Luxury is perhaps the most provocative word in the English language. It is also one of the most overused words, second only to “Great". If regular white bread is a necessity, brioche would be a luxury; if jam was a necessity, Nutella would be a luxury. It isn't something everyone can afford on a daily basis but, it is something everyone wants on a daily basis.
So, what makes Nutella or a loaf of brioche, a luxury? Is it the quality ingredients or is it the process that goes into its creation? While there are many factors that help establish a luxury brand, branding is at the forefront. Luxury brands have carved a niche away from your regular supermarket brands and their branding vehemently reminds you that they occupy said niche.
Take the case of one of our clients, RISE Group. They are a Bangalore-based retailer offering interior solutions from sofas to beds, from storage systems to kitchens. RISE has partnered with pioneering Italian luxury brands that bring with them, a universal following. RISE is a luxury brand in itself, much like its brand partners.
From the minimally dignified design to refined messaging, we created a simple yet sophisticated language for RISE. From their website to their social media communications, RISE has maintained its status quo. It's a brand you don't want to miss out on.
So, how do you get around to creating an effective and enduring luxury brand? Strap on your Gucci belts, tie that Dior scarf around your neck and read on.
Defining A Luxury Brand
What Makes A Brand, A Luxury Brand?
Every product brings with it a functional value. A pair of Converse sneakers offers the customer with casual shoes to walk in. The same functional value can be derived from a pair of Gucci's infamous loafers. What differentiates Converse's canvas shoes and Gucci's canvas loafers is the symbolic value that both of these brands carry. Converse has a rich history embedded in the heart of the American customer. They are classically viewed as “high school shoes" because their target audience is teens and young adults. Gucci on the other hand conflates their brand power and ardent following to provide their canvas loafers with an intrinsic value that Converse cannot offer.
How Are Luxury Brands Different From Your Regular Ones?
Simply put, luxury brands have a greater symbolic value over regular brands. Converse from time to time have unveiled luxury offerings and have easily recognisable features, Gucci has an universal appeal, thanks to their provocative branding. Customers who choose Gucci over Converse, choose symbolism over functionality. This is the essence of a luxury brand.
The following six principles distinguish a luxury brand from a regular one:
Symbolism – decades of branding or in some cases, months of branding that successfully creates an aura of mystique and exuberance and instills a must-have belief.
Quality – luxury brands always promote quality in a subconscious way. When you purchase a Chanel purse, you are equipped with the knowledge that Chanel did not cut corners or skimp on good materials. You know that a Chanel purse is a high quality product because luxury brands are often on the higher end of the quality spectrum.
Design – a Samsung will never look or feel like an iPhone and an iPhone will never let their consumers down. With every product, Apple explores a newer arena of design thinking be it the seamless round edges or the unique experience that iPhone users get when they hold an iPhone every time.
Personalization – shopping at a Dior store is certainly a much different experience than shopping at say, a United Colours of Benetton store. A few years ago, Dior announced that it was personalising beauty experience through in-store technology. When a customer visits say a Dior or a Manolo Blahnik store, they are sure enough to be pampered by technological innovations and superior service; something they wouldn't get at a multi-brand retailer or at a Benetton or USPA store.
Cost – they are costlier than other brands and that creates a “why is that so” question. Luxury brands are synonymous with the “best of everything” complex.
Rarity – scarcity can always drive prices up. If there were only eight diamond necklaces left on Earth, wouldn't that drive up both the demand and the cost of each necklace. Luxury brands often use rarity as a way of offering something truly special to the customer.
Brands such as Rolls-Royce, Valcucine or Henge create products that are customised to the end customer’s unique preferences. Be it a different kind of material on your dashboard or alterations to the island counter or a different type of finish on a ceiling light, the aforementioned brands make their products unique much like their customers.
How you differentiate from others brands enables you to gain better results and plant your feet firmly in the luxury realm.
So, How Do You Brand Your Luxury Brand
When big name retailers were busy rolling out celebrity endorsements, Prada tapped into virtual reality and interactive apps to promote new products and stir up desire. When word of mouth and previous experience was doing a good deal of sales for vodka brands, Absolut Vodka distributed four million uniquely designed bottles as part of their Absolut Unique campaign. Both brands took an affluent product and made the consumer lust after it.
The iPhone is a luxury product too. Priced higher than other phones, it creates a want that Motorola or Samsung have never been able to. Apple wins every time because they took a highly technological product and made it suitable for the common man. Owning an Apple product is a lifestyle statement much like driving a Mercedes Benz (even if it's a second-hand one) or wearing a t-shirt that has the image of a crocodile or a polo player stitched on it. For the last fifty years, Rolex, through their campaigns, have been stirring up desires that customers didn’t think they had.
Collaborations, while generally seen as a lazy branding gig, are also a great way for two luxury brands to work together. A collaboration brings not just two design styles but two different consumer bases. Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaborated to create a limited edition clothing line. Recently, Adidas and Prada came together to recreate the former’s Superstar sport shoes and also, for an odd reason, a bowling bag with the Prada logo. The bowling bag is the best example for a lazy collaboration.
Prada and Adidas coming together to create a bag that will hold a bowling ball, a sport that's often a commoner's fancy, is the end product of a farsighted branding executive. Had the brands thought about golf accessories instead, they would be on the money. Sometimes, you hit the target and sometimes, you hit your neighbour's window, three doors down.
