Luxury’s Love/Hate Relationship with Social Media

In this day and age, a brand having a strong social media presence seems like a no-brainer. However, for luxury brands, it’s not such an obvious answer. Luxury is considered to be built on five pillars:

  1. Rarity/Scarcity
  2. Social Status/Social Gap
  3. Hedonic and Refine Experience
  4. Exceptional Performance and Quality
  5. Creative Leadership

The pillars important to highlight here are the first three – Rarity/Scarcity, Social Status/Social Gap, and Hedonic and Refine Experience. Luxury brands cater to their customers – high net worth individuals – by providing a hedonic experience separated from the norm. Luxury products are not technically much different than premium products, but the true pleasure derived from them is the psychological benefit that come along with the purchase. Luxury products promote exclusivity and serve as a way of subtly reinforcing social classes, and luxury consumers are well aware of this.

This is where the paradox of social media comes in. The internet is known for its accessibility, and that doesn’t exactly attract luxury brands. Whether you’re a millionaire or logged onto your local library computer for internet, you have the same ability to follow Louis Vuitton on Instagram. For that exact reason, luxury brands were reluctant to adopt a social media presence for fear of losing control or destroying one or more pillars of luxury. However, luxury brands are starting to realize it is important to embrace social media to grow brand awareness and reach millennial consumers.

The rise of digital influencers has been one thing luxury brands have notably struggled with while adopting a social media presence. Digital influencers build credibility and authenticity for a brand, and bring along sustained familiar relationships with followers. All of this sounds great – so why aren’t all the luxury brands working with influencers?

There are a few problems with influencer partnerships that drive away luxury brands. First, digital influencers already have an established brand image that they built over time. Most influencers start from “the bottom” and work their way up, meaning they probably were more frugal and had initial partnerships with brands like ASOS, Zara, or H&M. All of that is great, but it doesn’t exactly scream luxury. Luxury brands are careful to partner with an influencer who has a long-established history as a luxury consumer with high-class tastes, and has acquired a strong following of potential luxury customers. Second, working with a digital influencer relinquishes a lot of control on the brand’s end, and luxury brands are notoriously obsessive over control. Once an influencer is a known partner of the brand, everything they say or do represents the brand as well. This can be a dangerous game to play for many luxury brands, which often leads them to stay away from influencer partnerships.

 

The best example of a successful luxury influencer is Chiara Ferragni. Like I mentioned in my previous posts, Ferragni is the gold standard for fashion influencers, and has a history of partnerships with brands like Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier. These partnerships could only be achieved once Ferragni was a strongly established celebrity in the fashion world, and had been known for blogging about luxury items since the beginning of her blog.

Another key factor was that these brands were already a part of Ferragni’s personal style. Since the first post of her blog, The Blonde Salad, she had written about brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel, so her followers knew she was being authentic throughout the partnerships. This kind of authenticity and brand affinity is what most brands could only dream of an influencer bringing to a partnership, and it makes Ferragni the most coveted out of them all.

Looking forward, we are starting to see most luxury brands moving toward social platforms. The key is to still provide an exclusive experience for their loyal customers, and to use social media in a way that benefits the brand. Luxury brands can still offer an elite experience by creating small communities online that only registered customers can join, and this will help maintain the air of exclusivity. These communities will supplement the standard social media profiles of brands as a way for the loyal customers to connect with one another and receive a personalized experience with as well.

In terms of their digital content, luxury brands should focus on using the platforms to communicate brand stories, like their heritage, and brand values. Similar to how luxury stores don’t need to display all of their products in the windows, luxury brands don’t need to use social media to advertise every single item for sale. The purpose of their social media presence isn’t to sell more products, but to enhance their brand story with additional media. A luxury brand should use their social media as a way to educate their followers on the brand heritage and tradition – these are the intangible values that create the brand’s prestige.

