Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How fashion retailer Benetton is banking on digital for future success

Rebecca Bezzina, R/GA London’s SVP, Managing Director, talks to New Digital Age about how digital transformation is evolving and why it pays to be “human” following the agency’s win of global retailer Benetton’s omnichannel overhaul.

Brands have a once-in-a-generation chance to get digital transformation “right” in the wake of Covid-19, according to R/GA chief Rebecca Bezzina.

She believes that digital transformation has climbed the business agenda as consumer behaviours change ever more rapidly amid pandemic lockdowns, social distancing measures and as Millennials become the biggest “share of wallet”.

The agency has been tasked to reimagine United Colors of Benetton’s global omnichannel strategy and transform into a market-leading fashion brand and ecommerce experience. 

The new digital experience is scheduled to roll out across 25 countries, six languages and three currencies from December this year.

Millennials: the new power purses

“We are in a really interesting space at the moment, with Covid-19 changing behaviours that are likely to stick around. These were trends already happening but we have seen an acceleration of a move to digital behaviours, compounded by the increased spending power of Millennial consumers in particular.”

She says that while digital transformation has been on the agenda for years and particularly championed by clients such as Nike, now there is a more focused desire to enact it. 

“Something that might have been on the back burner is now front and centre and being invested in and focused on, particularly as some brands will have paused on other activities. As a result, companies have had to accelerate and get really good, very quickly, at direct-to-consumer and other online activity,” adds Bezzina.

Digital transformation – transformed

The definition of successful digital transformation is also changing, she says. “We design a blueprint for a more human future that has technology at the heart of everything from the way a product or service is developed to beyond the ‘buy’. It’s about doing it in the right way to ultimately deliver a superior customer experience rather than before, where it was more about transforming your tech stack or making sure that the marketing and technology was aligned in the right way. It goes deeper now.”

The Benetton brief will see R/GA work on an omnichannel experience that better unites the brand’s digital and physical presences with customer experience at its core. She says: “This is such an iconic and amazing brand with a number of different audiences who have grown up with it through the years. Our first priority is how to accelerate the ecommerce platform and connect with particularly younger consumers.

A once-in-generation opportunity?

“It is important to anticipate these new and evolving patterns of consumption and I think that younger audiences will lead the charge on the shift [to digital] that we’re already seeing. We need to tailor personalised experiences in the right way and capitalise on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right,” she says. Millennials now globally have the biggest share of wallet, taking over from the Baby Boomers, adds Bezzina.

Add to that the complexities of Covid and “all these things happen to be colliding – the behaviours of these audiences are very different to previous generations”. Consumers today are “definitely more careful and considered”.

Another crucial consideration is that of the dichotomy between local and global. “With Covid, every market is in a unique position – as a brand you need to have a personalised strategy and approach to each. A global brand such as Benetton must be cautious of things that are happening in particular markets. Marketers must be aware of the local context above all.”

The rise of “zero-touch retail”

She cites Nike as being a great example of being contextually relevant both online and offline, particularly around the necessary shift in exercising and training for pro athletes and amateurs alike. A recent (pre-Covid) campaign for the brand saw the agency reinvent the retail experience for Air Max fans, with the hosting of a virtual store, with exclusive collectables available to purchasers. This was supported by a retail extension in NikeTown London, using a Magic Leap headset to create a gamified experience in-store.

Such concepts will become more common in the future, particularly as retailers adapt to “zero-touch retail”, a concept that encapsulates pre- and post-purchase into the journey. Initiatives such as live streaming will become more common, particularly as 5G technology takes off, and consumers visiting physical locations will be offered a more digital experience via mobile and in-store point of sale. 

Conversely, the digital experience will focus beyond the mere transactional with brands increasingly focused on the power of “community”. “It’s about everything from beginning to end, versus just the physical purchasing of a product,” she predicts.

The focus now for businesses intent on transforming their digital properties should be on “following the data”. 

First, follow the data

“We are not going through a typical or predictable recession, and at the same time there is a major health challenge going on in the world. It is a unique situation and I advise clients that one of the most important things from a strategic standpoint is to follow the data. 

“Make sure that you are looking at the behavioural evidence on what your customers are actually doing, and then make the decisions accordingly. Remember – this is not just about the short term but also having a long-term vision.”

This, it seems, was a key point for Benetton in selecting the agency.

Benetton Group chief digital officer Antonio Patrissi says of the appointment: “We wanted to collaborate with an agency that fully understood the complex challenges and different disruptions that the fashion industry is currently facing, and R/GA really did that. Since the moment we met the team over Zoom, they have demonstrated themselves to be entirely the right partner to help us transform digital vision. We’re very much looking forward to working together.”