Five Ways Luxury Brands Can Overcome the Conundrum of Social Marketing

Although we’ve seen heavy adoption of social in the tech and consumer goods space, the impacts are far reaching.  One industry that’s often overlooked –but could have the most impact is the luxury industry.

Their biggest challenge isn’t the usual like convincing management, measuring ROI, or coordinating your company but perhaps something more disruptive.  Consumers of luxury products want to associate with a dream, a celebrity, or other aspiration and most of the time, that’s not common people who buy those products and who will talk about them.

[Luxury products are for the elite, yet social technologies are for everyone. Luxury brands face a unique conundrum of marrying these two worlds]

By definition, luxury items are more difficult to achieve, represent the elite, or render a higher performance. Although we expect social technologies to democratize the world, we gotta be honest about today’s world, many consumers associate true luxury products with the upper echelons. With that said there are methods luxury brands can still participate, here’s a few:

Five Ways Luxury Brands Can Overcome the Conundrum of Social Marketing:

  1. Monitor and Listen to understand customer needs.  First, hire a brand monitoring company that can understand the needs of your customers in the real time social web.  Radian 6, Altierian, Scout Labs, Visible Technologies frequently come up in conversation, and there’s a larger group of incumbents such as Dow Jones Factiva, Nielsen Buzzmetrics, and TNS Cymfony.   For those that want to create an online focus group –contact vendors like Passenger and Communispace who focus on what I’ve dubbed “insight communities”
  2. Start with by using sharing tools. These enable customers to share corporate created content such as videos, blog posts, images, and contests.  Vendors such as Share This, Add This or other similar technologies can easily get a brand up and running.  Why is this a good first start?  It simple extends the corporate approved and created content to the social realm.
  3. Create “On-Brand” Contests. Develop programs that maintain the sanctity of the premium experience by developing a program that encourages members to share the preferred experience with others. Example: Develop a Facebook app that asks a quiz “which one of your friends is most likely to buy our beauty product” and then encourage them to share it.
  4. Highlight consumer created content from “preferred” segment. If celebrities are using your products and talk about them, echo it back and highlight from your own efforts. Example: highlight users of your products in your blog, from Twitter, or other social technology “See how Ashton sports our latest suits”, allow users to share and spread it to their own websites using simple tools like sharethis.
  5. Develop or sponsor lifestyle communities. Branded communities, social networks, or bloggers can all be reached using traditional media relations tactics. Not unlike traditional sponsorship and spokesperson product trial programs, you can develop brand affinity in the social space through formal programs.  The trick however is to become a platform to uplift their voice –not just insert your own.

The five above tactics are just toe-dipping ways to get involved in the luxury space, in the long run, these premiere brands will have to figure out how to acknowledge, interact, and even embrace all customers.

This difficult topic can’t be solved through a single blog post, so I look forward to hearing from you how luxury brands can embrace social. You can also read more on this topic from Mashable, Duo, and results from a recent study.   It’s going to take some time for brands and society–to tackle this topic. If you’re an agency or vendor (or even a brand) please leave some suggestions and case examples below.

Update: Thanks to Scott Galloway, faculty at NYU school of business, who sent me a link to a study he was involved with called the Digital IQ of Luxury Brands, with a slant on social. Be sure to read this PDF

43 Replies to “Five Ways Luxury Brands Can Overcome the Conundrum of Social Marketing”

  1. Jeremiah – Some very good tactics and strategies to consider. We have 4 luxury brands: Parker, Waterman, Teutonia and Calphalon. They are all working on strategies to become more active in the interactive marketing and social media areas in the near future. I will definitely forward this blog post to our brand marketing teams.

    New businesses take a lot of work to get off the ground. I am sure you are working hard on that.

  2. Bert thanks for sharing this post with the teams. Would love to hear from those teams what’s worked and what didn’t.

    It’s an interesting, exciting, and scary experience to grow a new company, I’ll share what I learn.

  3. It is an interesting challenge to see how luxury brands balance the VIP/exclusivity appeal with the social masses. Will making the brand too accessible diminish the value of the brand? I’m not a fan of company’s creating their own platform or social network, since it takes such care to do it right and how many communities can really be sustained. However, just reading through the post I start to envision videos of personal fashion shows (show off your style), FB apps that allow you to submit a picture and get makeup tips from pros where you share the before and after pictures, of course communities of car enthusiasts sharing their love and passion for the brand…

  4. Jeremiah, even if development and adoption of social tools is still different between Europe and US, I agree on most of your post. I did, with my company Buzzdetector, a monitoring work for LVMH group in Italy, two years ago, and the result in terms of eligible blogs and forum where to begin any activity were rather poor. Two years are a lot of time in this world, still, today, in Italy you don’t find any trusted blog such as The Sartorialist, just to mention one.

