Bally CEO on Powering Luxury Innovation with Tmall

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At 169 years and counting, most luxury brands would be content to rest on their reputation. Not Switzerland’s Bally, which is moving full steam ahead into the world of digital innovation to win a new generation of digitally savvy consumers.

In light of Covid-19, the Swiss fashion brand last month built a virtual showroom to present its new collection to buyers and has plans to move its next fashion presentation online.

It’s just the latest move in what has been a bold online pirouette to e-commerce, and it’s working.

In China, Bally’s largest market worldwide, digital channels have helped it drive double-digit growth since launching its online flagship store on Alibaba Group’s Tmall Luxury Pavilion in May 2019.

In concert with the online store’s opening, Bally supercharged its engagement with Chinese shoppers on the platform with the exclusive debut of new capsule collections as well as localized content and livestreaming to educate consumers about the brand and get them excited enough to buy. A mix of these efforts helped Bally tap into more than 3 million new consumers during Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival last year. The Pavilion store is now fast-becoming its top boutique in terms of revenue, both online and offline.

Earlier this year, Bally was named one of China’s most innovative luxury brands for 2019 by Tmall Luxury and Women’s Wear Daily. We spoke to Bally CEO Nicolas Girotto for his take on digital transformation, meeting the Chinese luxury consumer and how the storied fashion house has been weathering the Covid-19 storm.

Congratulations on being named one of the most innovative luxury brands in China, specifically for the “Best New User Acquisition” category. What are your thoughts on winning the award?

It’s a great achievement and testament to the success of the collaboration between Bally and Tmall. China is leading digital transformation globally and building tangible links between the physical and digital. We’re investing in our digital infrastructure in the market, and Bally’s presence on Tmall is an integral part of this multichannel strategy. Leveraging Tmall’s capabilities as part of the Alibaba ecosystem means we can improve our understanding of customers to better capture their needs and find new ways to acquire and retain clients. Our latest initiatives have delivered good results — supported by dedicated capsules and new tactics, including livestreaming that has contributed to year-over-year growth of more than 820%.

Tell us about a memorable campaign on Tmall.

A recent example is the launch of our “520” capsule. We implemented a two-pronged Key Opinion Leader strategy that balanced awareness with conversion. We also debuted our first livestreaming production on Taobao Live with the popular KOL Bamboo (Liu Xiao): We used our new Bally Haus concept store at the Hangzhou Tower shopping mall as the backdrop for the livestream to bring viewers into a physical boutique environment and enhance the brand experience. Partnering with another one of China’s top KOLs Becky (Fang Yiming) also helped to drive sales for our capsule collection. These influencers’ content and testimonials were amplified as part of the campaign across our social media ecosystem in China.

How has Covid-19 impacted Bally?

While the crisis has challenged us, it has also revealed an extraordinary ability to confront adversity and to create a wealth of opportunities and solutions for our brand. The company has been impacted heavily, but we are ready for recovery and — when I look back at the past six months — I am humbled by the agility and achievements of strong teamwork.

Operationally, we have implemented both short-term and mid-term actions to mitigate the effect of the crisis. We have enacted cash-preservation initiatives and prepared for a “post-isolation” environment in stores and our offices. We have stepped up the flexibility of our supply chain to sync supply and demand and accelerated our digital strategy to better engage with stakeholders in the absence of physical interaction. One key example of this was the launch of our first Virtual Showroom, which enabled us to present our spring-summer 2021 line to wholesale clients and retail buyers on a dynamic website. We will also apply this approach to our upcoming fashion week presentation, where we will debut our first microsite featuring bespoke content to reveal the new seasonal collection.

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Bally AW2020 campaign

We have also taken this time to reinforce our brand essence and our core values. Our unique Swiss origin is at the intersection of everything that we do and guides our considered and timeless approach to luxury. Developing our storytelling and sharing these stories digitally — whether it’s through the launch of Bally’s “A to Z” initiative earlier this summer, which was done in collaboration with artists from around the world, or our recent announcement of a series of initiatives to preserve extreme mountain environments — is a way to further connect with the virtual customer.

How does Bally convey its brand ethos to consumers online?

Translating our brand identity in digital environments is important. While the physical experience in our boutiques allows visitors to tangibly discover our brand ethos, we want to bring the same experience to the online consumer through prioritizing content creation on our digital platforms. Key to our success has been the dedication to create high-quality, localized content for China, in partnership with the best-in-class creatives and our teams on the ground. Deepening virtual engagement and enhancing our digital infrastructure is a key priority for us.

How does Bally balance protecting its heritage as a luxury fashion house and pioneering innovative experiences for consumers?

Bally’s heritage of craftsmanship and pioneering legacy are at the forefront of its product philosophy. From our design studio to our shoe factory in Switzerland, we are marrying tradition with technology: We respect centuries-old leather artisan techniques, while investing in artificial intelligence to support buying, collection planning and inventory decision-making. For our autumn-winter 2021 collection, we will pilot the use of 3D shoemaking technology. We are also working on a number of augmented-reality and virtual-reality projects to help evolve and futureproof our extensive archive. This, combined with Bally’s Swiss mastery of shoemaking, delivers a unique point of departure to deliver timeless products for the modern day.

How are Chinese shoppers different from consumers in other markets?

China is an innovation hub, and the young customer is savvy and comfortable in this space. Digital prowess is therefore essential for brands to better engage with customers, both existing and new. Given Covid-19, more and more traditional customers are also switching to digital in absence of physical experiences and evolving their mindsets. To capitalize on this evolution, we will continue to enhance our online presence to deepen the dialogue with this virtual customer. This involves leveraging the right platforms with the right content as well as building our KOL network to further drive brand awareness and consideration in this digital-first era.

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Bally launches campaign for Chinese Valentine’s Day

What’s your outlook for the post-Covid Chinese and global luxury landscape going forward?

The global luxury landscape will take time to recover, considering the impact of reduced tourism and limited dispensable income. While the European and American markets will contract in the short-term, China is relatively more resilient thanks to the maturity and capability of its digital infrastructure, which has positioned it well to support the increased demand and dependence on digital.

What are the next steps for Bally in China?

We have recently launched Bally’s Chinese Valentine’s Day campaign, featuring the renowned actors and married couple Yuan Hong and Zhang Xinyi, and have partnered with the influencer Mr. Bags (Tao Liang) to debut our dedicated capsule collection during a livestream event.

Complementing our programs for local festivities in China, we will launch globally a capsule collection dedicated to Bally Peak Outlook, our mountain preservation initiative, which will be available in China later this November. Next year, Bally will celebrate its 170th anniversary with a comprehensive program featuring an exclusive product capsule and Bally’s first coffee table book — an opportunity to tell our unique story to the world.

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