Analysis: More experiential, less design-focused rebrand, say industry players on Tiffany & Co.'s new direction

Last week, following its successful acquisition of Tiffany & Co. by LVMH, the latter said it has made plans to overhaul the design team at the jewellery brand and refresh the brand to resonate with a younger audience and of course, the rising Asian consumers. However, despite an exodus of leadership from the Tiffany & Co. team, wanting to be "cool" again seems to be a thread running through both the old guards of the brand and the new ones. 

In the recent years, the iconic jewellery maker has tried to shed its old world luxury image. In fact, former Tiffany CEO Alessandro Bogliolo, who is now stepping down from his role after the LVMH acquisition, said during Bloomberg's second luxury summit that luxury was a word the brand tries to avoid and prefers the word “legendary”.

In its earlier attempt to evolve, Tiffany & Co. brought on board former Coach designer Reed Krakoff, who is also now departing the jewellery company, to rework the products in 2018. His appointment came not long after the brand boldly decided to paint New York City in Tiffany blue to celebrate the launch of its Tiffany Paper Flowers jewellery collection and the u“Believe In Dreams” campaign. The streets of New York were filled with Tiffany Blue coffee carts, serving complimentary special brews and croissants. The iconic yellow cabs were transformed to the brand’s trademark robin’s egg blue. BMX bikers and skateboarders staged freestyle tricks, wearing the same shade as well, clearly a departure from its stiff image in the past.

So with another rebrand in the cards, what can we expect? Industry players that MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to said they did not anticipate a drastic change in design element for the brand.

Emily Kousah, founder and CEO of KOUSAH&CO, said with a brand such as Tiffany, which already has a unique and distinctive identity and presentation, there is “little to be done at the core brand level”. "Surely no one would tinker with the globally recognisable Tiffany blue, or the simple classic type face of the logo," she said.

However, in order to boost relevance and accessibility, and in turn increase its share of wallet with young shoppers and Asian customers, Kousah said LVMH perhaps needs to look at how it can leverage Tiffany’s current brand assets to create more of a connection with its target audience.

“Think Coca-Cola or McDonald’s – brands which have had huge success leveraging their iconic colours and core identity assets to create both appealing and strongly branded, design-led communications that demand consumer reappraisal and reconnection,” Kousah added.

Similarly, Graham Hitchmough, regional chief operations officer at Bonsey Design, said he does not expect a major change in the design of products themselves. Instead, the brand may introduce more “edgy” options with different materials used for its products, or accessories relating to the needs and interests of younger audience.

Even without a change in brand design, he explained that LVMH can still appeal to younger audiences in its brand refresh by introducing a wider range, across wider price points, to enable younger consumers to enter into the franchise.

“Some aspects that LVMH could focus on are online engagement and purchase, creating more experiential physical retail, and retail innovation to drive interest, trial, and pushing 'hot' products, since the Tiffany retail experience has traditionally been quite formal,” Hitchmough said. Additionally, younger audiences can also be courted with marketing efforts such as co-branding and affinity branding.

While Tiffany is unlikely to make drastic changes to its brand design, Wong Mei Wai, founder, CEO and chief change catalyst of APAC Global Advisory and former jewellery marketer at Aspial Corporation, said a refresh through a refinement of its visual identity, brand language and brand voice to appeal to the customers could benefit the brand. 

With the refresh, "the innovativeness and storytelling of its collection should build greater aspiration for the brand” to appeal and better connect with the young, global and Asian consumers,  without losing its relevance to current Tiffany adorers, Wong said. 

According to Wong, this change is needed as the brand’s recent collections and engagements have begun to feel more predictable, aside from the male collection which she said pushed the boundary of traditional masculinity to a new level.

"Its brand language and engagements do not appear to be as innovative as other luxury houses, perhaps due to its roots in the traditional American retail luxury house," she said, adding that globally, some of Tiffany's followers may have also stopped seeing the brand as the beacon of innovation through design leadership.

