“How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” – Seth Godin, Seth’s Blog
It is true that a radical shift has happened. The unprecedented growth of social media has changed the way people communicate and reach out to one another. The marketing world cannot remain unaffected by the changing trends and is evolving to successfully accommodate newer platforms in its eternal quest for attracting customers. The older platforms like direct marketing, print media and television while forming the staple means of advertising, are not adequate; there is a large, potential market online which cannot be ignored.
Luxury branding and social media – can the twain meet?
The luxury segment is placed in a unique position in this regard. Luxury has always implied exclusivity and this segment has been wary of treading the hitherto unchartered territory of using social media for luxury branding. Nor are the fears groundless. Luxury is inextricably linked with a certain ‘remoteness’, a carefully built and sustained image and reputation and a marketing strategy controlled completely by the brand. Social media upsets this carefully orchestrated scenario – where the netizens are all powerful. They comment, discuss and exercise their prerogative in liking or rejecting a product. No wonder then that luxury brands shy away from the vulnerability resulting from posting information on an open forum. Added to this is a perception that the social media is for the ‘masses’. This is not really true because there are a lot of wealthy people online using social media and a sizeable portion of luxury consumers are the young generation who are much more affluent today than they were ever before.
Importance of Using Social Media
In spite of these factors, not using the social media is not really an option. Statistics reveal some startling facts:
Households of $100,000 or more spend 23 hours on an average on the web-nine of them on Facebook.
Around 66 per cent of affluent internet users conduct online research before making a major purchase.
Nearly 80 per cent of consumers with an income of at least $240,000 have at least one social networking profile, usually Facebook.
Dave Saunders (President, Madison Main) sums it up neatly when he says, “You can’t tiptoe into social media. You have to jump into the pool. People have a natural fear of it. But the scary part is not being there. Your customer is already there.”
Therefore the importance of social media in luxury branding cannot be underestimated.
Some Top Players in the Game
Some of the top brands have already realised this and are using this tool effectively to promote their products:
Burberry’s legendary success with the use of social media resulted from their website, which became a visual database of sorts with customers uploading their stories and pictures (within the site customers can easily browse across Facebook or Twitter).
Gucci has over 5 million likes on their Facebook page where it shares news about upcoming products and shows. Though not all of them can afford the product, they do have knowledge of its existence and aspire to make that ‘dream buy’.
Gilt Groupe has a member’s only shopping website with ‘flash sales’, selling high end labels and luxury travel packages. After just two years of its inception, Gilt has posted revenues of over US$170 million.
Chanel commissioned director Martin Scorcese to create a Bleu de Chanel YouTube video.
Mercedes Benz’s GenerationBenz.com, is an invite only social network for Gen Y, where customers can give feedback and the company gets valuable insight into their younger customers’ minds.
Tiffany & Co’s Facebook page promotes the brand’s exclusive image and it is backed up by an elegant online store. Various strategies from featuring celebrity customers on the site to using high-quality free iPhone app to browse and purchase rings, keep the elite image of the brand untarnished.
BMW TV, created by BMW has its own YouTube page and microsite. The exclusive image of the brand has been extended to the page and microsite as well. Using the social media has allowed both existing users and potential buyers to know more about the product.
Using Social Media Successfully
For successful use of social media so that the luxury brand retains its image and control, the following principles should be kept in mind:
Control the platform: Remember that Facebook and Twitter are all-inclusive; so decide if it is the right strategy for your luxury product to use these platforms.
Control access: It is wiser to use platforms where access can be controlled. It is a good idea to allow only people with the right credentials to access the site and this can be done by creating entry guidelines or making the site ‘invitation only’.
Control the quality of participation: The level of participation also needs to be monitored at times. It is advisable to study which kind of customer participation will be meaningful in marketing or selling the product better and then ensure right participation by the right people.
Control visibility: Discretion is a good policy where luxury brands are involved, and this must be maintained online as well. All social media activities and moments need not be visible online to everyone necessarily, especially when it would dissuade core customers from participating.
Manage risk: It is very important that luxury brands have a clear risk mitigation strategy, especially in light of the value of the products. This involves preparing for all kinds of eventualities, closely listening to all commentary and conversation attached to the activity, and ensuring that employees are briefed and have the tools, internally, to react efficiently and mitigate any possible risk.
According to the latest L2 Digital IQ Index, luxury brands with successful social media usage registered a 52 per cent growth in traffic as compared to 8 per cent for those that did not. So the use of social media and luxury brands is not incompatible provided certain safeguards are in place to ensure that this wonderful platform is utilised optimally, such that it adds value to the image of the luxury product.