Luxury brand positioning primes businesses for an ultra-loyal, elite clientele base. Gain snappy, actionable insights on the WHYs & HOWs of luxury branding.
The term ‘Luxury Branding’ strikes the average business owner as yet another incarnation of marketing speak that begets a nonchalant response like “Ok. I get it, Branding for only high-end businesses.”
Now, while drawing this conclusion may seem quite the logical inference, it’s dangerously misleading as this school of thought immediately disqualifies up-and-coming (small & medium scale) brands from applying this strategy.
In the same token, If you’re making this assumption, then you’ve only got one thing spot-on — that what actually makes a brand ‘luxury’ is its branding/brand positioning (Hello, Luxury Branding!)
… And you don’t need to squint to see why.
Top brands (and even small businesses) can meaningfully transform seemingly ‘surplus to requirement’ items into highly coveted pieces among a select (exclusive) few. This then begs the question of how and ‘what makes a luxury brand really tick?’
In this post, we’ve stepped into the minds of the aspiring luxury brand owner and hived off a few of your luxury brand-centered curiosities
What makes a luxury brand ‘luxury’?
Some of the must-have qualities of a luxury brand are Symbolic Value, Exclusivity, Quality, High Price-point, and an elite target market you’re likely to want to rub shoulders with.
What is luxury brand marketing?
Luxury brand marketing strategy engages the full repertoire of brand elements, including rarity, status, prestige, social good (to appeal to consumer sentiment.)
How do luxury brands sell?
Through scarcity, symbolic value, and other elements, luxury brands stimulate a desire for customers (who’re not necessarily wealthy but aspiring to belong to an exclusive community of customers.)
What Defines a ‘Luxury Brand’? The Purpose Behind The Purchase
Luxury brands set out to maximize the highest possible brand value through a sleek, delicate, and intricately connected leveraging of different brand properties — The brand’s story/heritage, craft, and an exclusive clientele.
Ultimately, these brands take off with the help of a certain mystique, a je ne sais quoi, or a cult following — one powerfully alluring enough for them to feel a sense of belonging to an exclusive group. At the point of sale, luxury branding is also known to suspend the buyers’ logic, so they unguardedly embrace a blatant bias towards a special brand.
Image source: https://wedge.ismedia.jp/articles/-/21712
A useful case-in-point would be the viral sensation — Salt Bae. Whether it’s delivering steaks using drone technology or his sensational salt-sprinkling antics on gold-encrusted steaks for celebrity customers, Salt Bae leverages a unique, memorable customer experience, an essential core of his luxury brand positioning.
If you were ever in doubt, luxury branding is that game-changer that gets you a restaurant chain worth $1.5 billion off sprinkling salt on a steak.
What are the ‘Must-have’ Features of Luxury Brand
HNIs (High Networth Individuals and even the average customer) are looking for brands that offer MORE than tangible features or product-based value. They could get that from any other consumer goods in today’s increasingly saturated market.
This scarcely obvious market need informs their purchasing decisions. Luxury brands dig this. Hence, their strategy involves building their products/services on more than meets the eye. They create a brand image and ally themselves by subtly communicating this transcendent value through their brand messaging, design, and high-impact storytelling.
Recall that brands like Lamborghini do well to evoke a certain Playboy aura that is the ultimate cynosure of attraction. Brands like Balenciaga invoke a ‘fashionista’ optic with never-before-seen fashionable pieces any fashion aficionado will go gaga over.
Luxury brands are built on a marketing paradox: the less accessible your products or services are, the more desire from customers, which means more sales. While if they’re more accessible, the less the desire from customers, and lesser sales.
No one masterminds scarcity to a commercially rewarding effect quite like Luxury Brands with their tactful rationing of products or services through limited edition offers. Scarcity tactics set out to artificially heighten the desire and inflate perceived value. So when customers finally purchase, they feel part of a highly privileged, vetted elite group.
Audemars Piguet’s rollout of the limited-edition Audemars Royal Oak is reference-worthy. Audemars skillfully leverage scarcity to yield a robustly profitable marketing strategy.
It’s pretty much like how you feel every inch a member of the Cool Kids Club when you get the latest Apple iPhone on pre-order. Customers love it when they snap up services or products that are off the reach of every ragtag and bobtail.
And given the world of instant gratification that we live in today, it’s not an uncommon strategy to have customers doing the extra bit to have them before anyone does.
