Right moment, right message, right place: how to build luxury brands using social media

The Facebook Generation

Let's face it: sometimes it's just enough to check what our friend Joe says on Facebook, and life all of a sudden seems more interesting. Hundreds of millions of Internet users log into Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and other social networking sites every day. The craze about networking sites, blogs and various ways of being updated on what your network contacts are up to is a defining feature of what I would call the Facebook Generation. This is no doubt a very large group of people, as it includes teenagers and baby-boomers alike. What unites them is a pattern of frequent visits to social networks and the Internet in general, not just to reconnect with friends and professional contacts, but also to research potential purchases and keep abreast of modern trends.

Our digital lifestyles are important for many brands which consider the Internet an essential channel in their marketing strategy. Many of them target the Facebook generation with online ads, requests to join fan clubs and invites to promotional events. How effective all this activity may be in any given case is open to question – it depends on a lot of factors which many companies are not always well equipped to assess.

Luxury brands going digital?

Inspired by a very good course on luxury branding that I took last year at the French business school ESSEC, as well as my interest in the use of social media for brand building, I've tried to keep an eye on whether luxury brands were among those actively engaging in a dialog with the Facebook generation. I searched the web for examples of luxury on social networks and launched discussions on Internet forums related to online branding -- all in the hope of finding some great case studies to blog about. To my surprise, my research efforts didn't produce as many results as I'd expected.

A good example of an upmarket brand launch in Europe was provided by a marketing specialist on the LinkedIn online Forum. A European launch of the car brand he is working for, Infiniti, was supported by a carefully orchestrated social media campaign. Infiniti engaged in thousands of one-on-one conversations with relevant bloggers, posted comments on relevant sites and forums, updated the Infiniti Wikipedia page in several European languages, and launched an online video campaign. I'll be curious to see what impact this campaign has had on building brand awareness and the company's profitability.

But in general, I don't think that luxury brands are storming the online social network space, yet! Perhaps, this in itself is an indication that they are hesitant to include social media in their marketing mix.

To understand this hesitation, one would need to look closely into the nature of these brands. Exclusivity, power, timelessness, heritage and status have traditionally been the values of many luxury brands. Communicating these values to large audiences on MySpace, Facebook and other networks just because it's a modern marketing trend is not necessarily the smartest decision for luxury brands, especially because any initiative slightly resembling mass marketing might not be the most adequate thing to do for them.

How can luxury brands go digital?

According to a new book by Allen Adamson, Brand Digital, a basic approach towards being present on the Internet is, right message, right time, right space. The main task of a luxury brand manager, (as for any brand), is to craft a brand strategy that builds long-term value for the digital consumer, whether it means placing ads on A Small World (a private online community where luxury fans hang out) or communicating its corporate values on Twitter (a social messaging utility that permits you to update your friends on what you are doing, in real time).

There's no single recipe for luxury brands as to HOW to employ the potential of social media to their advantage, but opportunities for capturing value seem immense. For instance, what about considering new distribution channels and selling your upmarket brand on shopping sites built around social recommendations? Current social networking slash shopping sites include, for example, Osoyou.com in the UK, and iliketotallyloveit.com in Germany, and I am sure there will be more and more similar sites springing up in the future, perhaps also those with specific focus on luxury brands. Now, of course, we should make a distinction here -- whereas selling your luxury brands on social e-platforms might very well work for perfume and accessories, it might not be the most appropriate thing to do for yachts and private jets!

And what about engaging members of social networks in contributing to the design of your new fragrance packaging? Or getting a sizable audience to attend an event to kick-off launch of your luxury brand extension? Again, making these choices might not be a desirable thing to do for any luxury brand, but some might nevertheless find these and other uses of social media very powerful.

Let your customers digitalize your brand

Above all, a natural result of a smart brand strategy will be this: your customers will "digitalize" you on their own. They will blog about you, create fan pages on Facebook, talk about your products and dream about them on relevant online forums – all without a single cent spent on your side. All you'd need to do is track these developments, capture this value and use it to your benefit.

Finally, don't forget to thank those who talk about you, like the Belgian luxury bags brand Delvaux (www.delvaux.com) has done recently, when it got in touch with the creator of its fan club (called The Devil must have a Delvaux bag) on Facebook, and invited him and all the fan group members to Delvaux-organized festivities in Brussels.

Got more examples of luxury brands using social media? Post a comment!