Luxury branding is psychologically driven. Would you like to be seen wearing a pretty good cotton dress purchased from a typical retailer or would you prefer to be seen wearing a Dior sundress? Wearing luxury apparel makes one feel special and often raises the status quo of the customer. Luxury brands use these studies to create a longing desire for their products.
As a luxury brand, you must first narrate an enriching story about your product and your brand, one that takes the customer on an enigmatic journey. Most luxury brands then create an existential distance between the customer and the product through selective targeting. The Economist targets CEOs through its campaigns but their real target audience are those aspiring to be CEOs. By talking only to the select few, brands gain the attention of the rest.
The Economist is not as expensive as a premium Conde Nast magazine but, their branding positions the publication as “reading material for CEOs". Their placements since then have targeted only the few people who occupy the upper echelons of a corporate hierarchy. Their ads, a creation of the late great David Abbott, speak that language. The Economist is widely read by people aspiring to be among the ranks of their designated target audience.
Find the right medium for your luxury brand. Chances are that you want a medium where you can impact consumers through powerful visuals. From YouTube to Instagram, from Tumblr to Pinterest, there are a number of relevant mediums that will amp up your visuals. From a new Rolls-Royce to a new diamond bracelet to a new pair of shoes, a glance at the actual product can do more than reading about it.
Luxury brands are known for having a loyal customer base. This is because these brands “care" about their customers. They don't offer discounts or offers. But, they deliver great products and services that will keep the customer coming back for more. This loyalty is a fierce one. To establish a loyal base, your products and customer service must be outstanding and few notches above the rest. Looking into case studies of other successful brands in your niche can help you know where to begin. Customers who are loyal to Louboutin will never be seen with Manolo Blahnik. They won't even consider window shopping. Luxury brands – unlike regular brands – can create a strong impact on the customer right on the first interaction or purchase.
In this day and age, a brand doesn’t just do the aforementioned things. The modern consumer expects more. He/she expects a “good” brand.
Luxury And Sustainability
As the globe moves towards a collective environmental consciousness, luxury brands are also adapting to newer threats and adopting unconventional methods. The generation that they are dealing with today don't believe in the name value as much as their predecessors did. A Gucci jacket or a Coach handbag score lesser on their scale of excitement than free range eggs or cruelty free leather. The modern consumer places their values in a different basket and this presents luxury brands with a complete set of new challenges.
This explains the rise in luxury brands using sustainability as a key talking point. The brands mentioned in this piece all have a page on their website dedicated to sustainability and leaving behind a better planet. The voice of Greta Thunberg is much more important than the little black dress Kate Moss is wearing or the musky perfume George Clooney is spraying on his skin.
How Has This Changed The Scenario For Luxury Brands?
Stella McCartney feels the need to mention that they use eco-friendly materials including regenerated cashmere (the what?) and are also a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Valcucine's newest kitchen system features dematerialised doors and Henge uses not just the good parts of the wood and metal in their furniture, but even the not-so-good parts.
Prada gained its own social conscience recently, announcing a complete ban on fur. The announcement was met with applause and renewed the brand's hope for a better year having witnessed a multi-year sales plunge in the mid-2010s. “Sustainability is a fundamental competitive lever for innovation and leadership," says a statement published by Versace. Everyone wants a piece of the pie and they are willing to do anything to get that piece.
However, there is a privilege that luxury brands have and it's that consumers will believe that a Stella McCartney or a Prada or a Louis Vuitton are doing something to save the Earth even if it’s miniscule. The loyalty that luxury brands bring have enabled them to start conversations and initiate caregiving bandwagons. That's because decades of branding have made them immaculate figures.
Promises And Conclusions
A luxury product has a timeless aura. It lives longer in the minds of the customer. Rolex's new range of watches may be technologically sound but many would pay twice the cost of a modern Rolex watch to own a classic Rolex Daytona or a Rolex Submariner. Customers still look to luxury brands for a high quality product. But, they are careful about the quality and rather investigative about the brand.
Back in the day, Rolex could run ads that would simply say “Time For The Timeless" to create an aspirational set of customers. Today, Rolex’s messaging will need to be more enriching and descriptive. There exists a wide range of luxury brands. So much so that competition between two or more luxury brands is becoming the new branding battleground. While competition has not only helped these brands create exceptional products, it has also made their branding more stringent.
Not Just The Truth, But The Whole Truth
Luxury brands are built on the promise to deliver consistently with every product. Their products shouldn’t just be of a better quality but must also include a part of the brand’s history. In order to move forward, luxury brands look back at their own individual histories to ascertain an element to connect with.
Brand promise is essential. The Singapore Girl embodies the “caring, warm, elegant and serene" brand promise of Singapore Airlines. Originally created in 1972, the Singapore Girl has since reiterated the airline carrier’s promise of a great way to fly. The selection and training of a Singapore Girl is more rigorous than the selection process for a Victoria’s Secret angel or a Miss America contestant.
For every luxury brand, it’s necessary to keep one eye on their brand promise and another on the journey. The technological innovations available today make it a challenge for each brand to stay unique. But, by relying on their brand promises and the inherent brand value, each luxury brand can find a way to remain eternal.
The points mentioned in this essay have stood the test of time. We hope that your luxury brand benefits from them. If you still have doubts on how to bring attention to your luxury brand, get in touch with us on our website or simply give us a holler on Facebook or get in touch with us.