A scenario of exclusivity at play is Ferrari’s product — an extreme-performance vehicle dubbed the “Enzo Ferrari” (named after its founder.) Copping one of these ‘bad boys’ involves you following a strict application process at their head office in Maranello, Italy, after which you may then own one!
Image source: https://store.ferrari.com/
High Price Tags
It seems an absurdly counterintuitive strategy to rev up your price point to prohibitive levels. Yet, it assumes a presumption of prestige, superior performance, and an equally solid measure of bragging rights on purchase. Another instantly recognizable badge of Luxury branding comes in the mold of prestige pricing.
This strategy helps sift out not-so-luxury customers who’re looking for a bargain (they’re 100% not your target audience!) and avoid the over-exposure that comes with being a consumer brand.
Customers who can afford a Rolex Watch are more likely to prefer one over other watches because the hefty sum required to own one sets them apart distinctively.
Brand Identity & Positioning
Positioning yourself to attract loyalists without a nailed-on identity can get as tricky as turning a ship in the Suez Canal.
Brand identity often draws from values and a heritage that cements their mystique in the hearts of customers. The essence of luxury brands is often subtly communicated in their messaging and storytelling.
Some other notable characteristics are Heritage, Extra-ordinary Performance, Craftsmanship, Timelessness.
What is Modern Luxury in Today’s ‘Brandscape’?
The term ‘Luxury’ has no one-size-fits-all conceptualization. While luxury to a yacht owner stems from the functional value (superior performance) and perhaps an ability to showcase an aesthetic side, luxury to another yacht owner might be attached to the status symbol this yacht earns him among his peers or benefits his public image.
However, across these conceptual variations, we can easily nail luxury down to a few distinguishable markers. The most prominent of which is its high-end target market & price tag. (bonus points for sublime craftsmanship!)
Modern consumerism has reshaped the contours of luxury to take on a sentimental angle. The contemporary consumer will rather patronize luxury brands that align with their ‘socially aware’ sentiments. If anything, modern luxury is now every bit about your brand’s emotional appeal and the ability to create meaningful experiences as it is about the service or product itself.
Luxury is not your basic necessity. It’s high-end, albeit not overpriced due to the chock full of emotional/symbolic value it portends for customers. Luxury is often empowering, self-indulgent, and dorns the customer with a feel-good effect after purchase of the product/service.
Here at Stan Branding, we get this to a fine art. We roll the curtains on one of our experiences with a high-end Olive Oil company based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Out of whack, their branding had scarcely moved on from the traditional B2C efforts that left them in dire need of a refresh that’ll largely resonate with a more modern, upscale target audience.
They had previously splurged on a very popular branding agency here in the US (name withheld due to a non-disclosure we signed) who had finessed them off their budget. They delivered a rebranding exercise that was OK for the average audience, but when it came to the hard business of striking a luxurious front, it reminded us of when you dip your biscuit into tea for so long and it falls in. (Tried too hard, but flunked it — A scary, unpalatable sight.)
David (their CEO) had some experience working in some of the marketing departments of some of the finest multinationals in Europe. Then, he already had a solid grasp of what the ‘missing piece’ of the puzzle was. He just didn’t have the know-how to pull it off.
We involved both our design & marketing team to avoid any potential disconnects between our design and David’s marketing objectives. A few brainstorming sessions later, we came up with a design thinking-to-concept development blueprint for the project.
Our design team, comprising award-winning designers, and armed with the knowledge that ideation is 90% planning and 10% execution, delivered nothing short of a world-class project. The commercial angle to our process meant that the end-product never swayed away from its true essence. This in turn implied that David was always in the driving seat of his business outcomes!
At the pre-development stage, we sent him a design brief packed with powerful, humanified insight and action points that helped us realize his vision for the rebranding exercise.
From David’s words, our experience with him somewhat struck that ‘eureka’ chord where you literally feel the tumblers of your mind click into place and you say: ‘A-ha, we finally hired the best guys for the job!.’ We helped his organization whip up a new, approachable look evoking a very individualistic feel from its former brand identity.
P.S. His company got nominated for the Turkey Leading Brand Awards in the year 2021, setting him up for other laudable commercial milestones with the exposure & brand awareness our project got him. When it comes to value for David’s budget, it goes without saying that we delivered the only way we know how — over and above his expectation!
How Small Businesses Can Build Enduring Luxury Brands
The ever-dynamic landscape of today’s digital market means that even small brands can equally sink their teeth in and get a bottom line-boosting bite of the luxury pie, relying on an expertly executed luxury branding strategy.