    Today, situation is not changed much.

    From my point of view, there is a huge opportunity for any brand ready to dive in.

    My only concern: luxury brands are not ready, nor willing, to release any form of control. They are control freaks and, up today, well forget the last 12 months, figures are on their side.

  5. Great post Jeremiah! Should luxury brands reach the general masses or just reach the perceived “upper echelon” consumers? Should luxury brands listen or care about what the average consumer (consumers who would generally would not consume their brand) is saying?

    A premium is paid on luxury branded items because of its exclusivity. A luxury brand loses its appeal when the masses consume it. But I believe the position of luxury brands is to have mass appeal/desire but be unattainable for most.

    I feel that social media representation/strategy should reflect that idea.


  6. Nam

    It probably depends on the product. Respected Michael Gartenberg tweeted that “aspiration is for the mainstream”, so getting everyone ‘hungry’ for a product or luxury brand could be an effective way to reach a larger audience –even if they won’t all buy.

    I remember when once premiere Raybans were sold at Cosctco –they were no longer cool at the playground.

  7. Jeremiah, great post as usual. I’m wondering though how different this advice is from what you’d tell any brand. To put it another way, what about this advice makes it specific to luxury brands?

  8. I think a key aspect that you left out of your blog post is that customers who purchase jewelry do use Google and they do search the web (Nobody is above Google ;)).

    With that said, the best web marketing strategy I have seen is from an eCommerce website selling jewelry. They have a blog: where they have jewelery stars wear and link it to their store.

    Brilliant! The blog is a great SEO bait to real in people who are searching about celebrities and/or jewelry and they send the traffic to the store.

    The same can be done via other social media such as Facebook, Youtube etc.

    Replace the pictures with videos on YouTube and link to the store. Have a FB page with pictures and in the picture description, link to the store.

    I think your points are all great, especially the FB app and contests. This social media strategy would supplement what you have listed.

  9. Nick

    This advice is really for companies that are conscious about “not giving up control” for their premier brand. Note how all of my suggestions don’t encourage customers to alter the brand out of their own preferred context.

    If I was speaking to a technology company that had developer community –the focus would be more around online forums and communities –and how they should engage them there. Each market, vertical, and geography can derive a different strategy.

    In the long run of course, this inevitable, customers can create, say, share whatever they want about a company.

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  11. Funnily enough, I talked about this very conundrum at a recent Luxury Forum at the IAB. Luxury brands do need to tread carefully in this arena not just because of the risks of devaluing their brand by making it too accessible to the masses but also because their audience may behave very differently in social media compared to more mainstream audiences. Misjudge your audience and your social media efforts could fall flat on your face!

    If luxury brands are to venture into this space – which I’d argue is imperative in this day and age – then they need to have very clear objectives of what they plan to achieve and more importantly, a good appreciation of how their audience participate in social media and what their underlying motivations are behind it. As Jeremiah well knows you only need to look at Forrester’s Social Technographics to see the vast difference in the way consumers participate in social media depnding on their demographics. But I’d also argue brands need to look at the underlying motivations as to why their customers participate before you can develop any meaningful social media strategy. e.g. are they more motivated by discovery, expression, altruism, fame, escapism or social factors?

    Having defined the above and arrived at a social proposition for the brand which resonates with their audience, one can start to develop a more meaningful and effective social media strategy. I think the ones listed here in your post are very good ways of venturing into this space with minimum risk but it doesn’t have to stop there.

    I’ve talked a bit more about this interesting subject here if anyone’s interested

  12. I run the social media for a luxury game lodge called Londolozi in the South African bushveld and have found that for luxury brands the essence of your communication needs to be direct and personal. Luxury brands generally have a much smaller target audience and as this shift in size decreases, so I believe the attention to detail & personalization needs to increase. Social media for luxury brands should act as an additional value add to build brand loyalty and enhance a personal relationship for the individual.


  13. Jeremiah, besides this conundrum, and the fact that luxury brands are eager to keep control on any aspect of their brand, there is one realm where they always shined: story telling.
    Embracing social media while building communities around their unique story is a way for them to keep their “elitism” while strengthening the immaterial assets aspect of the brand. I wrote something on the subject:

  14. Richard, nice preso, I recognize some of those graphics!

    Thierry, interesting point on story telling, in your last paragraph you suggest what I think may make luxury brands cautious: let your customers tell their own stories.

