Diane Piot, digital marketing at Paul Smith

Diane has two passions: fashion and digital. After working with the marketing teams of Chanel Paris and Clarins New York, she was hired in London by Shopstyle, the Google of fashion. Today, she is managing the digital marketing of Paul Smith France. Not only is she my friend – she is also a talented young woman with lots of ideas! She tells us how digital has modernized fashion, and gradually became an essential tool for the sales and communications of luxury brands.


Who is Paul Smith?

Paul Smith is a British designer, a classy dandy – ‘classic with a twist,’ elegant, and eccentric. He was dreaming of becoming a racing cyclist, but when he was 18 a serious accident ruined his career. After months of convalescence, he met Pauline, his future wife. She was then studying design, and introduced him to creation, before encouraging him to open his very first shop.

Paul is a self-taught man, very sociable, and has always lots of anecdotes to share. He is a passionate designer, curious about everything, and about new technologies in particular. At the age of 70, he is managing his own Instagram account! (@paulsmith).


Paul Smith and his famous flagship in Los Angeles

What is digital marketing?

In short, I’d say that digital marketing is a kind of ‘online Swiss army knife’: its many different tools make communications and sales possible. For instance, it includes referencing (Google, etc.), CRM (Customer Relationship Management), e-mails, social networks, online advertisements, not forgetting websites optimization and e-PR (press relations) with online magazines and influencers.

10 years ago, luxury brands had trouble grasping the interest of digital marketing

When did fashion start to take an interest in digital?

Luxury fashion or high-end fashion are by nature incompatible with digital, because digital is meant for mass market, whereas luxury fashion claims to be both specific and rare. 10 years ago, luxury brands had trouble grasping the interest of digital marketing, but as the Internet boomed, they had to adapt. The customers changed. They are no longer passive, but actively seeks information. They are more critical, and it has become harder to make them dream. To reach them, we had to use their own tools: the Internet, and social networks.

Paul Smith is a high-end British brand. How do you manage to convey a qualitative and luxurious image on the Internet?

The digital strategy changes depending on the brand’s positioning: luxury, premium, or mass- market. Luxury means creation, excellence and amazement; you want to reach the customers on an emotional level. Mass market is aimed at a general audience. Above all else, it is about ultra- profitability – you have to access the product in just 3 clicks.


Paul Smith x photograph Martin Parr collaboration

To convey a qualitative image, the customers’ experience online has to be as close as can be to the experience in a shop – the best possible experience. Excellence can be found not only in the artistic direction – quality of content, choice of imagery – but also in the technical optimization with a website easy to use and excellent services (customer service, cross-canal with the possibility to check the availability of stocks yourself). We offer a particular experience, showing the know-how and sharing an exclusive content.

You’re talking about social networks – what do you think about the job of influencer and his or her role in the world of fashion?

It is a brand new medium! I think the very first influencers appeared in 2006-2007, when social networks went through an incredible boom. There was a gap between the traditional press – in which everyone was aware that what was shown was embellished – and these first girls sharing the outfits they had just bought. They represented something real, someone trustworthy with whom you could identify. Most of today’s biggest influencers have more following than major fashion magazines, like Vogue – and I’m talking about millions of followers! So obviously, it’s a a great opportunity for brands.

The customer changed and it has become harder to make him dream

But then, how does it work? When you organize a campaign with an influencer, you pay him or her to wear your brand’s products and share them with his or her community. At Paul Smith, we choose someone because we like their universe, and because it fits our brand image. We can impose a theme, or give them carte blanche. The influencer credits the brand, sharing a link to buy the clothes, or using the brand’s hashtag, which will generate traffic on its website. Most of the influencers I have worked with have an eye for these things – they are stylists. That’s precisely what I like: the magic of fashion!

What are the limits of digital?

When a customer complains in a shop, there’s no one to see him but if he complains online, the complaint is public. The brand has to know how to manage these crises to protect its e-reputation – deciding either to be transparent about it or to erase the polemical comments.


Paul Smith – Dino collection

The limits of digital marketing are also technological: there can be bugs on the website, or the website may not be referenced enough on Google, which discourages purchases. And for me, another limit is that digital remains a non-physical experience, not as engaging and emotional as going to a shop.

How do you see digital in a few years time?

The future of digital is to go beyond what the customers are looking for. It will go through innovation: record delivery time (Amazon’s drones have paved the way for that), online advisers available 24/7, or ultra-sophisticated search engines. On some websites, you fill in your measurements and the website tells you what size you need for your clothes.

We could go even further. For example, I am a size S, but maybe I’d like to buy an oversize pullover. And why should I have to choose between the men and women categories? With Instagram and Pinterest, we are constantly flooded by visual inspirations. We should automate these images, so that the customer could say ‘I want this!’ and the algorithm could suggest products perfectly matching his or her request, or even something that goes beyond these expectations.

And one last question – who is your muse?

As we speak, I am reading the biography of Simone Veil, and I have to admit that she is a major source of inspiration for me. How determined, and how faithful in life and humanity she was! The Shoah, and then later her sister’s terrible car accident, could have crushed her, but she chose to fight to improve women’s living conditions in prison, and to stand up for women’s right to abortion. Anyway, we owe her so much…!


Credits photo : As A MusePaul Smith