Working with luxury brands and services requires a shift in communication mind set. You are no longer required to speak to the masses, but to the few. Often your market is more demanding and harder to impress. You must understand what is important to them and your aim is to communicate the product or services in a light that makes it a 'must have'.

What is luxury? To one person it might mean one thing; to another, it might mean the everyday. Like most things it is all relative – therefore, 'luxury' might not be right word. Premium is another word our clients like to use to describe themselves but, again, does that really do the trick? Some lagers are called premium. Then there is 'exclusive', indicating that it is for the few. However some exclusive brands look for a wider market.

Luxury is hard to pin down: how do you go about communicating a luxury, premium and exclusive product or service? Here is how we tackle a luxury branding project.

Know your market
An in-depth understanding of the target market is vital to success. As I have mentioned above, luxury can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another. You can have luxury products for the masses, or for just a select number of people. For instance, an luxury coffee blend and an exclusive private members' bar have very different customers.

In almost all cases the proposition goes like this: 'we are asking you to pay more for something because it has a certain 'value' that other products and services do not have'.

The key to this proposition is the word 'value'. Not is the sense of value for money, but an essence, a cachet or a 'desire' attached to the product or service.

Understanding how your potential audience recognises that 'value' is vital to its positioning.

Setting aside the mega rich, the oligarchs, the people who do not consider cost an issue at any price - the luxury consumer will have a number of perceptions regarding a luxury product's desirability. These include: 

  • Exclusivity – how hard it is to attain

  • Peer recognition

  • Price – the feeling of paying for the best

  • Perceived quality

  • Brand

Detailing a clear understanding of your offering against your potential market, taking into account the parameters above (and others that are relevant), will give you a good basis for its positioning in the market and the tone of the brand.

Luxury brands often use celebrities to elevate their brands. Seeing Kim Kardashian carrying a certain handbag can cause a sell out in minutes. The impact the royals have on brands, on occasion High Street brands, can be huge. The smartest players use celebrities in a subtle way, through press and product placement. When branding a luxury item, it is important to gain an understanding of your organisation's 'affiliations' and potential connections, if that is relevant. Some products are so high end that a celebrity endorsement will actually lower its perceived value.

Tone of voice
Luxury and exclusive brands have a different tone of voice in the way they express themselves. They tend to use a more discreet and subtle ways of describing themselves – never, ironically, mentioning that the product is luxury.

Setting a tone of voice should be the second step in developing a strong brand.

The brand
Of course it is impossible to generalise, but I have to in an article like this. As a general rule, look at your competitors. If you are running an exclusive concierge service, there are certain common themes that run through the communication channels. The same applies to products, especially beauty products. It pays to recognise these trends and make an informed decision as to how much you should toe the line and how much you should differentiate. Know your market, set your tone and understand your competitors brand.

The finish
The finish is everything. Let's use two scenarios:

  • A concierge service

  • A beauty product

A concierge service is unlikely to send a mass direct marketing campaign – the audience is too exclusive for that and it would be unlikely that the end recipient will ever see the DM piece. Word of mouth, events and referrals are likely to be the best channels for new business and, short of the business card, the website will be the first port of call. Making a website feel high-end relies almost entirely on quality photography.

We provide the photography for a number of Michelin starred restaurants; these images 'rule' the website. We don't need to mention that the service is outstanding or that the food is the finest in the world – the images speak for themselves.

In most cases, the concierge's service's website will rely on third party images (like ours). They must be of the highest quality across the board and set in a design framework that exudes quality and a personal service.

A beauty product (setting aside advertising photography) should exude its brand ethos through the quality of materials, from the product itself to the way it is packaged. These principles apply to anything that has a physical entity (a concierge service doesn't; it's service based), from a brochure to a pot of cream. Below are a range of finishes that enhance the product's feel:

  • Paper – exclusive papers add a tactile feel to anything and can come as a significant cost to production.

  • Foil blocking, embossing and die cutting – these finishing techniques make any product feel exclusive. Some are only achieved by hand, i.e. someone has to apply the finish to each and every single item, so for mass-produced items, we'd be looking to China to deliver within a reasonable cost framework.

  • Hand finishing – the personal touch never goes a miss, from a wax seal or a hand-tied ribbon to a signed edition.

Luxury branding is a specialist sector that is a specialist sector and one we are lucky enough to work in.

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