Building a high-end commercial core requires throwing the rule book on marketing & sales out the window. Here, you’ll be targeting a niche customer base, using a different business model (Affiliate marketing, tempting discounts, and other customer-chasing extractions of marketing pass by!)
You want to create an artificial barrier to the access of your product/service that only your true, target audience can scale. This involves you actively pursuing the following steps:
Articulate your Symbolic Value
There needs to be something to hold onto for a well-off target market that justifies that quality of selectiveness. There has to be a pride that it exudes, a feeling of nobility stemming from a good cause, or a symbol of high status. And this is very often the key differentiator between the ‘big guns’ and the ‘minions’.
Consumer brands sell functionality. Luxury brands dig deeper, taking customers on a journey into the ‘value rabbit hole’ by skillfully engaging modern brand storytelling, invoking a commercial heritage, alluding to deeply held values, or commemorating crafts passed through generations.
If you’re a luxury brand, your strategy should revolve around selling ice to Eskimos. Rather, you want to create a brand position that paints you as that business that builds and sells them their ‘dream Igloo’. 🙂
Funnel down into a Niche Customer Base
The symbolic function that luxury items hold for their customers means that they cannot be for everyone, else they lose their wonder. If your product/service offering is for everyone, then you tout yourself to be just like any other business in the market.
Thusly, you compete with them. Luxury brands avoid competition as they define who their customers are. Not the other way round. Their customers hence follow their lead in recognition of their brand positioning and identity.
“We love a queue,” said absolutely no one. But If it’s worth jumping on a queue for, the chances are that it’s worth having. Sometimes, the juice is eventually worth the squeeze when the exclusive waitlist brews so much anticipation in customers’ minds.
Such is the power that lies in the strategy of scarcity. The primary logic behind exclusivity and scarcity for luxury brands derives from the economic principle that the lesser the supply of your products or services, the more demand, value, and the further desire of customers.
A case-in-point would be Louis Vuitton, with the highest number of customers on the waitlist for specific product/service. Typically, this waitlist gets full long before the launch date (sometimes, as long as over a year). On arrival, they’re twice as much in perceived value, uniqueness, and timelessness.
Image source: https://en.louisvuitton.com
There’re an anatomically correct handful of ways to implement this in your branding. You could make your product/service limited editions to whip up a sense of urgency. Ration it, creating a slim opportunity for purchase.
Supercharge Your Store/Customer Experience & Enhance Overall Quality
Customers are ever willing to put up with these artificial hurdles luxury brands mount on their way to snagging these luxury products because of their superior performance and overall quality.
From the packaging to your entire customer experience (take customizable features for loyal clients as an example) You also want to ensure they’re being pampered too! You will never see more anger like from a customer who sends word to customer service — ahem, “client executives” — for assistance after a splurge only for it to get intercepted by an AI bot and not a real human!
Heighten your Emotional Appeal:
Forget every web of logic you’ve spun when that Nigerian Prince mail dropped in your inbox — human beings are hard-wired to succumb to emotion. Luxury brands know this, and they leverage this connection with customers’ human side by selling either of two variants of emotions, namely:
— ‘Prevention’ emotion
This element convincingly conjures a ‘hero’ picture of the buyer reducing a risk, averting a negative outcome or discomfort. For instance, environmentally friendly/sustainable products sell the notion that the buyer saves the planet from the ugly incidence of a potential global warming crisis. (btw. It’s #BringBackOurChargers Apple!) : )
— ‘Promotion’ emotion
Here, the luxury brands are the customer’s biggest cheerleaders. You’re rooting for them by promoting a perception they have for their future selves. For instance, a feeling of status elevation (think owning a Rolls Royce. (Fun fact: Most Rolls Royce owners won’t even cruise around in them), pleasure, recognition that stems from supporting a noble cause. (For instance, owning a few essential pieces from a ‘zero cruelty, vegan leather’ brand cloaks you with a proud, positive feeling of moral responsibility.) They also help customers’ psychology build a self-narrative. (Owning a Birkin Bag is telling of your high fashion)
Visuals: Design & Aesthetic Appeal MUST Capture The Imagination
It’s a given. Aesthetics/visuals are one way to attract the poshest digital eyeballs to your brand. Quality visuals also incentivize your raving brand evangelists to spin a good yarn about your product/service anytime they pop up in a conversation.
Sophistication in your design strategy shouldn’t be for the sake of it. It must capture the essence of whatever ideal or symbolic value you sell. It should distinguish you in a way that coolly impresses your uniqueness and robust stature on your customers.
