How did an e-commerce entrepreneur who came late to the social media revolution become an internationally celebrated innovator and build one of the world's top luxury bridal brands? For Idan Lahav, CEO of Galia Lahav House of Couture, it took both serendipity and a social-centric strategy.
Galia Lahav's story reads like both an entrepreneur's field guide for the digital age and an old-fashioned fairy tale. When I recently sat down to talk with Idan, I found him to be a walking case study of a brand leader whose success has been driven by a deep understanding of the connected consumer.
A new vision.
Galia Lahav is a luxury bridal and evening wear brand with a network of 70 stores across 40 countries that for almost a decade has achieved 40 percent year-over-year growth. Though Galia Lahav was founded in 1984 in Tel Aviv, it was only about ten years ago that the current chapter in its story began.
At that time, Idan was helping his mom with some Galia Lahav tech issues. As he went through the company's email, he was shocked to discover something that would forever alter the course of the business. Eighty percent of consumer inquiries were coming from locations outside of Israel where the brand didn't do business (namely, from the U.S. and Europe). It was then Idan realized that Galia Lahav was destined to be a global brand.
Making up for lost time.
As a self-proclaimed data geek, Idan immediately set about determining what was driving the international traffic since the brand wasn't investing in ads or PR. As Idan dug deeper, he quickly came to three realizations. First, that the traffic was being sourced through social media. Second, that he was late to the e-commerce revolution. Last, that he had to act now.
Though Idan had virtually no experience with ecommerce or social media, he immediately began to actively feed the social media platforms that were driving traffic to the Galia Lahav site and sold his first couture wedding gown that very day.
As I learned more of the story behind Galia Lahav's brand ascendency, I heard Idan speak to three key themes for succeeding in the digital age:
Find and focus on your niche.
"A new business that wants to build a brand has to start within a niche or a well-defined product and be very precise with the message it's sending out," says Idan. Galia Lahav found and focused on this niche by being among the first brands to understand that today's brides wanted more curve-accentuating silhouettes and updated designs than those traditionally available on the market.
But in the early days of the brand's current incarnation, almost no stores would carry its designs, believing them to be too "sexy" or "fashion forward." After nearly a year of failed tradeshows on multiple continents, funds were nearly depleted and the brand was in danger of folding. But then serendipity struck. At Galia Lahav's final trade show in New York, three buyers fell in love with the collection. From there, it wasn't long before the brand's designs were available in Bergdorf Goodman, Browns, Takami group and other luxury retailers.
Leverage a clear, consistent, agile social strategy.
Idan realized that social media was the brand's primary link to global clients, and moved quickly to assemble a multi-disciplinary team to develop a clearly defined campaign that was highly consistent across channels.
"The world is flooded with content, so in order to succeed you have to invest in a strong social media team -- a team of experienced trendsetters and active social users, who specializes in creative, conceptualization and content," says Idan. "There is also the image specifications for each channel. Everything is constantly changing so you have to adapt quickly and correctly in each platform as well."
Listen to and learn from connected consumers.
"It would be shameful to receive free feedback and not take it into account when creating new designs," Idan told me. In creating its collections, Galia Lahav relies heavily on social media for direct feedback.
It's this commitment to listening to and learning from connected consumers that keeps the brand constantly evolving.
Idan also spoke to the crucial role of influencers. "Our biggest and most effective source of exposure is through the presence of digital influencers on social media. Real brides and other customers who share their own imagery and experience online are priceless and give the brand another layer."
The meteoric rise of Galia Lahav is a testament to what's possible for brands who are driven by an understanding of the connected consumer and the rules of engagement for the digital age. Though serendipity opened a new chapter for the brand, it was Idan's social-centric strategy that saw its story through to a fairy tale ending.