As a branding agency specializing in the Luxury sector, we often get asked: “What does Luxury mean today?” and “How do luxury brands today differ from heritage luxury brands?”.
What we have observed with our clients over the recent past (both start-ups and successful businesses needing rebranding) is that traditional luxury branding models are wearing thin (mostly) and are losing efficacy in today’s marketplace. Why? The luxury audience has evolved and the definition for what is considered luxury has evolved with them. No longer is the luxury consumer driven by consumption alone and this outdated buying habit has even become distasteful in the eyes the “enlightened”.
We are in the middle of yet another economic and branding evolutionary shift: moving from an Experience Economy (where customers seek out and prefer enjoyable experiences over products) and entering a Transformational Economy (where experiences are elevated from mere enjoyment towards a preference for personal transformation). In this new economy, the consumer becomes the expert and authority – they are their own agents of change – their own brand that’s in a constant state of becoming. Luxury brands who want to maintain relevancy in this arena of transformation should consider exactly how their products and services can become vehicles for supporting their customers personal brand and enable individual and collective change.
The continued rise and pervasiveness of brand marketing concepts like Sustainability, Flexibility, Responsibility, Transparency, Integrity and Authenticity have become the elevated standards in many industries, including Luxury. Through a wide variety of tactics and applications, New Luxury employs these “elevated” concepts to help become part of a upgraded brand landscape. Targeted and helpful programing and activations, uncovering strategic alliances and sponsorships, producing new forms of educational experiences and developing innovative product technologies are all employed as effective means in illustrating credibility with consumers today.
Over the past few years, we have identified 6 specific strategies for Luxury business wishing to connect with an evolved consumer. Not all of these directions can be or should be adapted for every brand, but there are at least a few (for any business) that could be looked in an effort to participate in the New Luxury landscape.
#1 COLLECTIVE / SHARED
Definition: A group that shares in a brand experience, product or service and the bonding that comes from the collective interaction before, during or after being shared.
Brand Value: Belonging
Being part of something larger then yourself and participating in a movement or collective effort is a powerful motivator for brand adoption. SOULCYCLE has done a great job on evolving a long standing fitness activity (spinning) and transforming a standard membership into becoming part of a tribe of like-minded participants and sharing in the same collective experience together. Gucci has a nod towards this strategy in their recent campaign that recalls 1960’s counter-culture visuals, product development and copy which has reflects a distinct anti-establishment resonance.
#2 ACCESS / DEMOCRATIZATION
Definition: Making a product or service more widely available – making your brand more accessible and obtainable for more people.
Brand Value: Connectivity
This strategy seems to be in direct opposition to the Luxury mentality – if you create products that are widely available to everyone, can you be considered a Luxury brand any longer? A great example of a thoughtful implementation that increases a brand value of connectivity at the same time as protecting a brand’s luxury credibility comes from the Hermès / Apple collaboration. By introducing the Hermes brand to a new generation of potential brand advocates (at a much lower price point), both brands benefited by the association and alignment.
#3 ETHICAL / TRANSPARENCY
Definition: Being honest and forthcoming about how products and services are made, where materials and manufacturing comes from and adopting ethical and sustainable business practices though the entire brand supply chain.
Brand Value: Authenticity
One of the “oldest” and most established strategies for connecting with aware consumers is the area of ethical transparency and sustainability. There are many ways Luxury brands can be authentic with customers and improve the “feel-good” aspect of the purchasing process. DeBeers “Forever Mark” program has been wildly successful in addressing the ethical issues inside the diamond businesses problems with African sourcing and human rights issues.
Definition: Making your products or services available faster and more readily than usual – allowing customers to come and go as they wish and letting them drive brand adoption to meet their lifestyle choices.
Brand Value: Freedom
There has been a growing cultural shit away from ownership and towards on-demand use has been one of the largest global transformations (Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, etc.) in the past decade – adopted by mass and luxury brands alike. This approach is not easy to implement for many businesses that already have a fixed product offering but start-ups have been building their business offering around this strategy with great success like private aviation brand JetSmarter which makes luxury transportation fluid and provides the ultimate travel freedom.
Definition: Helping to facilitate customers self-improvement goals: physically, mentally, spiritually or professionally.
Brand Value: Fulfillment
The self-improvement market has been on a steady climb for decades but the Luxury industry has recently become aware of how to leverage this trend within product and service offerings. Seabourn cruses have been offering some of the most luxurious experiences in the travel sector – but has started to add more wellness programing to their with their trips with their Wellness Cruises – entire journeys dedicated to personal fulfillment and self-actualization.
Definition: Allowing for customers to customize or personalize a product or service and add their own “mark” of individuality and identity to the finished product or experience.
Brand Value: Recognition
Not a new strategy for luxury brands but one that has been increasing in popularity over the past few years is this ability for consumers to place their own “ mark” onto an existing luxury product. Not only does this strategy add additional engagement streams and touchpoints but it places the customer at the center of the brand experience and raises the level of personal recognition to a visibility rarely seen in the luxury market. Louis Vuitton’s Mon Monogram program is a good example of how this is done well and for them, very much on brand.
The O Group is helping both luxury start-ups and well established brands add, adjust or evolve their brand strategies and marketing creative assets – allowing them to maintain and realize their relevancy for a new luxury consumer.
Our motto, Rethink Luxury, has been at the core of our branding practice for the past thirty years and we are excited about helping our clients navigate this latest evolution of the industry.