Your consistency across each touchpoint with your customer (again, visuals) must also reflect immaculate detail.
And it goes the same way for your products. They should reflect an aesthetic consideration that reflects oodles of timeless ancestral know-how and craftsmanship that even the pickiest connoisseur would find hard to rebuff. Why else do you think Ermenegildo Zegna owns a facility that manufactures the fabric for their made-to-measure suiting?
A few months ago we received a brief featuring a high-end whisky brand based in Manhattan, New York. An emerging brand looking to make an entry into an upscale-dominated market, they wanted an agency who could characterize their brand in a manner that would capture the imagination of an elite clientele base.
We approached this re-branding exercise from the very scratch, our storied approach maintained consistency throughout every touchpoint — from visuals right up to messaging while (of course!) resonating with their target audience.
Remember, customers won’t ever ask you to sell them a press release. They want to hear your story.(and tell their story we did!) We get that it’s increasingly tempting to let only visuals take centre-stage, all the five senses must be involved.
They must feel your symbolic presence as you articulate (and they hear) what you stand for/represent. Your target audience must also experience (see) your brand in a reputable light through stunning visuals that are emblematic of a luxury brand. We helped them tick all these boxes with our creative ninjas.
Four months ago, we got a ding from their CEO telling us how our branding was instrumental to the overwhelming success of their seed round funding exercise. Apparently, (we learnt this for the first time too!) investors inspect your branding/brand positioning as part of their due diligence before deciding if to run you their checks. (else they hold).
These are the sorta stories that send flushes of excitement down our succulent souls. We offer them the assurance of our professional regards, and best of luck moving forward! 🙂
What Kind Of Impact Did Covid-19 Have On Luxury Brands/The Luxury Industry?
Given the fall from grace of some of the swankiest commercial powerhouses and the global economy due to COVID-19 and strict lockdown measures, one would expect that the commercial prospects of luxury brands would drown in all the chaos. Not quite.
The stats show that luxury manufacturers can problem-solve and innovate to counteract the complexities of this era, ably meeting the soaring demand for luxury products and services.
To help matters, the pockets of luxury customers are getting deeper by the minute. When coupled with their ever-insatiable appetite for the next excellent purchase, you’d find that luxury brands are set for increasingly healthy revenue from all that brand loyalty and legit-ness they garner within their clientele base.
Luxury branding requires positioning your brand as a honeypot that sucks customers and aspiring members of your exclusive group in, not a megaphone that sells itself noisy. (Keyword: Attract, don’t chase!) 🙂
An award-winning design agency, we at Stan Branding make wholesale changes with top-tier strategy that tees your brand positioning up for that consumer-to-luxury transformation.
With due care, we also ensure that even while upscaling your brand, your new strategy still shares that umbilical cord with the soul of your brand identity. No more of pulling in price-haggling, lowballing customers.
Becoming a luxury brand means putting in the shift. No shortcuts. Your brand positioning must scream “VIP!” Your storytelling must compel an emotional connection from the most dispassionate member of the ‘customer jury.’ Your overall branding, which is that customer-facing confluence between your sales & marketing, must etch your timelessness, sophistication, and credibility into their consciousness.
… Only then will customers become more willing to eke out twice as much as the conventional market price or push the envelope on traditional ‘buyer’s sanity’ to snap up your products.
All-too-commonly, business owners who’ve gone on to make horrendous cock-ups of their design projects did so because:
a. They set their ability on ‘steroids’, placing ridiculous expectations on their in-house teams, fitting square pegs in round holes in a clear bid to cut costs. Invariably, they find that cutting corners to luxury branding is not the way to hack branding of any kind, let alone luxury branding.
b. They hired the wrong agency. If you’ve read up till this point, you’re highly unlikely to make this error (all things being equal)
Either way, getting luxury branding right could get quite tricky for project managers and business owners alike. So, we thought:
“why don’t we come up with a win-win situation where our clients’re 100% positive they’re hiring a team with enough skin in the game. An award-winning, branding agency who’s could whip up world-class, mesmeric, instantly immersive design services”
In support, we’re offering a exclusive offer for your company where our team of expert designers roll up their sleeves and dig deep to unpack that secret sauce that sweetly tosses your brand apart from the multitude!
We’re talking insanely in-depth market research, strategy sessions — the whole kit and caboodle of best-in-class branding service you could ever snag from any agency.
Why wait? If you’ve got any further questions on this, feel free to book a Zoom meeting with our CEO for a free pre-development of your project.