 

 

 

8 comments

  1. Great post Addison! I have never considered industries where maybe social media is not immediately viewed as an asset or a vital tool for marketing, but it makes total sense when considering the luxury industry. It seems like due to the nature of the industry, everything has to be thoroughly considered and analyzed due to the high cost of the products. I think you make a great point that using social media and digital business to help promote the brand and improve the reputation could be a great starting point. I also wonder if they can begin to utilize digital business to improve the experience of their high-end customers. I think about the presentation we saw on Madison Reed and wonder if luxury companies have or are working on platforms like this to enhance customer experience.

  2. It certainly is interesting to see how the rise of social media has forced companies, especially those in the luxury goods market, to reassess their marketing campaigns. On top of maintaining exclusivity (which, as you mentioned, is done well through the use of closed social networks) these brands also need to find a way to promote inclusiveness. These days, it’s not only important to focus on loyal customers but also the broader audience, which is not an easy task!

  3. What an interesting topic! I thought your argument that luxury brands should use their social media to educate their followers on the brand heritage and tradition was totally valid. In the past year or two, I read a study that cited a really high percentage of luxury shoppers that used social media — I think it was around 70 or 80 percent.

    Additionally, from the little I know about luxury brand marketing and strategy, it seems like luxury brands usually use stores to create brand heritage and tradition. With brick and mortar shopping becoming less popular (in luxury, to a lesser extent), it would be very helpful for brands to supplement a physical shopping experience with their social media presence.

  4. That is a very interesting post. You made very good points on why luxury brands may be wary of social media due to exclusivity concerns. Which may at first seem counterintuitive since fashion is such a visual industry. I agree with you that luxury industry needs a different types of influencers and that their social media use should be focused more on communicating the story that promoting a certain product. However, I feel like since nowadays more and more young people buy luxury brands, especially in developing countries in Asia. So luxury brands’ social media strategy may have to change to interact efficiently with this population who is very active on social media. Additionally, I believe that even fashion bloggers who started by promoting more affordable brands can be useful for luxury industry. Many people who started by wearing brands like Zara and H&M buy more and more luxury brands as they grow up and their income increases. So they may be able to relate well to the fashion bloggers who started in fast-fashion and moved to collaborating with luxury brands later in their career. It will be interesting to see how luxury brands will use social media in the future and if they will be able to engage young consumers without sacrificing exclusivity feel.

  5. Nice post. I’m not 100% sure that luxury brands want to be associated with social media “influencers,” except in the cases you note above. I think the relationship between social/luxury is for more normal people to use social to show off their luxury purchases and brag to their networks. That, and communities of people who are customers who can connect over their love for the product. Nice post!

  6. This is a really interesting post that I enjoyed reading because it related a lot to a class that I took abroad! The class was about management of fashion companies and we also spoke about the same 5 pillars. The class did not, however, directly speak about the influence of social media on the industry. While I think it’s possible that the accessibility of social media could cannibalize the exclusive branding that these companies have built up, I think that there’s a certain sort of balance that can be reached to be involved in social media without damaging themselves. I think your ideas on heritage and history are really smart; another thing they could focus on is the quality of the products. You can make something really cheap look nice using creative filters but if you can prove something’s good quality on the internet then I think people will really understand that it really is a luxury product.

  7. Just a quick note for me because social media and fashion isn’t my forte but I did think it was interesting that luxury brands as opposed to the middle ground didn’t want to have social media influencers. I would presume that like you said, the influener could come to represent the brand and that’s a dangerous thing for a small number of consumers. Furthermore, I wonder if the brands are built upon the fact that people come to their brand so they can show off their stuff. Consumers don’t want it because a celebrity has it but because THEY are picturing themselves as even better than the people who fill tabloids. They are the ones defining the brand, not social media influencers getting stuff at discounted prices or for free.

  8. As a lover of all things retail and marketing, this post was a fun read! I especially loved that you mentioned creative ways that luxury brands market their brand. Luxury brands play in a whole different ball game when it comes to social media, which is one reason I follow influencers like The Blonde Salad. It is a fun way to stay on top of high-end trends and see how influencers wear the products. While I personally cannot afford these items, I think highly of the brands that influencers like Chiara wear. While it doesn’t lead to a purchase for me, it nonetheless is good marketing for people who can afford the product!

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