The DNA of LUXURY Branding: Desired by many, owned by few

“ . . . doesn’t  mean targeting only the narrow customer base that can afford the brand; it should attract brand aficionados that will never afford it but are very passionate about it.”

 By Justine P. Castellon

This year, acquiring luxury brands for brand management and consultancy led my firm and my associates to many realizations.  First, local distributors are very conscious of their marketing spending and relying on their belief that luxury brands can stand on their own. Since brand image has already established by the principal or through their regional brand managers, their main thing is simply offering the products to those who can afford it. To identify and understand the mindset of the Filipino luxury consumer, we worked on series of exercises to make sure that we cover the best interplay between the 3 most important factors for a luxury brand: (1) the product brand (the creation and its creator), (2) the corporate brand (reputation of the distributor/provider),  and (3) the price-value relationship of the luxury brand.

Successful luxury brand marketing demands substantially different considerations. Here’s a closer look at each of them and why they’re important.

LuxDNAimage2What is a luxury brand?
It is anything that is desirable and which exceeds necessity and ordinariness. These are valued possessions of the selected few – making luxury branding in a whole new ball-game altogether, both from the perspective of the marketer as well as the luxury consumers. Therefore it becomes important to view it both in relation and isolation from the ‘regular’ goods marketing.

Luxury, as a concept is very subjective. What is luxury for one person could be just common for the other. For some it could have been “something that you don’t need at all but is so exceptional that you must indulge in it”.  Others find luxury as “a necessity that only few can indulge in”. The latter statement gives a better meaning to the word “exclusive”, which is essential in marketing luxury brands.

Being exclusive, however, does not mean targeting only the narrow customer base that can afford the brand. It should attract brand aficionados that will never afford it, but are very passionate about it. Exclusivity requires instant recognition for the luxury brand to make it widely known. Its logo acts as a symbol that establishes social hierarchy and represents the owner’s taste in the eyes of average consumer.

Brand Me Affluent!
What gives birth to luxury?   The legacy and history behind the brand gives the brand a unique culture that is reflected in all its activities. Apart from desirability and exclusivity, luxury is often been associated with the core competences of creativity, craftsmanship, precision, high quality, innovation and premium pricing. These attributes give the consumers the satisfaction of not only owning expensive items but the extra-added psychological benefits like esteem, prestige and a sense of a high status that reminds them and others that they belong to an exclusive group of only a select few, who can afford these expensive items.

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When you market luxury brands, you sell more than the functional product itself. No one buys a Louis Vuitton bag for PhP200,000 (approximately US$5,000), simply because they want a bag. Similar to luxury watches, customers spend tens of thousands of U.S. dollars for items they don’t need because their smartphones tell the time – besides, a one-dollar watch can do an equally good job. Hence, beyond the function there is something else, and it is clearly the badge that screams “brand me affluent!”. And that can only be made possible when everything around that badge or symbol communicates nothing but luxury including the store image (and its visual merchandising), and the brand handlers (and the people associated with the brands).

LuxDNAimage4Great Brands Don’t Come Cheap!
This section is critical and one of my challenges with the retail sales operation head with belief that luxury brand customers are looking for cost reduction. Creating value is the mantra in luxury marketing – not cost reduction. It must come from added value. Put the entire company in creating value process: luxury value creation does not rely only on the talent of the brand creator, but on the entire process of brandling including the distributors or service providers.

Brand image is important, therefore hire brand handlers that can represent the brands.  Someone who’s comfortable wearing and discussing them, and effectively convincing customers to buy them.  Hire the best because you’re selling the best brands.  There should never be an argument on that.  When you hire the best sales personnel, he can sell the product without resorting to price reduction or extending discounts. Luxury brands provide the extra features that explain the price premium to be paid for it. Always remember that in the luxury world, the higher the price tag, the more exclusive and valued the brand becomes.

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I Got the World at My Fingertips, FIRST!

LuxDNAimage6Separately, in branding affluent customers, luxury marketers have to be faster than their competitors in reaching out to the them.  The “I’ve Got It!” desire can only be achieved if a consumer has access to the luxury brand before anyone else. If someone else gains access to that luxury item, then it becomes a “me-too” brand. Offering a pricey limited edition pave way to exclusivity brand perception.  Japanese watch brand Citizen tackled mass marketing for a long time. It was considered the cheapest among watch brands even in a third world countries like Philippines — until they offered the ECO-DRIVE branding extension.  Initially, the market couldnt grasp the concept of innovation and technology in justifying the abrupt price hike. Thenceforth, they offered the limited edition ECO-DRIVE Satellite series that was made accessible to a very few customers such as Philippine President Benigno Aquino Jr.  Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite is hardly considered a luxury brand – however – the concept of limited edition gives the brand a new face value.

Clearly, it is the distinctiveness, which the brand confers upon the owner that made the real attraction. The traditional marketing paradigm treats this as minor influencer. But to luxury brands, distinctiveness is far too dear to be viewed so casually. It has forever been a linchpin in luxury brand success and always been a link to ‘something special’. A link to a story, or a founder, or a creator or a time, that is something a little bit special. When one buys a Cartier timepiece, there is a strong line of story, going all the way back to the incredible moment of watchmaking and the rare jewelry-making techniques of Cartier. There is something, which has “specialness” to it, and customers want to be a part of that.

LuxDNAimage7If You Think I’m Demanding, Next!
In the concept of country club membership, each member of the selective club benefits from royal services. A highly personalized service is a key ingredient that makes the member special and contributes to the indulgent pleasure of joining expensive membership.

In contrast to the regular brands where the market segment size increases substantially, (because products move towards standardization and service levels become low to achieve economies of scale), luxury marketing demands highly personalized services regardless of economic situation. Lux marketers in their constant effort to offer new luxury goods to the consumer will need to make sure that each and every single consumer has to be treated with a high-level of personalized attention. Remember, even minor a shortfall will have the consumer shift their brand preferences to those who can satisfy their needs better.

Getting The Right Pedigree
111129_tiffanyA luxury brand never speaks about the end-benefit, rather it glorifies the origin or creator, craftsmanship and the consumption rituals. Most luxury brands have a rich pedigree and extraordinary history attached to the brand’s magic. This is commonly created around the exceptional legendary founder or creator, thus, making up an integral part of the brand story and brand personality. So, when consumers buy a Cartier or a Tiffany, it is not only because of the product performance factor, but the mark craftsmanship from every of creator. Subconsciously they are influenced by the brand’s rich lineage, heritage and the years of mastery.

Luxury brands such as Tiffany, Chanel, Hermès, Prada, Volvo, Cartier and Louis Vuitton represent the highest form of craftsmanship and command a faithful loyalty that can pull their consumers with them wherever they go regardless of the price.

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What these luxury brands do is tick the key boxes of craftsmanship, heritage, history, image, extraordinary service – and meet the expectation of being seen as a good investment, with the trend towards classic pieces rather than high fashion.

In the luxury business, no marketer can afford the luxury of treating its consumers as a loosely bunched segment. Marketing a luxury brand is not only about setting a price that makes it beyond the reach of most people. In-depth understanding of the luxury concept in order to create the social distinction, that the brand has to be known and appreciated by everybody, and owned only by very few.

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