  15. They might be over-cautious. What they might do is what they have always done: inspiring people with so strong a story everybody would step in.
    Some ( wow, too many) years ago, I won a Prize with an ad campaign for a luxury brand. The claim was: “these objects have a story to tell, yours”. I guess this still applies, brands just have to find a territory of their own where their customers would be eager to fill in the blanks.

  16. As many of you have already noted, the value of a luxury (and premium) brand is exclusivity. Take into account audience, etc., and you have a very different experience and objectives from what we’ve seen so far.

    Getting tactical, I think one of the things we’ll see here are deep integration with other experiences, in particular ‘events’ in the real world. How can social media be used to extend or complement those experiences?

    Example…Tom Ford launches his Spring collection. Same old run way stuff, exclusive parties, nice paper invitations, etc. Leading up to or following that a small group of ‘exclusive’ customers chat with him online, email with him, share photos of themselves and have him design for them, etc. Talk about the next collection and his most frequent buyers get invited to lifestyle type events.

  17. I’ve read numerous articles about balancing the exclusive nature of a luxury brand with the democratization of social media, and this is one of the few that offers any solutions to that problem – though you are wise to point out that they are just “toe-dipping” ways of addressing the dilemma.

    Every brand has its own opportunities and obstacles, but thanks a ton for shining some light on this particular niche.

  18. Good post, Jeremiah. Every brand is unique, luxury or not. There is no one size fits all approach. Each brand will need to determine what’s right for their brand based on their goals and objectives, and most important of all, their own customers.

    Consumers participate in social media and approach social technologies very differently and the brands should follow suit. While each brand faces its own challenges, no single approach will be enough to truly engage all of their customers.

    Since genuine interaction with consumers is so important and social media is simply one of the latest vehicles being used to make that connection, finding what truly works for a brand is key.

    Thank you for posting a thought-provoking article on this topic.

  19. Thanks Jeremiah,
    very interesting as always.
    Slightly off topic, what do you think about the adoption of social in the financial services space?
    What do you think is their biggest challenge? I did see your post related to the FS industry back in June last year, but wondering if you or your readers have any more recent thoughts/ideas/suggestions? Especially in the broking/stockbroking space.

  20. Why not have a password protected forum only open to buyers. You get the pass-word when you buy the product and if you already own the product you need to bring it to a store to get a sealed envelope with a password. Before official launch you need to fill the forum with interesting conversations from friends and family and a few celebrities to make it attractive.

  21. You hit on the key point – how far does a luxury brand want to go, or can go, before it is too mainstream? I brought this up at BlogHer Business during the Coach case study (and they do do a lot in social media via contests, etc).

    My point to them is that I wear certain labels – my button-down shirts and my sunglasses – and wear certain scents that most people wouldn’t pay for because of the price. It’s because I want to be distinct, and not be one of the crowd.

    So, where is that balance? Yes, listening is good (and I know my scent company listens online). How much do you really engage beyond response, though?

  22. Hej Jeremiah

    Interesting concept and thoughts. We have been working with several clients in the luxury good space for several years and we have noticed two key behaviours:
    1. Luxury brands tend to have a very loyal following, so the brands are using this in promotion of new products and offerings, which they can do without offending their existing and potential follower base.
    2. Surprisingly we have seen a surge in the collaborative efforts of several luxury brands working together to promote the luxury industry as a whole. We suspect this is due to the economic climate and previously would not have been considered at all.

    Again thanks for an insightful post.

  23. Jeremiah – I pulled some data about Gucci and Louis Vuitton using our truCAST technologies over the period of the past two weeks. I have some cool graphics that I will send under separate cover for you to embed. But here are some top line findings:

    – Both had equivalent breadth in terms of total number of locations that talk about their Brand
    – Gucci is Twitter-centric whereas LV is blog-centric
    – Despite the greater volume, LV is more strongly associated to product discussion
    – LV more strongly associated with other luxury brands
    – Gucci may have more volume, but I think LV has a stronger brand
    – Both brands will find ads/spam out there at a pretty high rate due to discount and wholesale sellers

    Good post and ongoing discussion on this.


    SVP of Marketing

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  27. The online luxury brands seem to have the hardest time….getting past the pleasures of real world luxury shopping are difficult. It’s technology like augmented reality and HQ webcams that will help out in these areas…even in the recession.

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