It's no secret that luxury players have been slow to embrace digital and social media. Many in the space have been hesitant to lose control of carefully cultivated brand images. And others have failed to see the benefits of engaging with customers online.
"It was scary," said Wanda Gierhart, chief marketing officer for Neiman Marcus Group. "Most luxury retailers disbelieved that digital could convey the essence of the brand. But luxury has really ratcheted it up in the last 12 months."
Indeed, Neiman Marcus and sibling brand Bergdorf Goodman have embraced digital and social-media programs in a major way in recent months, with the addition of dedicated internal resources and training for existing employees, as well as a number of digital and social-media campaigns aimed at building the brand's presence online.
The big realization? Seventy-seven percent of Neiman Marcus customers own a web-enabled mobile device, and 60% are on Facebook. "We want to be out there at the forefront, experimenting," Ms. Gierhart said. "In the next 10 years, marketing will change dramatically. Consumers will drive the message; you have to give them the platform to deliver that message. Retailers think they can control that , but people really have to rethink how they market."
The retailer is "dabbling" in different platforms, such as Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, Scvngr, Instagram and Hunch. It's also building out an editorial presence with its own blog, helmed by Jean Scheidnes, the retailer's social-media managing editor. Ms. Scheidnes is also a former editor at Women's Wear Daily and studied journalism at Columbia University. But Ms. Scheidnes and her dedicated social-media team are only one piece of the puzzle. Ms. Gierhart and Gabrielle de Papp, VP-public relations, have also been educating each store's public-relations manager; there are 41 in total.
"It is something the whole organization has to get behind. It's hard for a social-media team of two or three people to know everything that 's going on," Ms. Gierhart said.
"When we first embarked upon all this, we spent weeks visiting all the divisions, doing a social-media road show to go through what all the platforms are," Ms. de Papp added. "And as we add platforms, that education is ongoing."
That approach, says Shenan Reed, chief media officer of Morpheus Media, a CreateTheGroup company, is setting Neiman Marcus apart from other luxury brands. Ms. Reed's team has a longstanding relationship with the retailer and has been involved with training its executives. Individual stores also have access to the agency, if questions arise.
"They've taken a holistic approach. The individual stores are involved; they're getting that entire organization to see the value [of social media]," said Ms. Reed. "The other thing that makes them unique is their willingness to try and test . As new platforms come to life, both Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman have been interested and agile enough -- agile, not a word I use lightly when it comes to the world of [luxury] brands -- to experiment."
Ms. Gierhart said that programs created with input from its agencies have resonated with shoppers and helped it accumulate nearly 500,000 Facebook fans and 50,000 Twitter followers.
For example, a FourSquare scavenger hunt, "Clutch Me If You Can," put 15 Nancy Gonzalez bags up for grabs. Customers checked in to store locations to unlock clues as to the handbags' location. And to create buzz for the launch of the collection by celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, a design challenge was created for Facebook fans. Customers used a custom application to mix and match items from the collection and create virtual ensembles that were judged by Ms. Zoe and Neiman Marcus' Fashion Director Ken Downing. Another program, a model search dubbed "The Faces of 5F," led to the addition of 17,000 Facebook fans for Bergdorf Goodman.
"I look at it as three phases," Ms. Gierhart said. "One is , get out there and start building a community. Two is to engage that community. And three is to monetize that community. We're probably between the second and third phase right now."