Alessandra Volterra is an experienced luxury digital marketing professional. Driven by her strong curiosity, and the ability to leave her comfort zone, she has studied and worked in the United States, China and Switzerland in the luxury goods industry.
Currently working on 360° digital acceleration and consulting projects at Digital Luxury Group (DLG), Alessandra helps luxury watch brands build an impactful and distinctive online presence as well as a seamless user experience across all digital channels.
In the comfort and safety of our respective homes, I chatted with Alessandra about her work, her adventures in China, and her views on the future of luxury digital marketing.
In luxury digital marketing, be curious, be reactive and try out different things
GBN: What is your role at DLG?
Volterra: I am currently a Digital Marketing Project Manager at Digital Luxury Group. We are an agency specialized in offering tailored digital solutions to luxury brands. We have our headquarters here in Geneva and offices in Shanghai and New York.
We have a large client portfolio covering different industries, to name a few: fashion, watches and jewellery, beauty, spirits, and hospitality.
On my side, I am mostly focusing on clients in the luxury watch industry and I coordinate different projects in order to deliver transversal digital services to them. I try to answer their needs when it comes, for instance, to perfecting their communication and social media strategy, optimizing their website or analyzing the data collected from all touchpoints. We also work on UX to optimize website navigation and increase conversions.
What is UX and how do you optimize it?
“UX” is short for user experience. It is mostly related to the navigation and journey a visitor has on a website. DLG has an exclusive partnership with Contentsquare for luxury brands in Switzerland. Contentsquare is a UX analytics tool based on AI and used by many brands. I am certified in the tool so I can run different types of analysis and then deliver actionable recommendations to my clients.
To put it simply: we analyze how people navigate, where they click, where they hesitate and try to optimize their navigation experience. For example, when we see that on a certain webpage of our client, a big space is taken up by something that nobody clicks, we would then inform the client: you should put this other element here; maybe change its color, its format so that people click more. If we see that people are hesitating on one page and they don’t know where to click, we need to modify the structure of the page.
This tool is especially useful on e-commerce sites. If we have clients who sell their products online, of course, they want their users to have a seamless journey on the website just like they have in their offline boutiques. For instance, if a user is putting products in and out of his shopping cart or does not finalize a purchase, we need to understand why. We will need to make sure that every step is clear and smooth until the final transaction.
What is a website that is doing well with UX strategy?
There are some interesting websites, such as Rolex. I wrote an article about it when they revamped their main site. I felt it was very user-friendly in terms of navigation, with clear filters and thematic pages that help you find your products faster. You can see my article about it on the Luxury Society website.
In your opinion, are luxury brands aware of the need to improve their website or e-commerce site?
From what I am seeing, luxury brands are a bit behind in terms of everything that is digital, in comparison to mass-market brands such as Nike or Adidas. Now they are slowly starting to be more and more aware of the needs of their customers online, but it takes time for them to adapt. For instance, I believe that more time should be spent on data analysis and testing compared to what luxury brands are doing today. By testing, I mean AB testing for a website or for a paid activation. For example, we present different content versions (A, B etc.) to different users and see, through the data, if they preferred option A or option B. In this way, we can learn more about a user’s preferences and deliver better experiences to them in the future.
How do you increase a luxury retailer’s online visibility?
As retailers may sell different brands and may differ in terms of digital knowledge, it is important to maintain an aligned brand image across markets. I, therefore, help my clients to build a strong online strategy for their retailers.
This could include content creation so that all retailers have access to high-quality, updated branded content for both their websites and their social networks.
We also help with their search engine strategy – paid search (SEA) and organic search (SEO) – in order to increase their visibility when people are searching for a local address.
Additionally, we try to empower retailers digitally by supporting them with training and digital tools such as live dashboards with actionable insights so that they can have a better understanding of their digital performance and optimize it.
“In my opinion, search and social are two different channels that are both very important to consider in order to have a strong and complete digital strategy.”
How do you rate the importance of social media versus SEO?
In my opinion, search and social are two different channels that are both very important to consider in order to have a strong and complete digital strategy.
Take SEO for example. People use search engines, such as Google, at different stages of their purchasing funnel. Are they exploring the net to identify which watch to buy? Are they looking for a specific model? As a brand, it is important to appear at all these stages with dedicated content. The website must, therefore, be visible for different search queries and directly answer specific user needs. For example, showcasing a product X with its price and features.
On the other hand, social media is more used for finding inspiration and engaging with brands. Take Instagram for example. It is an excellent channel to showcase brand storytelling with beautiful pictures and creative content. Brands can really expand their universe, their history, their savoir-faire on social platforms, while users can easily engage with this type of content.
