THE IMPORTANCE OF LUXURY BRANDING
Marketing a luxury brand is not easy. You’re targeting a very specific audience, asking them to make a significant investment into something that might not be a necessity. That means you cannot simply focus on product features. You have to dig deeper.
For any items that can be classified as luxury, branding tends to be a key to success. A strategy that has gained rapid popularity in recent years, branding describes the process of distinguishing your product in the marketplace and shaping the perceptions of your target audience.
That process isn’t always easy. Break it down, though, and it becomes much more attainable.
Once you understand what exactly it means to build your luxury brand, you can leverage these seven steps to enhance your luxury branding and maximize your long-term marketing and business success.
UNDERSTANDING THE LUXURY MARKET
Why do people buy luxury goods? You probably know the answer intuitively. It’s not because they absolutely need a sports car or high-end fashion accessory. Instead, experts have identified three reasons why your audience may spend their money on what you have to offer:
- 1. The Irrational Consumer. Consumers often act not on their needs, but on their wants. They like spending money on what makes them happy in a given moment. That’s why Apple, despite equal technology from competitors, runs away with the most popular smartphone every year.
- 2. Self Esteem. In some ways, luxury goods can act as therapy. They make us feel better about ourselves, especially when we feel down on ourselves. The larger and more expensive the item, the bigger the impact on self esteem. There’s a reason Porsche and midlife crisis are often synonymous.
- 3. Authenticity. We tend to be willing to pay more for items we perceive to be more authentic. Price, in that way, acts as a sort of quality check. We know that the fake Prada purse on sold on the street doesn’t hold a candle against the real deal in the nearest boutique.
All three of these reasons suggest the true importance of luxury branding. Buying a luxury product or service is as much (if not more) about psychology as it is about the rational part of our minds.
An effective branding strategy and execution can help you tap into that psychology in a way that effectively positions your goods and convinces your audience.
That can be complex. Companies in this industry spend years building and refining their brands. Ferrari’s reputation was built over decades. The best way to approach it is to break it down into its various components.
These are your 7 steps for strong and sustainable luxury branding.
- 1. Find Your Unique Niche
- 2. Understand Current Audience Perceptions
- 3. Start Shaping Your Narrative Through Storytelling
- 4. Emphasize Your Product’s Symbolic Value
- 5. Build On Your Audience’s Sense of Exclusivity
- 6. Promise Much, Deliver More
- 7. Amplify Your Message Over Time
1. FIND YOUR UNIQUE NICHE
It starts with a simple question: what do you offer that is unique and different even from your closest competition? Many companies use a two-dimensional perceptual map to help answer that question. They find the two characteristics more important to their product category, and ‘rank’ their competition based on these characteristics.
The key to that exercise is finding a niche none of your competitors truly occupies. It’s an exercise that is absolutely essential for your long-term success. You need to be selective about your audience, and it doesn’t hurt to lose a customer who might not fit that niche if that means gaining one that will stick with you for a long time to come.
If you’re struggling with this first step, consider the difference between Ferrari and Lamborghini. Technically, both are very close. They fall in the same cost range, and attract the same general customer base. And yet, they’re different in some subtle and mainly psychological ways. The deep roar of a Ferrari appeals more to some, while the sleek exterior and spider doors of a Lamborghini will truly convince others.
Repeat that exercise with almost every luxury brand, and you’ll find the same results. They’ve found some way in which they’re truly unique, and hone in on it.
Your first step should be finding your unique niche. Don’t think you have to get it perfectly yet. That’s what the second step is for.
2. UNDERSTAND CURRENT AUDIENCE PERCEPTIONS
The first step is largely internal, based on your own perception of your luxury product or service, the market, and the direct competition. Now, it’s time to test your hypothesis.
Take the question to your audience. Run a survey on how they feel about your product or service, what they like about it, and where they think it falls in comparison to your competition. You can even use the same two criteria you used on the perceptual map above as a comparison point. The more comprehensive you are here, the better.
This type of audience research gives you a perfect understanding of the perceptions of potential customers. Remember that ultimately, the goal of luxury branding is shaping these perceptions. Thus, this step can help you set the baseline you need to build on promising insights and continue monitoring your efforts to change or improve them.
A survey is a great start. Some secondary, already existing research on your audience doesn’t hurt. The best way to truly understand their feelings, though, is through interviews and focus groups. That way, you get into the actual branding process armed with all the information you need.
You may also consider social listening to put your current and prospective clients at the center of your efforts.
Monitoring and tracking social trends, as well as customer complaints and preferences, can help you gain a better understanding of what your audience expects from your brand.
3. START SHAPING YOUR NARRATIVE THROUGH STORYTELLING
Storytelling is an essential part of luxury branding. It’s how you communicate your value in a way that your audience actually pays attention. You cannot just come up with some social media ads or website copy and hope that your audience responds to it. Instead, you have to build a more complete, coherent, and convincing narrative.
The science of storytelling is clear:
- • 92% of consumers want brands to share ads that feel like a story.
