Interview with VELVET CEO Patrice Nordey: Digital Strategy for Fashion

On November 6th, 20 young professionals gathered in an intimate setting at 10 Corso Como on West Nanjing Road, to participate in a lively discussion regarding Digital Communication trends in China. We were pleased to invite our guest speaker, Patrice Nordey, Founder and CEO of the Shanghai-based digital communication firm VELVET.

Patrice is a digital veteran with over 15 years of e-Commerce experience across Europe and Asia, and consults with international companies in the deployment of their Digital Marketing & Communication, Social Media, and e-Commerce strategies in China. He has consulted for L’Oréal, Richemont, Lane Crawford, Galeries Lafayette, Lagardère, Converse, Christian Louboutin, Hermès, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Kering and Puma.

Question 1: What type of agency are you and what kind of clients are you working with?

On one hand we serve as an agency, so we help clients execute communication and marketing content to their consumers, and on the other hand we work a lot on actually strategy for our clients. What makes us unique is that we are able to combine these two under one roof. We found that it was very difficult to advise on something like social media, if you have never operated your own accounts or executed a communication plan yourself. This has allowed us to work on both strategy and communication with most of the largest international luxury companies with operations in China.

Question 2: What keeps you awake at night?

The digital industry is very unstable and is constantly changing, so you really need to understand that the knowledge or techniques you know now, may actually be irrelevant in a few months. To last in this industry, you must continue to adapt your skills and update yourself on the most recent trends and technologies. Being flexible is also very important. Sometimes what you believe is not always true, so you need to be flexible and be willing to try new applications or methods, even if you are not comfortable with them yet.

Question 3: How do you see the Digital Landscape in China right now and over the next couple of years?

That’s very difficult to predict, however, I truly believe that we are only in the beginning stages of the digital industry in China. I have now been in China for over 10 years, and this is the first year that I’ve seen my clients look to China not just as another market, but instead as a center of innovation for digital communication strategies and technologies. They come here for inspiration, which is really encouraging to see.

I had a case in June, where a CEO of a global insurance company brought the top 200 executives of his firm to come to China for one week. During their time here, we spent two full days dedicated to helping them understanding the Chinese market, local entrepreneurs and startups, and the most recent trends in digital media and communication.

This is the first time that China has become the global destination for innovation, which is quite interesting and exciting to be part of.

Question 4: What type of skills, knowledge and attitude are you looking for when hiring new employees?

Let’s start with attitude. I think it’s very important to be a self-learner, because what you know now may be used less tomorrow, so you need to have the appetite for self-development and growth. I also think passion is a great engine; it will drive you to where you need to go. So when we recruit people, we try to look for people who are not only skilled in digital technologies, but also very passionate about digital media. In this industry, you can’t wait for people to come and give you facts or ideas, you need to go out and find them yourself.

In terms of skills, we always look for people who have relevant experience in digital communication. That way, when they come to work for us at Velvet, we can solidify their understanding of the first pillar of digital media, which includes Social Media, event advertising, CRM, e-Commerce and account management. Once you have solidified the first pillar, you can focus on the second pillar. The second pillar may be data analytics or another field that requires a deeper level of understanding.

To be an expert Digital Marketer, and to really progress in your career, it is essential to have a solid understanding and foundation in the first pillar. Only after this foundation has been developed, will you be able to become a consultant or advisor.

Question 5: Is there any role within the industry that you think is hard to find talent for?

I would definitely have to say digital strategy. From my perspective, there is no such thing as digital strategy, only strategy. I always tell my staff, we have one strategy, so how can digital support this overall strategy. So finding someone who can understand the overall strategy of the firm we are working with, and then successfully implement a digital strategy to complement the existing strategy, is the most difficult person to find.

Question 6: Any advice for people trying to enter the industry?

You should always follow your passion. There is nothing worse than trying to do something because you parents told you it will be good for your career. Secondly, it’s a very competitive world, so being ambitious and hardworking will take you a long way in your career.  To become successful requires a lot of work and there is no secret to becoming successful in the digital industry other than hard work.  Lastly, preparation is very important in this industry. I tell all my employees to start work early in the morning so that they are fully prepared for any questions our clients may have at the beginning of the day.

Question 7: What do you think is the next step for Luxury e-Commerce in China?

In China at the moment, very few luxury brands actually have their own e-Commerce platforms, over 90% of all luxury goods are sold on third-party applications or platforms at a discounted price. The goods are bought typically by a wholesaler and then sold online in China. So moving forward, the question is:  will there be a full-price luxury e-Commerce market in China.

A few years ago, one of the largest luxury department stores in the United States tried to launch a luxury e-Commerce platform in China, offering high-end luxury products from around the world at full-price. It took them over a year to launch the platform, and within six months of the launch, the business was closed.

This e-Commerce model already exists in Japan, Europe and the United States, but it will take some time before China is ready to accept this model, and only on certain conditions.

First, the company operating the e-Commerce platform needs to have an inventory of luxury products, which are relevant to Chinese consumers. Secondly, luxury companies need to work on creating a full lifestyle experience for their customers, not just selling products online.

Question 8: In China, WeChat is a very powerful and useful app, yet many foreigners outside of China have no idea that it exists. Do you think it would be better if everyone used the same social media platforms?

Social Media is a social tool and every culture and country has a different way of communicating. A platform like Facebook is used differently in the US, Japan or Indonesia, so I feel that we will still have this fragmented market for some time. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. To have a few large monopolies controlling the social media industry would definitely hurt innovation and creativity.

For example, in the late 90’s, one of the first social platforms was launched in Korea called Cyworld. It included something similar to a Facebook page, a place to listen and download music, and other functions that we have on our modern day social platforms. This platform drove a lot of innovation and inspired many other social platforms that we see today.

Regarding the global exposure of WeChat, the reality is that Chinese people are traveling more and more each year. Last year 100 million Chinese travelled abroad, by 2020, that number will rise to 200 million and the average traveller will spend more than three times what the average traveler spends now. Every time a Chinese traveler visits a foreign company, they bring WeChat with them.

(Interview originally published here.)