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The founder of EVINS on developments in luxury branding

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When did you set up EVINS Communications and what was your motivation?

I founded Evins in 1987 with my mother Marilyn. When we entered the business, PR wasn’t strategic, quantifiable or tangible. So when I came in, I wanted to find out how to make PR something that is more accessible and easier to understand. That meant making it more about achieving business goals and less about fluff. Evins was about taking the old school approach of PR and creating a new approach that could deliver three things: value, consequence and business.

Your Clients are mostly premium and luxury brands. How selective are you about certain clients and projects?

We’re extremely selective. Before taking on a new client, we consider the following criteria: Can we make a difference? Can we be consequential? Can we be successful? That’s the first litmus test. The second is do we believe in the management team? That’s crucial because the management team is the difference between success and failure. We have to establish a rapport with the team and have unhindered access to the CEO. Then, we look at the brand itself. Is it a brand that can be differentiated from its competitors? Is it the best of breed and, if not, can we help make it become the industry leader and a legacy brand? So yes, I guess you could say we’re pretty selective.

In today’s fast paced business environment retaining clients is a real performance. How do you manage to retain such long term relationships?

In an industry that is defined by clients constantly changing agencies, we realize our success at Evins comes from delivering value, consequence and business. The biggest challenge usually comes when a client’s management changes, because you have to reestablish yourself as an asset to the brand and the company.

Another challenge for many agencies is they don’t evolve their programming. Our approach at Evins is to be creative, and to know when to retire a particular initiative. When results start to taper off, it’s not about maintaining the status quo but about switching gears. This approach, and by staying true to our core values, is how we keep clients.

You have recently re-launched your website. Does this new look come with new services / products?

No, these are services and products we’ve offered our clients for a long time. The problem was perception – a gap between what we do and what people thought we were doing – so it was time to rebrand so that we can be more in alignment with our philosophy and with what we provide for our clients. What we did was evolve perception into reality, something that we do on a daily basis for our clients.

Evins.com is designed to be a visual representation of our philosophy and methodology. It shows both clarity and detail, emphasizing the sophisticated approach we take when promoting our clients and helping them improve their business. We bring brands to life – and we felt we should apply this philosophy as an agency.

As brand strategists, which do you consider the most challenging factors in maintaining credibility and consistency, especially in the luxury industry?

In the luxury category, it’s crucial to understand that it is not about selling to clients, it’s about engaging with them and creating an experience. Understanding that is the biggest hurdle. Another big challenge is social media, and recognizing that it’s not a panacea but a tool that can and should be optimized in a way that is very specific to each brand.

I think one of the biggest questions luxury brands face is – are they listening to their customers, and learning and growing from that feedback? Many luxury brands have become dated as they struggle to remain relevant in a market that is constantly changing. Brands need to have a clearly defined architecture and essence, because brand message doesn’t necessarily bring brand engagement. And, with the media landscape having changed drastically, it’s about relating not just to the press but directly to your publics.

Roger Vivier, Rochas Moynat and recently Elsa Schiapparelli are among the dormant brands which have been seeing a revival in the past 2 years. How would you evaluate the potential of these brands and which are the essential strategic branding tools the new owners of these brands should implement?

For any dormant luxury brand to be revived, it needs to have a legacy, a folklore and a passion that can be rekindled in a relevant way today. Consumers love brands with history, but that history needs to be relatable. To be successful in the luxury space, you have to be — or have been at some stage — a brand that evokes a visceral, emotional reaction.

For these three brands and others experiencing a revival, their assets have to be compelling. How does the brand look and feel? What are the communication channels? Who are they communicating with and what’s the conversation? Brand essence is critical — clearly defined visuals and language, and even scent in some cases, that communicate brand experience.

We have recently seen the Hemingways launch a hotel brand. What do you think about other such historical personalities being turned into a luxury brand, especially in hospitality?

One of the most serious issues in luxury hospitality today is the proliferation of brands that don’t have meaning or relevance. Most new hospitality brands are treated as a brand extension, and we’re seeing a proliferation of brands that are not necessarily translatable to a luxury hotel experience. Whether it’s a historical personality or high-profile product, the question is whether the brand is evolved enough to be a lifestyle and justify putting its name on a hotel.  Truly great luxury hotels have a personality – they create a memorable experience that evokes emotion. If a hotel cannot do that with integrity, then it has failed.

How important is online communications for the success of a luxury brand nowadays? How ‘revealing’ do you think major luxury brands should be on the internet?

Communication is critical and engagement is even more critical. Too many luxury brands speak or listen as opposed to creating conversation. Brands need to communicate with their passionates and inspire them to connect with others. Luxury brands should always be about surprise and delight. Online communications offer opportunities to take customers on a journey and turn them into brand evangelists without incentivization – where it’s not about earning reward points but about brand passion.
Even though we’re not a society that likes to be enigmatic, a lot of brands are obscure online. Consumers shouldn’t have to work to discover you online. I don’t think we’ve realized the power and potential of how to communicate online.

The international luxury home interiors and furniture market is still very much dominated by Italian brands, however, there are new comers from Asia too. How has this luxury sector evolved in the past three years and which branding strategies of the past years do you most admire?

The high end home furnishing category is all about intimacy – there’s nothing more intimate than what you want to put in your home. That’s why brands in this space need to be transformative and emotional. It’s not necessarily about country of origin, but about feel and comfort. Italian brands have been very successful because that’s where the style and aesthetic that resonates with most people comes from. Italians are brilliant when it comes to anything design oriented, which you can see across categories with brands like Ferrari and Vespa.

If I had to pick the branding program that I most admire, it’s not going to be what most people expect. I really like what high-end fixture manufacturer Dornbracht is doing. Their predecessor, which for the first time migrated bathroom decision making from the contractor to the consumer, is Kohler. Kohler has one of the most transformative programs in the home furnishings category because it empowered consumers to have a choice. It also made bathroom accessories sexy. I think Toto is in the process of doing this in their own way now.

What has led the home furnishings category over the last few years and I think what will continue to do so are kitchens and bathrooms. When you think of all the designer kitchens – starting many years ago with Smallbone out of the UK – kitchens are no longer just utilitarian, they are sexy. Whether it’s Siematic or Poggenpohl, these companies have elevated kitchens to an art form.

Kitchen appliance manufacturers have brought design into what they create so it becomes not just a utilitarian tool, but part of the interior design. Sub Zero has done it. Viking has done it. The one that’s done it the best is Miele. They’ve taken a utilitarian product and transformed it into a work of art – and have changed the industry in the process.

It’s a combination of transforming the utilitarian into an emotional experience based upon design, aesthetic and feel. This is the one category that I think will continue to grow and flourish because it is both aspirational and inspirational. If I go back, I think what started the movement was Decora light switches. Before that, it was the standard toggle button. Decora brought sexiness to light switches. That was the beginning of what we are seeing today. It was really powerful. These are the kinds of things that make this industry so appealing and so exciting.

In terms of furniture, Vitra has evolved it into a work of art probably better than anybody else. Quite frankly, I think the best branding in home furnishings started with Frank Lloyd Wright. Because he created the interiors and exteriors and understood that it was about experience. There was a visual aesthetic, there was an emotional context. Frank Lloyd Wright set the standard, in many ways, for the industry, in branding. There are very few designers that did interiors and exteriors and married them. They all followed Frank Lloyd Wright.

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