumer centric, and brands must connect to them, and interact with them to satisfy their requests before they arise,” she added, noting the success of brands like Apple, Nike and Adidas in building strong relationships with their clients through storytelling and a unique buying experience.
“The chief brand officer must know how to communicate to a global platform of consumers, in terms of age and background,” she continued. “They must be the link between creativity, the product, and the demand of the market. Fashion and luxury consumers have changed and today brands must also satisfy the new generations. That is why the CBO is a professional who derives their strategies not only from fashion but also from art, music, and entertainment.”
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It’s little surprise then that many brands are following suit. The past few months has been seen radical disruption resulting in a change of leadership, not just at the top but lower down the pipeline as well, as companies look to address the new changes facing the industry. One only needs to skim the headlines to see new CEOs being appointed to different fashion houses, new roles created for the ongoing digital transformation luxury is experiencing and new board appointments being announced to prepare brands for the years to come.
A simple glance at the latest activities from leading brands like Balenciaga and Moncler add further proof on how luxury companies are positioning themselves within popular culture. For Balenciaga, it was shaking up the old system and reinventing new ways of communicating with its audience. In its latest fashion show, the French fashion house blended its guests with its models, photographers with the press, in a red carpeted extravaganza that culminated in a surprise premiere of a special Simpsons/Balenciaga short created especially for the occasion, followed by cocktail party that was livestreamed for audiences where models and guests mingled in their Balenciaga outfits.
For Moncler, it was the launch of MONDOGENIUS, its digitally led experience that was broadcast across multiple social media channels, taking its audience through the vision of 11 different designers across an array of different creative fields like film, music and art.
Such activities from brands are becoming the norm now, particularly as the attention from consumers becomes harder to gain. “The battle is no longer about one brand against another, but about the attention of this consumer because if you do not have their attention, you will not have their desire and if you do not create desire, you will not create demand,” said Floriane de Saint Pierre, Founder of her eponymous consulting firm Floriane de Saint Pierre & Associés and Eyes on Talents, a digital platform where brands can assess creative talent.
Which is why luxury brands are actively seeking to reshape their executive boards, something both De Saint Pierre and Guerrera can attest to. “The market is very, very active,” said De Saint Pierre. “And the positions where we see the highest level of demand is for chief brand officer, chief marketing officer and any role that requires brand activation strategies.”
“Companies are restructuring,” said Guerrera. “The pandemic gave the opportunity to brands to restructure so there have been a lot of changes, particularly at the C-level and some of them have already taken place.”
A large part of the reason behind these changes is the unforeseen challenges that the global COVID-19 pandemic. “Most brands, particularly in Italy for instance, are family-owned businesses,” Guerrera added. “They realised that with COVID, they had to become more aligned with digital. They needed to restructure, not only at the C-level, but they really had to rethink their way of doing business. So COVID gave them the push they need to restructure, creating new positions.”
“There is a new need for a new mindset within leadership roles like chief executive,” noted De Saint Pierre. “These roles require candidates to be completely focused on direct-to-consumer, digital and social media. There is this big demand for a new type of leader. Brands accelerated the digital aspect of their business so much during the pandemic, and now these elements really represent a significant part.”
Indeed, over the past five years, luxury companies have added roles like chief digital officer, chief transformation officer, chief omnichannel officer, chief culture officer and chief brand officer to their boards, signalling this exact change in mindset needed to guide their businesses in the future. But does every brand need one?
The answer lies in what kind of structure each brand has.
Many roles that have existed for a long time have now been elevated, said De Saint Pierre. “Every company is now giving more gravitas to the role. The challenge is to capture the attention of the audience. So, that's why you see the surge of the chief marketing officer, chief cultural officer, chief brand officer, because in fact you have your creative leaders who are super important, just look at Balenciaga with Demna Gvasalia who is the mastermind of the brand. But at the same time, they've just recruited a chief marketing officer Ludivine Pont who comes from Moncler. Brands need to scale up the creative assets towards their audiences and to make sure that these creative assets will create an impact.”
“Everything is about how do I create an impact with creative assets, because if I don’t, I won’t capture the attention of consumers, and I will not sell a product,” she continued. “In fact, the pace is so fast that you need multiple roles to manage this well. A creative leader focuses on creativity, but they need a chief marketing officer to really leverage this creativity and scaling up their assets. But depending on the company and if they have a chief creative officer or not, a chief brand officer can work in a similar capacity to decide who will be the creative resources, and who might be the creative guests that will contribute to the expression of brand, just like at Moncler.”
“The skills of a chief brand officer is ever evolving as we focus more on omnichannel,” added Guerrera. “They are the “chef d’orchestre” who has the ability to integrate functions together and bring increasing value to the brand.”
What is clear is that these new appointments to luxury C-suite will become more and more frequent, particularly as the demands of its consumers change in the coming years. Chief operations officer, chief sustainability officer and chief diversity and inclusion officer are some of the areas where brands will need to direct their attentions to, particularly as consumers are beginning to increasingly hone in on how brands operate and what their values stand for.
“There have to be more changes in the fashion and luxury world,” says Guerrera. “Certain brands have a very strong internal culture but you really need these roles that reshape their future. For instance, a chief culture officer must think about tomorrow, not just about today. I think that that these new roles and changes, will bring about change in the fashion and luxury world."