In luxury brand management, most industry players have realised that experiences are essential. But most of what we know about designing customer experiences originates from work developed with and for mass brands. Luxury brands are an entirely different proposition and require a very specific approach to brand management and marketing. Based on extensive research of the market in collaboration with Pernod Ricard, here are six things luxury brands need to focus on in order to design and market a true luxury experience.
Luxury brands should advocate beliefs to customers rather than simply rely on brand values. Beliefs go further; they’re more specific and, consequently, more segmenting. Unlike mass brands, luxury brands should not strive to please everyone, but those customers whose beliefs align with their own.
A good example of this is Ferrari’s belief in high performance. The brand rarely advertises in mass media, but it invests significant amounts in Formula 1 events. It focuses on actions related to its belief to reinforce this tenet in consumers’ minds. Another good example is Louis Vuitton’s belief in art. Among other collaborations, the fashion house linked up with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama to create a limited edition of products. In mass markets, brands distribute their investments across several efforts because they want to reach and please the broadest possible spectrum of customers. Instead, luxury brands’ investments are focused on the specific beliefs of the brand, creating a very focused experience to the right customers.
Be more than a logo
When consumers think of a true luxury brand, they’re likely to think of a whole set of visual icons, rather than one single logo. These can include monograms, brand symbols, logos, colours, patterns, images and even concepts. A good example of this is Bottega Veneta, whose leather goods display no visible symbols or logo, but are instead recognised by the weaved leather pattern of their products. Then there’s Chanel. Think of the brand and you’ll think of black and white, the number five, the camellias, pearls, or a little black dress. Luxury brands should actively choose their symbols and iconify them through constant repetition.
Involve the customer in a ritual
A true luxury brand cannot stop their offering at the product; they must go beyond that to offer unique services or rituals. This can start with something as simple as attentive sales people and prompt customer service, but it should really go beyond that to create a consumption “ritual” that allows customers to experience the brand.
Perfume brand Le Labo does this very well. Using the premise that the quality of perfume deteriorates over time, it revolutionised the consumer buying experience by offering a special personal experience: each Le Labo perfume is hand-blended and individually prepared in front of the customer at the moment of purchase. The glass decanter is then dated and the customer’s name is printed on the label. After taking the perfume home, the customer must let it marinate in the fridge for a week before using it. Through this ritual, buying Le Labo perfume becomes more than an exclusive product; it becomes a personal experience. Another good example is Porsche, which innovated the delivery process by allowing customers to pick up their new car right off the assembly line in Germany.
The store is a temple
Luxury brands must pay extra special attention to the way they sell and innovate at the point of purchase. Before, it was enough for luxury brands to use brick and mortar stores to sell their products, but they must now aim to design multifunctional, controlled spaces that create brand experiences and communicate brand beliefs. These types of stores function almost like a temple for discerning consumers.
An example of this is Prada, which embarked upon a unique project with Dutch research studio AMO and renowned architect Rem Koolhaas. The result of this collaboration was a wide-ranging project that included special “epicentres” – stores designed to provide a working laboratory for experimental shopping experiences. BMW World in Munich is another example of a temple-like showroom, where consumers can “experience” the brand rather than simply buy the product.
Pull customers into an exclusive circle
Mass brands define who their customers are and “push” products towards them. For luxury brands, the roles are reversed: consumers must be “pulled” towards the brand with the promise of belonging to an exclusive community. Many consumers may want access to this circle, but only a select few who truly share the brand beliefs can really belong.
To this end, luxury brands should create artificial barriers or initiation rituals to select which customers gain admittance. If a customer wants to buy a premium Apple product, all they have to do is pay the price. But Hermés customers must form a long-term and intimate bond with the brand if they want to be offered the opportunity to buy one of the manufacturer’s “it” bags. Rather than putting customers off, this behaviour creates a sense of belonging to a special circle. Customers stay loyal and are rewarded for it.
Communicate legends to establish a myth
Mass brands compare themselves with competitors and communicate their advantages over them, but true luxury brands should not do this. Rather, they should aim to communicate the legends associated with the brand to establish a myth. Rolls Royce achieves this by inviting a select few of their customers to manufacturing facilities to see and experience the company’s storied production process in person.
Myths should be conveyed indirectly and should be consistent in every point of delivery, including products, stores and marketing. Luxury brands often achieve this by inducing a degree of mystery or by making a connection with art to communicate myths in an elevated way. Chanel actively keeps the myths associated with its creator, Coco Chanel, alive and these myths feed the brand to this day.
Francine Espinoza Petersen is associate professor of marketing at the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT).
This is an edited extract of the ESMT Working Paper: Designing Luxury Experience, which first appeared in the European Business Review
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