Creating a luxury brand is so much more than just designing a logo; it takes real strategic thinking to develop depth and character. It was once the aristocracy who defined taste and style, commissioning hand-made products that were limited in circulation, making them truly desirable. Mass production changed all that; now luxury products are within the reach of all, and brands need to demonstrate a real difference to connect with a sophisticated audience.
Proclaim your brand’s beliefs
Luxury brands offer more than just products: they embody a belief that differentiates them from their competitors – and helps customers identify more closely with them. Apple identifies with creativity, BMW with driving pleasure, Zegna promotes fairness and ethics. And it’s not just talk: brands spend a lot of money building their value system. Ferrari sponsors F1 to underline its superb performance; Prada and Chanel sponsor art exhibitions; Burberry promotes up-and-coming British musicians; and Diane von Furstenburg supports women in business. These beliefs lie right at the heart of a brand and continue over time.
Enhance your visual cues
A brand isn’t just a logo but a whole visual language that encapsulates its values. These cues are highly important for luxury brands, triggering an immediate response far faster than words. Consider Louboutin’s red soles and the Jaguar bonnet mascot, both synonymous with the brand. Tiffany’s turquoise boxes, Orla Kiely’s distinctive leaf pattern and Burberry’s check are instantly recognisable; Selfridges yellow could stop traffic. Luxury brands must carefully consider choosing visual elements that stick in their customers’ minds through repetition – whether on a website, in a brochure, packaging, uniforms or stationery.
Invest in the physical space
Physical environments have always been central to luxury brands. From Harrods to Hilton, Aesop to Tom Ford, luxury brands curate the customer experience with exclusive locations, exceptional service and beautifully designed interiors. But plush is not enough: the internet has pushed luxury brands to create more compelling environments. Like Viktor & Rolf’s famous upside-down store in Milan; the Armani flagship in New York with its winding concrete staircase more reminiscent of the Guggenheim than a fashion store; Dunhill’s genleman’s club-inspired Mayfair brand home; and Burberry’s high-tech in-store screens. Now consumers can buy everything online, you need to give them an in-store experience that draws them to the physical space – and immerses them in your brand.
Create a subculture
Some luxury brands are successful in evoking strong emotional connections that makes their customers almost evangelical advocates of the brand. Harley Davidson, Asics, Quiksilver and Apple have all become central to the identity of their customers in terms of being status symbols, whether surfers, bikers or creatives; both Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik were practically guest stars on Sex and the City. Belonging to a select club makes consumers feel connected and privileged – and keeps them strongly connected with your brand. It’s through developing a strong central proposition that connects with your customer audience – and never deviating from it.
Extend into relevant areas to strengthen your proposition
If luxury brands establish a strong identity, they can translate them into other relevant areas that reflect their values and grow the brand as a lifestyle statement, catering to clients’ loyalty and reflecting their taste. A design-led Bulgari Hotel or tough-wearing Harley Davidson jeans? The Bentley Suite at the St Regis in New York or a Porsche kettle? Coffee on your Ralph Lauren sofa while reading a Bill Amberg leather-covered classic? Building a brand by extending into other relevant segments can help customers express their sense of identity.
Convey the soul of your brand
Luxury brands consistently deliver a unique emotional value that lasts beyond ad campaigns, recessions and changes in ownership. Some root themselves strongly in their culture: Chanel and Dior are unmistakeably French, Burberry and Rolls-Royce trade on their British quality, BMW and Jil Sander on German precision. Some promote their artisan craftsmanship legitimacy, such as IWC and Louis Vuitton. Then there is the value of heritage lending gravitas, notably for Harrods, Floris and Smythson. The stories brands tell is key, building the mythology of the brand over time; Burberry invented water-repellent garbardine for its trenchcoats, Hermès made saddles for the aristocracy, Coco Chanel freed women from restrictive clothing with her design; and Jack Daniels artfully conveys the spirit of an authentic, untamed America. Adding layers to a brand gives it depth, texture and an emotional edge that resonates with customers.
Luxury is a word that’s flung around a lot to mean expensive. But a luxury brand has to offer a real point of difference – and that needs some truly visionary thinking. Perhaps you should offer your customers a personalised iPad or a 24-hour helpline; develop an app to make their lives easier. How should your website look and talk, and what could you offer to connect with users better? Perhaps technology in-store could tell your story more effectively, or business cards made from copper or even etched stone could make you stand out from the crowd. True luxury brands need to demonstrate their difference by creating unique experiences and touchpoints that customers will remember – and talk about.
Brand managers need to develop considered strategies for luxury brands that give their customers a reason to buy from them – and keep them coming back for more.