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Michael Kors: Affordable Luxury

Former Chief Marketing Officer at Bottega Veneta, Kering

IP Interview
Published on May 11, 2020

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How Michael Kors took the original luxury jet set brand DNA to the global mass market
Executive Bio

Lisa Pomerantz

Former Chief Marketing Officer at Bottega Veneta, Kering

Lisa is a luxury goods marketing veteran and has worked at a handful of the world’s most valuable brands. Lisa is the former CMO Bottega Veneta, the Italian brand with €1.1bn in revenue and owned by Kering, where she has spent a total of 10 years leading marketing during two spells working at the brand. Previously, Lisa was SVP, Global Communications and Marketing at Michael Kors for 7 years after spending 6 years leading marketing for CELINE, the luxury leather goods brand owned by LVMH, in North America.

Interview Transcript

Moving on to look at your experience at Michael Kors. Arguably, more affordable luxury, if that makes sense. That’s a paradox; as you said, those two words don’t really go together in the truest sense. How was the target customer different for Michael Kors’ Collection line, versus Bottega, which was the older, more mature customer?

I would say that Bottega had a very clear vision and brand promise, brand DNA and every decision was taken through these criteria, this exercise. Michael Kors, because the goals of Michael Kors, the size of the business that they wanted to build and this was during the IPO, so taking the company from private to a public company and the growth and the size of the business and the market cap, they needed to reach a massive audience. In order to do that, they used the halo of the Michael Kors Collection, which was the original designer brand, that Michael Kors created, which was more at a designer price point. They used the halo of that and established a second line and they, kind of, blurred the marketing story and imagery around it. I believed that the customer didn’t really understand the difference between the designer and the second line, because all of the marketing was by the same photographer, who was Mario Testino, for over a decade, shooting both the high-end and the low-end and making it all look very similar.

That was the beginning. After we went public and we needed to really grow quickly, we started to create the second and third tier campaigns, that allowed us to start to build out different segments. So talking to different countries and making it relevant. For example, jet set, which was always the underlying brand promise, this jet set glamour. It didn’t resonate in China; China didn’t know what jet set meant. Nor could they really relate to these six-foot-tall, blonde, Amazon women, that he always portrayed in his ads, because that was going back to the very original Michael Kors Collection. How do you take that and broaden it and build out different facets of brand story, that would then appeal to a much broader audience? Whether that’s different parts of the world, different socio-economic, different ethnicity. We really had to be a very broad focused marketing communication team, which meant tons and tons and tons of content, constantly being pushed out, very segmented to the different audiences, but all under this halo of this jet set.

What we did is, we pivoted the idea of jet set from being, literally, getting in your boat, your helicopter, and I’m sure everyone has seen these ads. The woman and the guy are always jumping off a boat or a plane or a helicopter. They’re living this magical life. What we did is, we pivoted to more of it being a jet set state of mind and what does that mean? It means that, whether you are taking the subway to work or you’re in your private car or you’re riding your bike, it’s more about the mentality. It’s waking up in the morning and wanting to look your best. It was just taking what was already part of his DNA and creating a broader scope from which to work. Jet set became jet set state of mind and what that meant. Michael Kors, the man. He had many years on Project Runway, he became well-known. He became almost a celebrity, in a sense. People always say, was that the reason for the success of the brand? No, it’s not. It didn’t hurt, obviously, because it helped brand awareness. But he wasn’t really the face of the brand, when it started to grow.

We decided that that it was important to use him, not just as a fashion designer because, quite frankly, the second line never even had a fashion show. It wasn’t considered a fashion brand in the very specific sense of what that means. It never had a fashion show, we never showed the second line on a runway, or even a presentation. We decide to use Michael, the man, as a content creator. Then Michael started to have his own dialogue, through content and opportunities where he started to, not on Project Runway, but through being his own media publisher, almost, rather than relying on third parties, we started to create media, from him, to the audience, on different topics, whether it was how to get dressed or a celebrity moment conversation. All kinds of different content.

Michael is very optimistic, very upbeat, as a person. He was a child actor and he’s a completely different personality from a Tomas Maier, let’s say, who’s very private, who doesn’t want to tell the press what he ate for breakfast; he doesn’t know why it’s relevant. Michael is much more of a performer and he engages. That was really a unique attribute to the brand, that no other brand had. Again, it’s also looking at, here’s my original brand DNA, I’ve been in the business now for 10 years, times are different. Do I need to pivot? How can I move left or right, in that X, Y axis, because maybe the space that Michael was in, has started to get really crowded? It had. There were the Coaches, there were a lot of brands that had created this accessible luxury idea, Tory Burch, for example. Times had changed and so we looked, very carefully, at what do we have? This goes back to the brand key and unique attributes. What is special about your brand that you can use to your benefit?

Definitely, Michael, the person, is a massive asset to the brand. That definitely came to the forefront. Philanthropy. We spent a tremendous amount of time choosing a very specific, philanthropic focus. Kors had always given money to different charitable organization; he’s a very philanthropic person. But it wasn’t really targeted around an idea. We spent a lot of time discussing this and what would resonate globally and what could we activate and really be true to the promise of the brand. It was around hunger and solving hunger. We joined forces with the United Nations World Food Progam. Michael, ultimately, became an ambassador; he was at the UN, recently, speaking. We created a watch campaign, because the Michael Kors watch was a massive product, for many years. The idea of the campaign was Watch Hunger Stop. For every watch that was purchased, a certain number of school meals would be served, which would ensure that kids would be sent to school, specifically girls, who sometimes would be pulled out of school, to work at home. This ensured that, not only would they be sent to school, to be fed, but they would also be educated.

Very thoughtful idea, around something that Michael really felt strongly about and that created another facet that, if you weren’t, let’s say, someone that obsessed about fashion, you weren’t really interested in fashion, but you would buy a nice handbag, once a year, you might find the brand through philanthropy, just because you like brands that have a strong voice, a strong approach to solving an issue. To date, I think they’ve served over 15 million meals. It’s an incredible thing that he’s done, but I think it helped attract new audiences to the brand, but still making sense, within the original DNA.

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