When Ykone sent me the announcement about the opening of their US office I first thought this was the dumbest idea I have heard this year. The use of social media by US brands is years ahead compared to France, in particular within Fashion and Luxury brands. I experienced this first hand when I participated at a panel discussion at New York’s #Fashion140 conference back in 2011.
Ykone which was started 5 years ago has made its reputation as social media agency with focus on Premium Fashion Labels and Luxury brands since they have launched the FLOW conference. In 2012 they have conducted over 150 campaigns for clients such as DIOR, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent Beauté and others. The French market has enough Fashion Labels and other high-end brands that haven’t done any social media campaigns yet, so why put money in the development of a new activity in a crowded market and start to compete with first class social media agencies in New York?
Olivier Billon, Ykone’s co-founder and CEO argues that “Paris is capital of Fashion and New York the capital of Social Networks and Ykone wants to build the bridge in launching the US operation in Big Apple”. That sounds like a nice marketing pitch but how does this translate into concrete action. Ykone employs 25 people today and is hiring, but this US expansion could turn out to become an expensive distraction. At least at first glance.
I reached out to Cassandre Mugnier, newly appointed Managing Director of Ykone USA to understand the rationale behind this US initiative. And as you’ll see, there might be a very interesting card to play here for Ykone.
How do you think you’ll be able to compete with the big agencies in the US and in particular in New York ?
Over the past years we have gained a lot of experience in building campaigns for many Premium Brands for whom we have set-up and managed presence in social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but also Tumblr, Instagram and Foursquare. We do this in France and as well as other countries. As you know, Europe is diverse and it took us time and effort to get it right. The consumer behavior in Germany is different from any other country, Spanish people are crazy about blogs, Dutch, Swedish and Danish fashionistas are recognized for their trendy styles and so on, just to name a few examples.
With the opening of the US office, we do not intend to pitch for the brands’ US budgets. Our approach will be to help American brands define and implement the right strategy for Europe. American brands use of social media quite extensively in their marketing mix. Much more than what we see with European brands. But they don’t know how to do it outside the US. Brands like Abercrombie & Fitch or Michael Kors are successfully leveraging Facebook and other social networks in North America but not in Europe. Our know-how is a real differentiator.
Ykone also operates its own fashion magazine and blog network. How do you position yourself next to the big players such as Glam Media or Popsugar in the US market?
Our Ykone fashion magazine is part of our DNA. This is how it all got started. It allows us to feel the market and test campaigns and new ideas. But we don’t need to bring this to the US to be successful in North America. It would indeed be a waste of time and money trying to replicate our own media in the US. We want to focus on our agency activity.
As far as our own blog network is concerned, we are proud of having one of the strongest – maybe the strongest – Fashion Blog Network in Europe. Neither Glam, Popsugar or any other Blog Network is anywhere close to this. As part of the strategy to offer access to the European market, this is clearly a strength. As a matter of fact, we also already have some very nice US Blogs under contract which gives us the possibility to also include US campaigns for our European clients, and we will continue to expand this. We are rather looking for quality than quantity.
You are also announcing that you bring the FLOW conference to the US. Is this kicking-off your US operation?
In the past two years we have organized two editions of FLOW (Fashion and Luxury On the Web) in Paris with renown speakers from North America and all over Europe. On March 14th we’re organizing our first FLOW abroad, in New York’s Soho House. This marks the beginning of our presence in New York, but not the beginning of our US activities. We have been active in North America since a couple of years. The difference now is that we will have a permanent presence in US to be even closer to clients and partners.
For this first FLOW outside of Paris we have chosen a high-quality approach and operate on invitation only basis. We want to bring 50 people together to a networking event. We have speakers from Tumblr, Facebook and the famous bloggers Park & Cube and The Glamouraï. This is already demonstrating that we are part of the eco-system in the US. Our local presence will help us to establish closer ties with the market.
On a more personal level, how will you manage this office?
Well, first of all I will relocate to New York. I already lived there for a year during my university time and I love the city and always wanted to come back. The opportunity with Ykone comes just at the right time as my goal was to gain more international experience before I turn 30.
Then of course we will do one step after the other. We have a good strategy and it will come down to flawless execution now. Since January I work on US hours, in addition to the European hours. I can’t wait to focus only on the US. I really look forward to it.
Good luck Cassandre and good luck Ykone for building the bridge between France’s Fashion focus and US’ Social Network expertise.