- • Messages delivered as stories are up to 22 times more memorable than simple facts.
- • Storytelling engages neural coupling, a speaker-listener interaction that creates a common sense of understanding.
The best brands tell that story, consistently and convincingly. Based on their unique niche and differentiator, they go deep into their founding, along with other associations they want to make.
Telling your story will most likely include and even be based on visuals, which are crucial to getting the message across. They’ll also need to be built on a unique narrative. In fact, it makes sense to start the process with an overall brand narrative that, even though it probably won’t be shared with your audience word for word, will be the thread that binds your messages together.
4. EMPHASIZE YOUR PRODUCT’S SYMBOLIC VALUE
Forget about the actual, tangible benefits of your product for a second. Sure, they’re important. But, as we established above, they’re probably not the reason your audience actually wants to buy from you. That reason tends to be much more subtle.
Much of it comes down to symbolic value.
This is the part that connects directly to your audience’s self esteem. Understand your brand’s current symbolic value, which goes beyond tangibles and into feelings. Then, devise a strategy designed to enhance the specific symbolic attributes that make your brand stand apart.
For Ferrari, that’s having the most powerful vehicle in the world. Rolex aims to communicate a sense of luxury. Tiffany, as mentioned above, gets into the romantic aspects of jewelry. It’s not about the tangible quality of the product or its uses. It’s about the intangible benefits, the emotions attached to your brand when your audience buys it.
Many luxury goods tap into celebrity endorsers of a certain standard to get to that point. It can be much more subtle than that. The type of music you choose, the images in your ads, and how much you elevate the language can all influence the feelings of your audience when looking at your messaging, which will translate to your product.
5. BUILD ON YOUR AUDIENCE’S SENSE OF EXCLUSIVITY
Not everyone can be privy to buying a luxury product or service. That alone gives you a crucial advantage, and it’s one your brand should take advantage of. Among your main goals should be building on the fact that when your customers look for a product like yours, they want to feel exclusive and special.
You can build on that. Perceptions of value are often intrinsically tied to perceptions of exclusivity. Some brands even go so far as to artificially lower the availability of their products. On the other end of the spectrum, brands who lower costs to gain more customers tend to achieve the opposite effect. The desire for exclusive products is already there; you just have to tap into it.
Influencer marketing is a popular way for luxury companies to achieve that goal. Choose the right partners, and that feeling of limited availability and joining an exclusive club is almost natural. Other tactics include lower inventory, and again, the voice and tone of your actual ads.
Even while emphasizing exclusivity, don’t underestimate your audience’s desire to belong. Your customers should feel like an exclusive community, but a community nonetheless. Walk that tightrope, and you’re well on your way to building a successfully luxury brand platform.
6. PROMISE MUCH, DELIVER MORE
The world of marketing is full of cautionary tales about the dangers of promising too much. Once you set expectations high, it’s difficult to reach them. If you don’t, the consequences can be devastating.
That’s why especially convenience goods tend to set their promises relatively low. Brands in your category don’t have that luxury. High promises are an essential part of the core messaging strategy. The key to success is not promising less, but delivering more.
That sounds abstract at first, so let’s break it down a bit further. Your brand narrative makes a brand promise, which is likely built on exclusivity and self-esteem. When your audience gets and first uses your product or service, can you deliver on that promise?
The answer has to be a resounding yes. End-to-end customer service ensures that your customers always feel special. Exclusive offers, and perhaps even events, allow them to feel like they’re part of that special community.
And of course, the quality of the actual product has to be flawless to live up to your promises.
7. AMPLIFY YOUR MESSAGE OVER TIME
Finally, your luxury branding process has to include one crucial element: time. You cannot spend a few weeks or even months telling your brand story, only to stop and go back to regular sales-based advertising. Instead, you have to stay consistent, turning your brand into the core identity of your business and brand for the foreseeable future.
Message amplification includes a multi-channel approach in which you adjust your messaging in a way that complements each other.
Another way to amplify your message is making sure you’re not the only one talking about it. We already mentioned influencers above, and they are a crucial opportunity to spread the word about your brand without losing focus.
Find the right influencers and start working with them to get the word out. Your brand and niche will decide whether you should tap into YouTube makeup gurus, Instagram models, or Hollywood actors.
No matter which direction you take, allow them to infuse their own flair, but make sure to stay on brand and on track with your brand narrative.
ARE YOU READY TO START THE PROCESS OF LUXURY BRANDING?
Luxury branding is a must. There are few shortcuts, and definitely no ways around it. If you want your audience to pay attention to your brand and leverage it, you have to embrace the concepts of positioning, storytelling, and exclusivity.
It can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. Break the process down into individual steps, and it becomes much more attainable. If you’re ready to start the process of branding your luxury product or service, take one step after the other. Before you know it, you’re a well-known name in the industry that your customers love to buy.
By: Frank DePino
Frank DePino is Principal and Founder of Mediaboom. Since 2002, Frank has led Mediaboom’s award-winning staff of creative and technical professionals building the most effective marketing and advertising solutions for its clients.