Hong Kong is regarded as one of the most brand conscious cities in Asia. Behind the big international brands are the brand management experts who deliver marketing strategies and unique customer experiences at the local level.
ImagineX Group is one such luxury brand management company with a keen presence in the greater China region. The group represents more than 30 international brands including Hugo Boss, Donna Karan, Aveda and Marc Jacobs, with around 500 point of sales in 46 cities across greater China, as well as two joint venture businesses with Salvatore Ferragamo and Bally on the mainland.
The underlying success of the group in bringing "the taste of western luxury" to Asia is built on the "unique experience" that the brand expert creates for customers, according to Freda Lee, marketing director, ImagineX Group.
Unlike fast moving consumer goods with retail stores peppered in shopping areas, Ms Lee says the choice of branch location for luxury brands depends on an individual brand's market position.
"Luxury brand marketing emphasises a personal and conceptual customer experience," Ms Lee notes. "We aim to establish a link between luxury brands and certain clusters of customers, creating a sense of prestige and self-satisfaction."
To give customers a unique retail experience and create brand loyalty, ImagineX organises regular fashion shows, seasonal preview sessions and other in-store events targeting different customer segments. "These events are aligned with the 'personality' and the marketing strategy of certain brands. For instance, luncheon and tea receptions with mini fashion shows best fit the working schedule and lifestyle of our office customers in Central. Other customers may also be invited to attend fashion shows with celebrities and luxury brand designers overseas to feel the exclusivity of being the first to see the new designs and fashion trends," Ms Lee explains.
While "customer experience" building is the cornerstone for cultivating luxury brand loyalty, customer loyalty programmes are indispensable tools to encourage repeat purchases. More importantly, it sustains business particularly in times of economic slowdown, according to Ms Lee. She stresses also that a wide portfolio of luxury brands and the retail network gives the group a competitive edge: "Group customer loyalty programmes as well as volume discounts from production houses are made possible due to our scope of business."
In view of the currently sluggish retail market, ImagineX has reinforced its customer loyalty programme by rewarding customers with cash coupons upon purchase of a specified amount of goods. A series of exclusive shopping events will also be launched throughout next year for loyal customers.
"We need to be more creative and flexible in terms of marketing and treat our loyal customers even better in times of economic downturn to make the relationship last," says Ms Lee.
Currently, visitors from mainland China, Japan and Korea make up about half of the sales in some of the fashion brands that ImagineX carries.
The presence of these international brands in Hong Kong also prepares the group for establishing retail outlets in mainland China, to capitalise on the growing spending power of the middle class there.
ImagineX was one of the first luxury brand management companies to tap into the mainland market with a joint venture with Salvatore Ferragamo decades ago.
While leading brands have already flooded into the growing mainland China market, Ms Lee still sees potential for the market's growth, as luxury brands are expanding out from first-tier cities like Shanghai and Beijing to second-tier cities.
"The luxury goods retail market in mainland China is still in a development stage and unlike people in Hong Kong who fancy the newest novel designs, customers in mainland China tend to prefer signature items," Ms Lee notes. "We've been investing in marketing not just to promote specific brands and merchandises but also to educate consumers in mainland about 'luxury' and why they should pay a premium for products offered by luxury brands," she adds.
Ms Lee notes that youngsters who are keen on breaking into the field of luxury brand marketing should have good communication and language skills, as much of the work involves getting the conceptual ideas across to consumers.
While graduates in fashion, merchandising or textiles may have the requisite market knowledge, people in journalism and communications may also find success in the field. "All aspiring candidates must be creative, flexible and passionate about the brands that they work with," Ms Lee remarks.