Ever since the beginning of civilization, luxury goods and services have played an important role in various societies as dividers of social classes. Synonyms for wealth, luxury goods have always been welcomed by European kings, Chinese emperors, aristocrats and even ruthless dictators. With the industrial revolution in the 18th century, artists and craftsmen were slowly being replaced by mass production machines which further made possible the creation of Louis Vuitton, the oldest fashion brand in the world.
The 20th century expanded the idea of luxury goods even further as brands opened their doors to customers across the entire world. Branded stores, combined with branded premium goods, made luxury products available for the middle class to enjoy as demand increased and standards of living improved. Brands such as Hermes, Chanel, Dior, Armani, Cartier and Versace were constantly in the spotlight towards the end of the century primarily due to numerous celebrity-endorsed promotions at glamorous and heavily-mediatized events. This period was also marked by the consolidation of capital and strengthening of investor ties, during which luxury brands began employing new strategies for diversifying their products towards mass-consumption.
With all this in mind, a clear trend is unveiled: Luxury goods and services are becoming more and more present in our lives. But how can luxury brands exist in a digital ecosystem, where (in an ironic contrast) many goods and services are often available for free?
According to a 2012 study in Marketing Review St. Gallen, managers of luxury brands are still reluctant to accept new and innovative online strategies mostly because the Internet is, by nature, a democratic medium that allows access to anyone regardless of their social status. Another problem luxury brands may encounter online is their eternal fight with counterfeit goods as the Internet is usually associated with cheap imitations; such brands usually prefer the classic in-store experience where touching and feeling justifies the customer’s money invested.
The study goes on to explain that the refusal of luxury brands to adopt new technologies and follow digital trends may cause them to crumble because they will end up missing out on an expansive auditorium (approximately a billion people worldwide). In order for luxury brands to create rich online and offline experiences, they must propel their integration into the digital community and establish themselves as authentic providers of goods. This way, they can achieve and preserve their customers’ multisensory brand experiences.
Luxury brands shouldn’t strive to keep solely their online pulse running. Instead, they should focus on telling stories and building emotional engagement in a way such that they are noticed and remembered. A great example of an impressive video is ‘L’Odyssée de Cartier’, created by Publicis and Marcel. The mind-boggling animations, vivid story and authentic setting for the brilliant story justified Cartier’s rich history and exquisite attention to details in less than four minutes. The brand succeeded at being honest with its intentions and viewers rewarded this honesty with positive impressions.
A recent Forbes article explained – perhaps best – what luxury brands should pay attention to when catering to their digital presences. From impeccable designs with clean interfaces and beautiful product photographs to thought-out user experiences that seamlessly engage consumers, brands must build brand loyalty and affinity while simultaneously providing a smooth transition between online and offline.
Approximately 69% of deluxe brands have embraced social media (according to L2’s Digital IQ Index) and reoriented their strategies towards likes and views. While the future may look bright for a majority of them, the remaining 31% are in danger of dropping off the grid. The main argument for this minority stems from the common misconception that these brands necessitate aspirational customers and not casual likers. This is where a paradox appears: How can brands even acquire customers when nobody is aware of their or their goods’ existence? Traditional media just doesn’t cut it anymore.
If luxury brands refuse to be a part of the digital mechanism for reasons of desirability and exclusivity, then they run the risk of missing opportunities. If they overdo it with digital, then they risk losing that shine which made them special in the first place. This is the fine line walked by creatives and brand managers as they maintain the balance which allows consumers to feel the brand’s exclusivity, yet makes the luxury goods feel personal and attainable, as well.
After all, digital is just a game. It is a game whose rules luxury brands are figuring out – a game that becomes more interesting year after year.