Luxury means different things to different people, but most of us would agree on some common facets: quality, exclusivity… and a heavy price tag to go with it.
So how can luxury brands bring those dimensions to life in the cluttered and rather sterile online environment? How can you convey the superior craftsmanship, the sumptuous materials, the exquisite detail? How do you maintain a feeling of exclusivity when everyone has access to your brand online and can voice their opinions publicly on your Facebook page? How do you convince people to buy into your brand if you don’t have that long heritage of an established luxury name but you still have a high price positioning?
Luxury brands can, and must, embrace digital – but how you do so will be crucial to whether you strengthen, or damage, your brand…
1. Understand your customer
All things marketing and brand building start with an understanding of your target: why are they buying (or why would they buy) your brand? What is it that they value? Is it the status that comes with association with your brand? Is it a sense of being the first, being in the know? Is it the customer service that you offer, over and above the industry standard? Why would they choose you over a competitor? Having this understanding will help you to focus your attention, and resources, on a few key elements of your proposition that you can bring to the forefront of your digital marketing. And it means you’ll be less likely to disappoint against the high expectations of those customers.
2. Make it an experience
One of the challenges for a luxury brand is how to convey the lavish in-store shopping experience online. Chanel has so far refused to sell online for that reason, while Tom Ford just launched his eCommerce site today. You need to reassure the customer so that he or she feels confident enough to make a purchase. That means bringing the product to life online, with attractive and detailed descriptions, and a range of photos from different angles with a zoom function to examine the product close up. It means including endorsements from celebrities or other relevant influencers. It means telling the story of how the product was made, where the materials come from, the inspiration for the design. Remember that luxury is not just about function but about emotion – and that’s where your understanding of your customer will guide you on how best to speak to them.
3. Keep it simple
The fact that you want to create a beautiful experience does not mean that you should build fancy websites with heavy animations that look beautiful but take a long time to load, make navigation difficult, and don’t work on mobile. You need to create your brand world within a simple and user-friendly design that guides people to what they’re looking for. You may want to appear innovative, but following certain conventions will make the user experience smoother, allowing your brand and your products to come to the forefront: the menu is usually at the top or on the left, for example. If the navigation is not intuitive, the user will very quickly get frustrated and move on. Luxury is also about convenience and ease.
4. Treat your customers like VIPs
That seemingly effortless and ultimately enjoyable experience needs to follow the customer from the beginning of their purchase journey right through to the end, and beyond. The customer should feel special, and valued, as they begin to read about your product and want to find out more, as they decide to buy and click through to checkout, as they receive their order, and as they contact customer service with questions or concerns. You might offer 24-hour access to an expert who can advise on a purchase, like Bobbi Brown’s live chat function with a make-up consultant. You might learn from Zappos and their relentless focus on exceptional customer service. You might offer customisation, allowing the customer to add their initials to a Prada bag, or even fully bespoke models, such as Vacherin Constantin who will produce unique custom-made pieces. You might provide something beyond the product itself, like the concierge service Vertu offers to owners of its Signature and VERTU Ti mobile phone models, with 24-hour worldwide assistance.
5. Reward your fans
The biggest concern for luxury brands is probably the fear of losing control, in particular in social media. Allowing a voice to the customer may seem dangerous to a brand that has traditionally remained aloof from the masses; but to ignore the two-way nature of social media is to ignore its very essence. In fact, your fans can be your biggest allies in defending you against detractors, and as such you should treat them well. Delight them with behind-the-scenes access, exclusive content, personal messages. It’s impossible to talk about luxury brands in digital without mentioning Burberry, who have found a way to boost their brand value via innovative partnerships with Apple and Google, opening up to customer involvement with initiatives like The Art of the Trench, and sharing handwritten thank you notes from Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey to celebrate reaching various fan milestones on Facebook. They have shown that it’s possible to build a luxury brand while engaging actively with customers online.