As a result, the opportunity in the refresh lies in the ability to strengthen holistically from design to the storytelling, ensuring that its collections are timeless with the right appeal on price, recruitment and connecting to the cherished and relevant life moments.

What can we expect with LVMH as the driving force of change?

LVMH, as many would know, has been strengthening its digital offering over the years to keep up its edge. This transformation journey started with the hire of Apple’s top talent Ian Rogers as its new chief digital officer in 2015, which at that time was a huge signal of the world’s largest luxury conglomerate finally embracing digital. But late last year, Rogers was reported to be swapping out the glitzy world of luxury to join a fintech start-up.

Meanwhile LVMH decided to fill the gap with a chief omnichannel officer title, according to reports by Reuters. The role is helmed by Michael David who was previously in charge of online retail at the brand. He held the role of global head, digital retail and client development for Louis Vuitton.

With all of these changes in place, it would come as no surprise to Wong if Tiffany's brand refresh came in the form of innovating its brand experiences and experiential marketing to evoke an emotional connection with its legacy through a combination of luxury, design and art, and technology. It could also create a more innovative offline shopping experience to resonate with the young generation through concept pop-up stores and exclusive collaborations, she added.

Since technology and eCommerce platforms will likely be a continued focus for the brand, Wong is of the view that LVMH will likely look at digitally innovative ways of creating brand experience, through ways such as collaborations with live streamers or key opinion leaders for the occasions where luxury jewellery is needed.

Meanwhile, Hitchmough also speculates that the “younger shoppers and Asian consumers” LVMH would target are most probably consumers aged 25 to 35 years old in China, which he views is the first major global market that saw a “post-pandemic” bounce-back in consumer demand.

One strategy that Hitchmough sees LVMH doing for its Tiffany brand is selling provenance. “In the same way that Bvlgari has glorified the romance and drama of its Roman roots, with Tiffany, LVMH can double-down on the brand’s New York origins,” he explained While this would not be an entirely new approach, Hitchmough said it could be executed with more of an “Asian” interpretation of the allure of the Big Apple.

To better connect with Asian consumers, it is imperative for LVMH to select the right brand ambassadors for Asian audiences as well. “Brand ambassadors are key to global luxury branding and getting the right mix that works seamlessly across geographies can be a huge success factor,” Hitchmough said. He raised the example of Bvlgari’s 2020 campaign which featured Zendaya, Naomi Scott, Lily Aldridge, and Kris Wu. This combination demonstrated a shrewd mix of age, attitude and ethnicity to appeal across the board without appearing tokenistic, he added.

Another key strategy that LVMH would have to take note of is getting the right product mix for its international markets. In China and other Asia luxury markets this often means focused marketing and distribution of iconic collections combined with some products designed or adapted specifically for local markets with bespoke, locally sourced or prized materials. "Assuming LVMH follows a similar formula for Tiffany in Asia, and that this converges with a successful rejuvenation of the brand image and product line-up and a post-COVID uplift, then the brand’s future should be bright," he added.

It’s all about the tone

However the brand decides to make the changes and gear up for the future, setting the right tone is paramount for the Tiffany brand, said Jessalynn Chen, MD of Singapore at Labbrand.

As such, before approaching a brand makeover, LVMH should place focus on getting its communication strategy and messaging right so that targeted consumers get insight into the brand’s world. This can create a strong emotional connection with them, which she adds is especially important in targeting young Asian consumers today. “[Young Asian consumers today] view affiliation with designer and luxury brands as a form of social capital, a lifestyle choice that puts them into a distinct and exclusive community,” said Chen.

Although brand loyalty is “generally not as high in younger consumers”, Chen said they look to be part of its story that they can tell. Consumers, ultimately, want the backstory behind the brand or product craft. Hence, regardless of how much brand marketers can or are willing to spend, they must be mindful of how they communicate, where they communicate, and to whom they say it to.

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