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Max Mara in China: the fashion brand chic women always wear

Founded in 1951 in Reggio Emilia, Italy, Achille Maramotti turned Max Mara into one of the most prestigious women’s fashion brands with his great grandmother’s heritage of “theory of cutting.” Today, Max Mara is a luxury fashion empire operating in about 105 countries with over 2,500 single-brand stores and 10,000 multi-brand stores, including 35 labels such as Weekend Max Mara, Marella, Pennyblack, iBlues, MAX&Co, and Marina Rinaldi. Madame 101810 coat is the symbol of Max Mara, designed in 1981 with camel wool, cashmere blended fabrics, and kimono sleeves to suit women of different shapes. Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman also contributed to the success of the coat representing Max Mara’s concept of elegance, modernity, and charm. It was not long before Max Mara gained popularity among the world’s top female professionals. The coat has sold over 135,000 pieces and remains the best-selling item in Max Mara’s history.

Max-Mara-in-China gigi hadid
Source: iNEWS. Gigi Hadid in Max Mara’s 101810 coat

Max Mara’s expansion in China

Max Mara opened its first store in China in 1993, and since then, the company has expanded rapidly. According to Retail News Asia, by 2016, the brand had 414 boutiques across China, with 35 located in Shanghai alone. In 2017, Max Mara held its first runway show in Shanghai, displaying its Pre-Fall 2017 collection and launched a capsule collection in collaboration with local Chinese artist Liu Wei. The collection was inspired by dense urban landscapes with 11 pieces made from upmarket fabrics and was available in Max Mara boutiques worldwide, as well as on its online store.

Max Mara x Liu Wei
Source: FashionNetwork. Max Mara’s designs created in collaboration with the Chinese artist Liu Wei

A more comprehensive and convenient digital shopping experience on Tmall

In 2021, the brand launched its official flagship store on Tmall Luxury Pavilion with a full range of products, including ready-to-wear, handbags, leather goods, shoes, and accessories. This was also the first time that Max Mara cooperated with a Chinese e-commerce platform, symbolizing a big step in diving into the Chinese online market. Max Mara’s decision of joining Tmall provided Chinese consumers with a more comprehensive and convenient digital shopping experience.

Meanwhile, on the occasion of Max Mara’s 70th anniversary, the house unveiled the new Fall-Winter collection created by seven artists with special-edition T-shirts, including the pieces from Russian artist Valery Katsuba. All pieces were available on Tmall’s “Hey Box,” leveraging AI and big data to present the most suitable products to consumers. The brand also launched promotional events on Tmall, such as discounting RMB 500 off when spending more than RMB 10,000, up to 6 months interest-free, and a 70th-anniversary limited-edition gift box, which attracted the attention of more than 80,000 fans.

What are Max Mara’s key marketing strategies in China?

Virtual KOLs as brand ambassadors

As the Metaverse keeps gaining popularity, businesses going digital, and flesh-and-blood brand ambassadors get into trouble, companies in China start exploring new endorsement marketing strategies. StarHeir, the largest developer and designer of virtual characters in China, created several virtual idols in 2021, which soon achieved millions of fans and traffic right after launching. Meanwhile, more and more luxury companies such as Gucci and Nike have started collaborating with famous virtual Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) as their brand ambassadors. Max Mara is among the most active brands in terms of digitalization. For example, during its 70th anniversary, popular virtual idol Reddi was wearing pieces from the brand’s Fall-Winter collection: a reversible teddy bear coat and a T-shirt with a print by the contemporary artist Paul-François Berthoud. The virtual KOL perfectly represented Max Mara’s soul by combining classic elegance and modern chic.

Max mara in china: virtual kol Reddi
Source: DIGITALING. Virtual idol Reddi as Max Mara’s brand ambassador.

O2O marketing strategy: topic creation on social media and offline pop-up stores

Apart from collaborating with virtual influencers, Max Mara is also active on different Chinese social media platforms and heavily engages in new technologies, such as by setting up WeChat mini-programs and utilizing Xiaohongshu to meet the needs of the young generation. For example, the brand launched a topic for discussion on Xiaohongshu right after the release of the Chinese TV series Nothing but Thirty featuring the main character wearing Max Mara’s iconic coat. More than 3,600 users joined the discussion, creating over 20,000 posts. Meanwhile, Max Mara’s search volume increased by 700% with an unprecedented Click-Through-Rate record, making the Italian brand rank second in the luxury category on Xiaohongshu. In addition, Max Mara adopted an O2O marketing strategy integrating digital events with offline activities such as pop-up stores with fabulous designs or celebrities in major cities all around China every year to offer a better customer experience.

Women’s empowerment and supporting young female professionals

Max Mara’s branding strategy in China aligns with its mission to empower women with highly wearable solutions. Since the brand is one of the earliest Western brands to enter the Chinese market, it symbolizes high social status, wealth, and success, rooted in local consumers’ minds for over 30 years. Moreover, Chinese audiences can spot Max Mara’s most representative pieces in many local popular TV series and reality shows such as Nothing but Thirty and Sisters Who Make Waves.

Max Mara's marketing strategy in China
Source: Sina. The main character wearing Max Mara’s products in the famous Chinese TV series “Nothing but Thirty.”

Reflecting rising female power, leadership, and gender equality in the country, most women featuring Max Mara’s products on TV are entrepreneurs or urban professionals. Such marketing strategy allowed Max Mara to enhance brand visibility while promoting women’s empowerment in line with its brand image in China.

Chinese consumers’ attitude toward Max Mara

Chinese consumers love Max Mara’s iconic coats as they tend to be associated with successful women’s classic and chic lifestyle. The topic “Max Mara” on Chinese social media can always gather a lot of traffic, and most consumers show positive attitudes towards the brand. Local consumers are very active in posting Max Mara’s products on social media like Xiaohongshu, as well as comparing different clothing and giving recommendations.

Chinese consumers’ attitude toward Max Mara
Source: Xiaohongshu. Posts of Chinese consumers’ attitude toward Max Mara.

However, the brand experienced a scandal during China’s 315 Gala for World Consumer Rights Day in 2021, being called out for using facial recognition cameras in Shanghai for consumer data collection without consent. In its defense, the brand stated that cameras were only used for collecting statistics about store footfall, and footage is automatically deleted on a daily basis.

Max Mara’s marketing strategy in China: What can we learn?

  • Founded in 1951 in Reggio Emilia, Italy, Max Mara is one of the world’s most prestigious women’s fashion brands. It symbolizes elegant and stylish women with power, and its most iconic item is the Madame 101810 coat, which is beloved by prominent female significant figures and celebrities worldwide.
  • Max Mara entered China in 1993 with its first store in Shanghai, and the brand soon realized market expansion in the country with more than 400 stores. Meanwhile, Max Mara is active in all promotional events, such as holding runway shows and collaborating with local artists on social media and e-commerce platforms.
  • Max Mara is very active online and collaborated with the famous virtual KOLs to better capture young Chinese customers. It adopts an O2O marketing strategy that integrates digital activities with offline events like setting up pop-up stores around China.
  • To emphasize the brand’s mission of empowering women with highly wearable solutions and maximizing product exposure, Max Mara outfitted many female characters on local TV series and reality shows as part of the brand’s branding strategy.
  • Most netizens show positive attitudes towards Max Mara and are willing to discuss the latest collection and share their purchase experience on Chinese social media. However, the brand experienced a scandal in 2021, when it was accused of using consumer data without consent.

Author: Ariel Wu

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