Marketer of the Year: Salvatore Ferragamo

Salvatore Ferragamo increasingly turns to digital media as it seeks to convey more than just product — it’s about brand identity.

The Italian-based firm has utilized film, personalized shopping and engagement through narratives in innovative new projects this year. And while the efforts don’t replace Ferragamo’s traditional marketing campaigns, they are the fashion house’s best bets for luring the young luxury shopper.

“All the companies talk about engagement and how to transfer it on the commercial side,” said Andrea Tremolada, worldwide director of communications for the company. “We learn every day that any fashion company out there needs to have a story, not just a commercial.”

Within that spirit, the firm launched “Walking Stories,” a short film series presented in eight installments on YouTube and the Ferragamo website. Tapping director Luca Guadagnino, the company focused on a romantic story and powerful images to relate its lifestyle message. “Walking Stories” takes viewers to Los Angeles, Shanghai and Florence, Italy — three key markets for the label — following fictional characters Sara and Jared, played by Kaya Scodelario and Tom Ellis, respectively. As the two fall in love, there are some unexpected discoveries along the way.

Guadagnino said the appeal of the project was that Ferragamo asked him to make a film first, not just a commercial.

“The [great] thing is that I [could] create an entertaining story around the essence of Ferragamo, rather than just a movie about the product,” the director said. “I worked from an instinctive, creative drive … and [used] my love for sharing this story and infused it with the interesting parts of the brand. When it comes to marketing, unless you open up the strategy to creativity and emotion, you’ll get a [lesser product] and not the [complete] investment in the narrative.”

Indeed, good storytelling and marketing go hand in hand, said Tremolada, adding that three-quarters of the viewers who saw the film’s first three installments came back for the remaining ones.

“We did the movie because we wanted to engage with people who might not have been our traditional customer. [The numbers] tell us the story was interesting to a lot of people, not just our [customer],” explained Tremolada. “Sure [the actors are] wearing Ferragamo, but people like it because it’s not in-your-face.”

Another digital campaign — for the iconic Vara flat — sought to do the same thing for spring ’13.

In celebration of the shoe’s 35th anniversary, Ferragamo launched L’Icona, a microsite for customizing the signature style, and a series of Web ads featuring 21 tastemakers. Among them, Modaoperandi.com co-founder Lauren Santo Domingo, actress Lake Bell and musician Sophie Auster showed the many ways the shoe could be styled — and how it fits into different lifestyles and stages of life.

“We asked celebrities to wear the Vara the way that they would in their lives. We didn’t include all Ferragamo clothes, because you don’t go out in just one brand,” Tremolada said of the initiative, “and that worked well for us.”

Participant Susie Lau, the blogger behind Stylebubble.co.uk, said, “For a long time, Ferragamo seemed to run the normal campaign route. In the last two years, they’ve done more interesting campaigns. And quite rightly with the heritage and history they can call upon. Unlike a lot of brands, they have the credentials. For me, they’re just starting to tap into the potential of communicating that to the customer.”

And the ads soon will be introduced in China and other Asian markets.

Independent luxury marketing analyst Denise Lee Yohn said Ferragamo recognizes the important differences between the new and old luxury customer, putting the brand ahead of the curve when it comes to consumer engagement. Younger consumers are driven by digital interaction and a need for self-expression, so Ferragamo’s Vara project and “Walking Stories” series create a new distinction for the firm.

“For younger consumers, [exclusivity and status] are important, but so are expression and personal style, and that is why you’ll see brands offer options like customization,” Yohn said. “Younger consumers are more driven by innovation, so when a brand like Ferragamo does movies or has digital shopping, it says something. They’re challenging the norms and breaking convention and doing something different.”

Moving forward, Ferragamo plans to spend time and money to find out more about the new generation of shoppers and create narratives to engage them.

“Digital is a big world, so you can do different things, but you have to invest in your version of digital,” said Tremolada. “The new challenge is what project we’ll launch next. We have to find something as big as ‘Walking Stories.’ It’s a different way of communicating. The focus is the story, and the brand is just a part of that.”