Creative Leaders: a Conversation with Tony King

Posted August 11, 2014 at 12:24 pm in Digital, Interviews, Marketing
  • digital guru tony king, tony king of King and Partners, luxury marketing tony king, Gucci Tony King
    Tony King CEO of Tony King and partners

THE APPELLATION “guru” is perhaps bandied around too much these days – particularly when it comes to  technology. Yet, in the world of luxury and fashion digital, Tony King, CEO of King & Partners, is indubitably a guru, albeit a humble one.

King was chief creative officer and a founding partner at Createthegroup, an innovative digital marketing company he opened with James Gardner in 2003. Previously, he spent a formative three years at Gucci, helping the brand launch its first website Gucci.com.

After parting ways with Gardner in 2010, King opened his namesake firm with a specific vision to work more closely with luxury and fashion brands to offer them a more tailored, 360-degree services, including everything from digital and social strategy to branding to site development to full mobile and apps.

The Purpose Of It sat down with Tony King to learn more about his creative inspirations and what he thinks will drive the next generation of digital and content.

You are unequivocally one of the pioneers of luxury digital marketing. Indeed, before founding CreatetheGroup and then King & Partners, you were at Gucci when they launched their first website, Gucci.com. What was it like in the “early days” of digital for the luxury industry?
It was an uphill battle to say the least, every luxury brand either thought the internet was below them, none of them understood the potential. The ones that did want to do something online put out self-indulgent flash sites with over-the-top animations.  Working in the industry then was made especially hard as digital wasn’t a word anyone used, and websites just weren’t getting the attention of C level staff at brands.

I remember being looked at as this kid at Gucci group in 2002 in a t-shirt and jeans that was doing something with technology and creative. Then we launched Gucci.com as a successful transactional site and the next thing was we had attracted the attention of the heads of Gucci – Mr Tom Ford and Mr De Sole – as well as the heads of the various Gucci Group brands, all asking us what’s next, how do we get the other brands up and running etc.

How has the landscape of digital changed for luxury brands over the past decade?
Obviously it’s changed massively. There was a long period of digital where it really just meant a website run by a marketing team. Now there are so many platforms and products to think about as part of your digital strategy. I guess that’s the biggest change. Brands are trying to come up with more holistic digital strategies now as opposed to just launching a website and redesigning it every four years.

How do you feel most luxury brands are faring when it comes to digital?
Obviously there are some stars, and some that are tackling digital in a very sophisticated way. But shockingly there are still well-known luxury brands that just aren’t assigning budgets to digital. They will happily spend millions on a store and on advertising then think they can support their brand with a $25k website. A lot of the Italian luxury houses are the worst, handing over the reigns to logistics companies to create very basic sites for them.

I’m seeing that some of the medium-sized brands are taking more chances, trying out things, and really having more fun with digital and seeing what’s resonating well with their customers. They are coming up with digital strategies that include retail, eCom, mobile, software, social etc. omnichannel ideas etc.

What are consumers looking for these days for digital and social media experiences? Are their priorities evolving?
I’m seeing a big move towards simpler web interfaces but smarter content, more regularly updated and of higher quality. I see a lot of complicated expensive websites with bad quality photography which render them useless. Priorities are shifting towards quality not quantity – I personally favour a brand to create highly produced editorial digital magazine type content as opposed to just regurgitating the same stuff every other brand is doing on their blogs – we’ve all seen the same bloggers/influencers posing on the same street with everyone’s products at this point. No one believes that anymore.

As a branding professional, how do you work with companies to tailor a digital experience to their needs and their consumers? Do most luxury brands have an open mind and listening ear?
There are a few important factors here, firstly it’s about putting the strategy and ideas together that a brand needs – that’s not necessarily the same as the ideas they want. It’s about carefully steering and educating them in the right things to do. The right content to have, the correct platforms to be using. One of the most tricky parts of my job isn’t getting the marketing/creative/retails teams on board, it’s getting everything new ideas, new platforms etc past their technology teams who seem insistent on a slow decline into obsolescence by just sticking to what they know.

What do luxury brands need when it comes to content? Should they indeed be all about digital? Or are there remaining opportunities in print?
Depends on the brand obviously but your customer isn’t ONLY digital so why should the content be? I love brands that have a consistent voice across print, in store, PR and digital and those brand stories should exist at all touchpoints. As I said earlier, I think it’s about less is more, spending more time and money on higher quality content will go a long way, as opposed to getting your intern to post some instagrams – that’s not content.

There is always talk about digital 2.0, 3.0, or wherever we are. What defines the next generation of digital experience? What is the role of content in this future?
What number are we on now? I’ve lost track. I just think its obvious when a brand gets it right. Sometimes it’s not about the latest greatest innovation, it’s just about brands that have their shit together. A customer can research the same products online that they have in store, in social etc and get the same message and story about those products and can purchase from any touchpoint etc.

So if I see some great content, I have an emotional connection with the product and want to buy it, it shouldn’t be hard work for me to find the product. It’s about brands just connecting all their dots and being organised. I’m highly suspicious of brands that adopt every new platform, I think it comes across as desperate and gimmicky. Instead choose where your voice is best heard and put good content out on those

What’s the most memorable business advice you’ve ever received?
All the tools in the world are meaningless without a good idea.

by Jessica Quillin

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