Will there be fewer physical boutiques for luxury brands? Will their function change?
I think so. However, for the moment, a lot of high-end luxury brands are not ready to step completely into online retailing. The experience provided in an offline boutique is just not replaceable online yet.
I do think that the confinement due to covid-19 somehow changed people’s buying habits, becoming more inclined to buy online. However, I also saw long lines outside luxury shops such as the Louis Vuitton in Geneva, just a few days after the easing of the confinement. This shows that people still want the kind of service that you can only experience offline.
I still believe that in the future, luxury boutiques will need to transform themselves, becoming more experience-based. Customers would not just go there to shop but to be immersed in the universe of the brand, with digital as a great addition to the offline world.
What’s it like working in China (such as work habits, and cultural differences)?
It is very different but I really liked it. I first went to China as an exchange student: it is a country that is growing rapidly, the digital landscape there is very complex and the luxury industry is booming so I believed that it was a good opportunity for me to get to know more about it.
After my studies, I also wanted to have a working experience there so I went on to join a local e-commerce company in Suzhou (a city next to Shanghai). The first month was very difficult because my Chinese colleagues would not communicate with me, probably due to the fear of language and cultural differences. However, I was the one making the first step to speak to them in Chinese. In the end, we became really good friends, which was amazing and also facilitated our work.
I also noticed that Chinese companies are very hierarchical. A lot of employees did not dare to discuss with their supervisors even when they were encountering some challenges in their job. This was quite surprising for me as I always believed that communication was key.
In China, everything moves really fast. What I found fascinating is that people do not build extensive strategies to do things, projects are done rapidly and in a more “spontaneous” way. When people encounter some problems, they will just find quick solutions to quickly move on. However, here in Switzerland, everything always has to be perfectly planned before it can be executed. This probably generates long-lasting solutions in the end, but everything moves much slower. If we could combine these two methods together, taking the good parts of both countries, it could be a nice balance and a winning strategy to accomplish things in a fast but reliable way.
Was there anything that shocked you when you were living in China?
I think that the most “shocking” thing for me was the Chinese digital universe. In China, you can basically do everything with your mobile phone and you have so many apps that can do so many things, it’s amazing. I was very surprised to see how easily people could purchase things like expensive luxury products with a few clicks while being bored on a bus. This country is so dynamic that it really gives you the idea that you can create anything and make it a success.
What is the difference between Chinese customers and Western customers when they are buying luxury products?
Chinese consumers used to buy luxury products more for the purpose of showing off their purchasing power. But today, they are becoming more and more sophisticated and they want to have more unique experiences. They are also much younger than their Western counterparts. In the online world, digital content created for Chinese consumers is very different compared to Western designs. The content for Chinese consumers that can be found on Wechat is much more insightful, more creative, and dynamic than an Instagram post we see here in Europe. Chinese customers always expect special treatments from the brands. For example, interactive mini-programs on Wechat, activations for the May 20 festival, and so on.
Moreover, Chinese consumers still buy many luxury products when traveling abroad. For example, a Chinese lady would feel prouder that she bought a Louis Vuitton bag when she was traveling in Paris than simply buying the same bag in her hometown. It showcases a kind of international, luxury lifestyle that is not affordable by everyone.
What about the power of online influencers on digital marketing in China?
For the occasion of SIHH 2019, we invited two fashion influencers from China. That was where I saw in real life the power of Chinese KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders). I did a live streaming with one of them on a Chinese Live platform for one hour. The reach of the influencer was really impressive: the ‘live’ was watched by over 13 million Chinese online users.
“…it is important to be very reactive: follow the industry news and be aware of new trends.”
With the pandemic and current economic situation, a lot of companies want someone who’s capable of doing a lot of things. What would you suggest for an inexperienced digital marketing professional to learn more about digital marketing?
I think that in our field of profession it is hard to find someone who knows everything, simply because the digital environment is literally changing every day. Therefore, it is important to be very reactive: follow the industry news and be aware of new trends. For example, I follow a lot of luxury brands on my Instagram in my free time and it helps me to find inspiration as well as good/bad practices when I have to deliver social media advice.
Also, try to look beyond the industry and market you are working in. For me, China is much more digitally advanced than what we can do in the West, that’s why I pay attention to what people are doing in China and try to apply some innovative ideas here.
With the current situation after the Covid-19, we don’t know what is going to happen for sure. Therefore, if you are a junior digital marketing professional, be curious, reactive, and push for innovation. If you are a brand, make sure to try out different things without waiting too long and without only benchmarking to your direct competitors.
We would like to thank Alessandra Volterra for her time to talk to us about luxury digital marketing.