Europcar and Bouygues Telecom, new entrants to the BrandZ France Top 50, reflect a growing trend across the most successful brands. They are positioning themselves as more than automotive or telecoms providers—as platforms for the future of mobility and communication generally. Winning brands are moving outside the strict confines of their specific vertical to become innovators in a bigger-picture sense, expanding into new adjacencies and creating new revenue streams.
Michelin is innovating in the future of tire production—from a capability to a sustainability point of view. Renault is positioning itself as a future mobility specialist, pioneering ride-sharing services, with more to follow. Orange recently launched Orange Bank, an entirely mobile-based service providing real-time balances, mobile payment, and access to a virtual advisor 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Orange’s diversification initiatives target five areas: finance, content, devices, smart life and energy.
Pro-active sustainability and purpose
This is not about cleaning up your act. It’s about proactively solving world problems. Many of BrandZ’s Top 50 French brands have acted boldly in this sense. Amid customer uncertainty about natural beauty, Sephora’s Clean at Sephora certification mark, awarded to products by the retailer, helps customers find items that are free from parabens, sulphates, mineral oils and other additives. Martell is one of many top French brands looking at sustainable sourcing, providing training for partners on different sustainable grape-growing methods. Société Générale was one of the first banks to make strong commitments to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) and the 2016 Paris Agreement, and to align its activities with the International Energy Agency’s trajectory to limit global warming by 2020. In 2019, Total was one of the many French firms that pledged to fund the restoration of Notre-Dame following the disastrous fire, with the company offering €100 million.
Many top brands in our ranking are taking a more nuanced, empowering and inclusive approach to marketing generally. Notably, in promoting the advancement of women as well as the portrayal of women in ads. In June 2019, Veuve Clicquot unveiled its first international barometer, which maps out the current status of women’s entrepreneurship. The barometer looks at issues faced by women, such as preconceived ideas, and mental and structural barriers, and how these can be overcome. The initiative goes hand in hand with the annual Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Awards. BNPP, for example, has a specific focus on women and social entrepreneurship. Each year, Cartier also recognizes six women from around the world in its Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, which encourage female entrepreneurs. More brands are building substantive programs to advance women in business, women as founders, and women-led initiatives.
Leading French brands are realizing that having a dynamic, open-source approach to innovation is key for brand growth, equity and attracting top talent. L’Oréal continued to invest heavily in tech and innovation. Vichy has developed SkinConsultAI—the first application of a new skin diagnosis tool using Modiface artificial intelligence (AI), it was launched in Canada in early 2019 and rolls out worldwide on the brand’s websites later this year. Users upload a photo to the website and get information about their skin, based on seven signs of aging: under-eye wrinkles; lack of firmness; fine lines; lack of radiance; dark spots; deep wrinkles and visible pores. The user then receives a product routine to address their specific needs. Air France has updated its in-flight digital services, offering Google Assistant and launching “Louis,” an in-flight chatbot. The company has also embarked on sustainability initiatives, promising to eliminate single-use plastic (210 million items) by the end of 2019.
True to French roots
In food, luxury and personal care, staying true to French identity, while also modernizing, has become a winning formula. In 2018, Ricard launched Ricard Plantes Fraîches, a pastis made exclusively with anise from plants grown in Haute-Provence. It also now offers Ricard-branded products online, such as limited-edition bottles and boxes. Carte D’Or has launched Maison Carte D’Or pop-up stores in Paris in collaboration with award-winning pastry chef Yannick Tranchant, offering a fresh take on traditional French pastries and incorporating Carte D’Or ice creams. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Moët Impérial, Moët & Chandon invited 120 A-list guests to LVMH’s exclusive Château de Saran guest residence in Épernay. The building has been recently completed after a five-year renovation and is surrounded by wildflowers.
Experiences are key
Brands continue to up the ante with experiences—offering immersive, emotive, artistic and increasingly connected events to engage with fans. Saint Laurent’s Rive Droite stores in Paris and LA are the latest innovative addition to the brand’s portfolio, aiming to curate and cultivate a larger Saint Laurent world through books, music, and assorted curios. Online, the modernized website offers an immersive experience and improved e-commerce in 50+ markets. Saint Laurent continues to move strongly into the future, while respecting its iconic DNA. Auchan has launched a series of initiatives to revitalize its in-store experience, including pilot Lifestores. Launched in 2019 in Juaxing, Turin and Luxembourg, experiences include cooking lessons, wine tasting and wellbeing classes. It has also launched Auchan Kids, an augmented reality Christmas shopping app for 2019. Chanel continues to invest in high-octane, big-budget theatrical fashion shows. In 2018, the brand also formed a strategic partnership with fashion tech retailer and logistics platform Farfetch, to augment the customer experience in Chanel boutiques. In 2019, Dior launched its personalized ABCDior Singapore pop-up store, where customers could have their initials embroidered on a selection of goods, from the Book Tote to Diorcamp bags and Walk ‘n’ Dior sneakers. The brand also hosted an exhibition in Tokyo to showcase its history.
- French brands are winning thanks to a strong, distinctive, international reputation and are unlocking growth as a result.
- International strength and prestige has helped French brands navigate uncertain and rocky domestic terrain and unlock new growth.
- France’s extremely strong luxury brands are striking a balance between exclusivity, experiences, access and craft—and proving themselves digitally future-facing, community-oriented and innovative. France’s top luxury brands have launched artificial intelligence initiatives, new computer games, new storytelling formats and experimental immersive show formats – retaining loyal fans while winning new younger audiences.
- Top French brands are not lagging behind when it comes to technology. They are investing in labs, collaborations with tech giants, new biotech materials and more. France’s top telco brands are embracing the full potential of 5G.
- Sourcing is becoming a story for top French brands. Many of BrandZ France’s Top 50 retailers and brands are championing French producers while helping them switch to sustainable production techniques, particularly in food and beauty.
- While France is comparatively still quite conservative, pressure is rising from consumers for brands to reframe gender representations. Many future-facing brands are focusing on female advancement, as well as on balanced gender representation in their marketing (more on this from our Thought Leadership panel).
- Purpose is an essential, not a bonus, for successful brands in the French brand landscape. According to Kantar, 62 percent of millennials want to give meaning to their consumption and consume in a more responsible way. Brands are also adding to their core purpose with bolder CSR initiatives.
- Against this landscape, sustainability and ethics are also becoming differentiators in purchase decisions in France. Eighty-five percent of French customers consider it important for companies to behave responsibly and 47 percent say this defines their choice of brand.
- France’s luxury brands, while a few stages behind other sectors, are also starting to embrace purpose, sustainability and ethics. They are banning exotics and announcing targets for sustainability. Chanel is investing in a biodegradable packaging start-up, Sulapac, for example.
- France’s food, wellbeing and personal care trends are starting to reflect more global trends emanating from hotspots like Los Angeles, Japan and the UK, as consumers seek more proactive control over their health and take a more holistic view of it. Innovative French brands are delivering natural and organic, sustainable and responsibly sourced products at value prices in response to France’s growing numbers of value-driven consumers.