Late last week I had the opportunity to be part of a unique event for the Washington DC area. Dubbed "All Access Fashion" – the three day event was part of Washington's response to NY's Fashion Week and featured many luxury retailers participating in runway shows and customer events hosted at one of the largest luxury malls in the country – Tysons Galleria in Virginia. My role was to be part of a well chosen panel that included the CEO of German fashion brand Baseler and Ritz Carlton's VP of Marketing and Communications, Julia Gajcak.
Through our hour long discussion moderated by Washington Post Style Editor Ned Martel, a key topic of discussion was the impact of the recession on the luxury market and how luxury brands could retain their customers and brand image in a world where anyone can speak for your brand online. The point of view I shared was that in many ways I believe luxury brands are the IDEAL brands to be using social media and that social networking, microblogging and online content creation represent big opportunities for these brands to really stand out, improve their customer loyalty, drive sales and, in fact, maintain the image they have worked hard to create for their brands. If this seems like overpromising, keep reading for what I feel are some of the biggest opportunities for luxury brands to use social media:
Live up to the promise of your brand.In luxury marketing, the brand is critical in creating an emotional attachment that goes beyond just a product or services features. If the value of your brand is built through your attention to service, such as the Ritz Carlton, then how can you use social media tools to reinforce that idea for your customers and live up to it?
- Find your biggest fans. Most luxury brands have a steady stable of hardcore fans. Often these are the people who buy the products frequently, but it could just as likely be the enthusiastic aspirational customer who dreams of one day buying your product. Luxury automakers have known this for a long time, using tools like social networking to make sure that teenage boys continue to dream of one day buying a Ferrari, so one day when they can afford one, they might.
- Create exclusive experiences. Exclusivity and luxury often go hand in hand. The nice thing about social media is that you have many opportunities to create things like exclusive private networks or special content that is only for customers or VIPs. The added benefit of this is that you can make those individuals feel engaged with the brand in a way that isn't open to the general public.
- Let fans make your brand part of their digital identity. As each of our digital identities moves online, we have new ways of attaching "badges" to our online profiles, becoming "fans" of brands and using other methods to not just connect with brands we love, but to broadcast that affiliation to our entire social networks online.Gucci does a great job of this on Facebook with hundreds of thousands of fans.
- Track product or service opportunities. People talk about anything and everything online, and when it comes to the category of business you are in, listening can lead to breakthroughs that you may never have otherwise seen – including what your next product line might be or a new type of service that people are wishing for.
- Identify emerging brand crisis or issues. The real time nature of much of social media means that many brands are seeing news of potential product defects or other types of brand crisis break through social media before they show up anywhere else. This alone could justify the effort of more actively listening to what people are saying about your brand online.
- Improve retail and/or distribution. Sometimes the challenge in selling a luxury product or service has less to do with what you have and more about where you sell it. When it comes to deciding markets to focus on, many luxury brands simply focus on large metro markets – but social media can help you identify unlikely markets that might offer golden opportunities.
- Prove customer base and demand. Part of the challenge for any luxury brand, particularly one that is less established or newer, is proving that there is enough customer passion and interest in the brand to warrant being stocked or sold through more mainstream distribution channels. Having a strong base of support through social media can help you get past this hurdle and demonstrate to a buyer that your brand is worth the risk.
- Share live events more broadly. Often exclusive events are a core part of how many luxury brands connect with their customers. These are, by necessity, closed and focused on smaller groups – but social media could offer a way to let an equally exclusive subgroup participate in the event (or see an archive after the fact).
Any other thoughts from readers working on luxury brands for potential opportunities with social media? From my conversations at the event, I got the sense this was a dramatically underdeveloped space and I'm looking forward to seeing more examples of brands actively using social media in the luxury market.