In the spring of 2017, the Georgetown Retail & Luxury Association (GRLA) and McDonough School of Business Stanton Distinguished Leaders Series collaborated to host the Global Luxury Summit. This annual event addressed how e-commerce is changing and what it takes to keep up with its ever-evolving future, and featured insight from industry experts like Andrew Brooks.
Andrew Brooks is the CEO of a luxury accessories brand called Vianel and has garnered extensive insight related to organically growing client relationships. He was invited to share his thoughts about brand identity and client relationships. See how this entrepreneur is helping people face the challenges of the market, celebrate accomplishments, and plan ahead for tomorrow.
The Structure of the Summit
The one-day summit included a keynote speech from Aerin Lauder, as well as a discussion panel with Vianel’s Andrew Brooks, Jocelyn Gailliot, and Olga Vidisheva. Senior at Georgetown and president of GRLA, Anthony Fadil, moderated the panel.
The keynote address by Lauder was praised as inspiring by the audience. It gave people a glimpse into what it takes to create an online lifestyle brand for women. Her mission is to bring beauty to the lives of her customers, no small feat when there are so many luxury products on both the virtual and physical store shelves.
All the panelists had launched ventures within the past five years, giving them a wealth of relevant experience to draw from:
- Brooks started Vianel after he couldn’t find a cardholder accessory of his liking.
- Gailliot was the first online retailer to specialize in all-American prep.
- Vidisheva launched her business to connect local boutiques to global clients.
The focus of the summit was on how to both cultivate a brand identity that can stand out in the crowded virtual landscape and how to nurture client relationships without the benefit of being able to interact with customers in person.
Andrew Brooks Shares His Experience
Andrew Brooks was named as one of the “30 Under 30” Retail by Forbes 2017. After establishing his reputation in the retail world, his venture is poised to make big strides on e-commerce platforms. He remarked, “The key for e-commerce is to have some type of relationship with the customer.”
For Brooks, this means carving out space away from his competitors and leaning into his core values to direct the rest of the enterprise. From invoices to emails, Andrew Brooks’ goal is to create the kind of consistency that will make his company worth choosing. Online customers today are used to having endless choices, and even more established entrepreneurs can sometimes still get swallowed up in the mix. He was able to avoid this fate by paying attention to who was interested in his products.
The Power of Social Media
All of the discussion panelists rely on digital tools to impress their customers, but Aerin Lauder sold the benefits of social media to the audience at the Global Luxury Summit. Her philosophy is that platforms like Instagram make it possible to have a one-on-one connection with customers, regardless of how many followers a brand has. Once she learned how to highlight what her empire was doing and how it was helping people keep up with their lifestyle, Lauder saw her website’s traffic increase 5 times over.
As the granddaughter of Estée Lauder, she’s a part of a long lineage in the beauty industry. She recalled stories about how her grandmother was no stranger to jumping into the job. Whether she was applying foundation to a prospective customer or just listening to someone talk about their routine, there’s no doubt Lauder’s vibrance and enthusiasm fueled the larger success of the brand.
In today’s virtual world, the younger Lauder doesn’t have that kind of opportunity to do the same things her grandmother did. In fact, none of the panelists do. Each of them had to find their own way to talk to customers based on what they sold and who they sold it to. Social media is one (albeit an effective) way to do it.
The Importance of Authenticity
When Vianel founder Andrew Brooks started on his quest, it was because he legitimately couldn’t find a product he liked. Rather than settle for something second-rate, he decided to design something he would want. In terms of authenticity, you can’t get much better than this. When Brooks began finding an audience who also appreciated his unique sense of style, it was that much easier for him to build on the budding brand.
Like all entrepreneurs, he knows what it means to take risks. Far from the glossier descriptions of growing your audience (and online traffic) brick by brick, Andrew Brooks has put in countless hours to understand his target demographic. It’s not just an age range or an income bracket for him. He’s looking at what people want and how they live. He’s taking the time to understand more about how they relate to the world and the people around them. Fashion is more than perfect stitching and complementary colors. To Brooks, it’s a way for us to showcase our own values and identities. He keeps this in mind with everything he sells.
Even younger consumers are extremely savvy today, and they can spot the difference between marketing slogans and real talk. Part of putting the customer first means having a brand that stands for something and doesn’t apologize for it. This is ultimately the key to building some sort of a relationship with a company.
Following One with the Other
Andrew Brooks knows that authenticity is the perfect segue into better client relationships. If he’s going to go up against the big names, there’s a lot to be said for finding a different way to talk to his audience. It means engaging with customers on a level they might not be used to.
In e-commerce, it’s the customers who can express what they’re looking for, which will give a CEO like Andrew Brooks a better idea of what’s coming down the pipeline and how he can expand to ensure that he’s ready for the changes. If he’s not listening or not asking for feedback in the first place, he would miss all that critical information entirely.