Lately there has been quite a bit of discussion around luxury brands and how they must adapt and innovate in this challenging economy by embracing the new media landscape. Up until now, luxury brands and their relationship with consumers has been built solely around highly controlled communication and interaction through the store, PR and advertising efforts. But today with the high end market sector facing an economic downturn, evolving luxury consumer landscape, and suffering traditional media outlets, luxury brands must embrace social media as a new way to reach consumers or risk continued falling sales.
The reality is in this economic climate, obsessing over “living the life of luxury” is becoming less and less relevant to people’s lives and there are fewer people willing to use credit to pretend they can afford it. And for those that can actually afford it, they’re also feeling the effects of the economic downturn, at least enough for them to question some of their unnecessary purchase decisions. Luxury and high end brands are being forced to come up with new strategies that make both the upper and middle class desire their exclusive and elite offerings.
This is combined with the fact that there are more and more affluent, active internet users than ever and their shopping habits are changing because of the internet. Welcome to the digital shopping revolution where high end shoppers have shifted online out of convenience and are looking to digital channels to shape how they are inspired by brands. Nowadays, you don’t have to buy a magazine or tune into a trendy TV show to find out what is new and hot right now. People can go straight to the internet to get information on the latest in trends, style, technology, and fashion, and they can share their opinions and taste with their online network. Brands have to change their consumer approach by reinventing the shopping experience and their relationship with consumers through innovative uses of technology, communication, and entertainment.
Even with the state of the current economy, changes in consumer purchasing behavior and the fall of traditional media, luxury brands have been hesitant and slow to embrace social media. A large concern is that the internet is for the masses, and therefore participating in social media opens up the brand to everyone. How can a high end brand guard its exclusive brand image and identity, which they have worked so hard to create, while also opening up the brand to consumers online. Luxury brands need to remain highly relevant and desired to their target audiences but, in today’s media and economic landscape, this can no longer be achieved by solely approaching these challenges the traditional way.
While the concern of being able to protect your exclusive brand image in the Wild West of social media is understandable, luxury brands can successfully maintain – and in fact strengthen – their image and reputation through participating in online dialogue. Social media platforms give brands the opportunity to be a leader of discussion about their products online, allowing them to shape their image, tell their brand story, convey what they represent, clarify misconceptions, and respond to negative chatter. Placing a brand in the middle of two-way communication with their consumers, builds meaningful relationships that foster loyalty and promote advocacy. Uplift the voice of consumers, not just your own.
Beyond participating in conversation, brands have the unique ability to create exclusive experiences for their fans and loyal consumers. Investing in campaigns that harness innovative platforms, applications, and partnerships creates real value to the end user and fosters a mutually beneficial relationship with brands. The key is to draw fans into a deeper experience with your brand and a community that matches their current or aspired lifestyle and embraces long-term brand related social identities.
The fact of the matter is, luxury brands offer products that generate hardcore fans and consumers that identify themselves with the brands they buy. The consumers that shell out money to own an exclusive product often connect their own personal identity with that item and what it represents. It becomes something that defines them and they are proud to publicly share with their friends, fans and followers. The key is to use social media to reinforce that emotional attachment to the brand.
Engaging with fans and consumers online is a significant investment in both time and resource for a brand, especially one of a luxury nature who must carefully articulate and maintain their brand equity, and therefore it’s important that the anticipated payout is as equally significant. A brand that puts forth effort to connect with people online, establish authentic consumer-brand relationships, and launch platforms that entertain consumers, can expect to see returns in the form of boosted daily brand mentions, positive brand sentiment, increased website traffic, heightened brand-based consumer loyalty, rise in retail traffic, and an increase in consumer awareness of, and interaction with, in-store promotions, sales and events. When done strategically and thoughtfully, brands can reinforce purchase drivers and make their brand identity and products a highly sought after, desired indulgence that feels exclusive as well as perceived as an online status symbol.
Often overlooked, and even feared, is the ability to get real-time feedback from consumers that can be used to gain insight and research into consumer sentiment. Don’t fear consumers – trust them and respect their views and opinions. If a brand’s target consumer views a new product or in-store experience differently than the brand was expecting or hoping for, they can learn and adapt to better market and engage them in the future. Similarly beneficial to the brand is the opportunity to provide instant customer-relation support, through availability and responsiveness within online social communities, in a way that seamlessly extends the customer’s brand experience beyond the initial purchase. Think about it, a truly elite and exclusive luxury brand experience is when a brand is constantly and consistently available to you, pays close attention to your concerns, addresses your needs quickly, and provides you with convenient solutions without hesitation.
Luxury is defined by quality, an aspired lifestyle, and a reputation for perfected products and services. Translating the quality, lifestyle, and reputation of a luxury brand to the online social space can further cultivate and extend the brand’s identity and capture the close attention of new and existing fans and followers. Luxury brands can make potential and existing customers their very own taste-makers, taught and trained by their articulated brand beliefs and elevated to help shape the future evolution of the brand through two-way, mutually beneficial conversations.
Which luxury and high end brands do you engage with online? I've provided a few examples below but would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Who do you think is doing it right?
- Mercedes Benz, Generation Benz: An invite only branded social network where consumers can give feedback on vehicles.
- American Express, Open Forum: An online resource and networking site for business owners designed to forge meaningful business connections between its influential members.
- Diesel, The Heidies: A 5 day Diesel.com homepage takeover, where two girls who locked themselves in a hotel room and live-streamed their shenanigans 24hours a day. Viewers could chat and change the camera angles.
- Coach, Design a Coach Tote: A contest where participants designed, shared and rated consumer created Coach bag designs. The winning tote sold as a limited edition item.
- MAC Cosmetics, Makeup Artists on Twitter: During Fashion Week in NYC, MAC makeup artists were tweeting from backstage and engaging the community in dialogue around the latest in beauty trends.