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Burberry’s Innovation Turn-Around: Straight from the Top

How do you go from a relegated British 50’s classic to become one of the world’s most innovative retail brands ranked by Fast Company?  For Burberry, it took a zealous focus led by its CEO, Angela Ahrendts, to target Millennials head on and go after their native digital world.

Last November, I had a chance to hear Ahrendts speak at an Executives Club of Chicago Global Leaders Luncheon where she described some of the ‘soft strategies’ she and her leadership team used to rebuild Burberry’s luxury brand relevance through a cohesive digital innovation culture inside and out.

Lead from the Visible Top

Ahrendts appointed both a Creative Brand Czar and a Tech Czar and brought both of them together to unleash, own and drive the innovation program throughout the company.  Clear executive organizational mandates set the tone up front.

Break Down Barriers

The executives used technology to communicate and bring together silos within the organization.  Webcasts were used from the very start to make the innovation changes feel more human and transparent.  The Chatter platform has been instrumental in connecting and engaging Burberry’s staff, suppliers, partners and investors in the innovation vision.

Bring Top Minds Together

Ahrendts is a big proponent of bringing great talent together to dream big.  She set up a ‘Strategic Innovation Council’ and gave them the challenge to create the store of the future – a ‘Burberry World’ that would enable the brand to quickly capitalize on the growing tourism and luxury spend trend taking place in their flagship markets.  The team worked diligently for eight months and delivered what became the powerhouse and state of the art flagship stores like the newly opened one in Chicago.  The Council conceived immersive offline-to-online experiences like Tweet Walks – Twitter casts of their runway shows from London – creating a blurring of physical and digital content.

Repeat Big Simple Messages Often

Continuous communication from the top in a non-traditional way was essential to build and keep the innovation momentum within the company.  Ahrendts says they create a video a day – “It’s a YouTube World, we shoot everything”.  Reminders of the vision journey and the results keep everyone on track.

Create Employee Passion Platform

Burberry Foundation was set up to enable staff to donate and connect with one another.  Now, 1% of Burberry’s overall sales go to the charity.  The brand is also leveraging its philanthropic arm to discover and access new sources of creative talent from lower-income, disadvantaged youth.

70% of Burberry’s staff is under 30 years old, so embodying a digital corporate environment is paramount to the company’s long-term success. “Digital life is intuitive for this generation; it’s their life, their brain – we needed to tap directly into that, enable this digitally-native generation with access and devices and live that way ourselves”.

Ahrendts strongly believes in a diverse and agnostic merchandizing future for the retail industry.  She says, “Customers don’t spend time thinking about the channel they will shop in – they just want to be engaged with the brand and discover/find whatever they want.  I don’t care where they buy.  What matters to me is that our customers respect and are committed to our brand and think its a cool experience.”

I think Burberry’s innovation journey is a powerful example to anyone who says their company is too traditional / conservative to innovate and embrace digital.  It took a CEO with a clear commitment to innovation, an empowered team of visionaries and an openness to embracing new technologies and processes that got them there.  Without any of these elements, Burberry might still be that dusty old trench hanging in your grannie’s closet – instead, its the #4 fastest growing brand in the world.

Check out this sizzle reel which showcases some of Burberry’s latest digital brand innovations:

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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