When it comes to offline, the best luxury brands have always struck a strong balance of brand and product experience. They know that branding isn’t just about the product, it’s about the theatre it’s wrapped in - from personal shopping and invitation-only events to catwalk shows and weekend-long superyacht demonstrations.
This sense of drama is vital for high-end brands - it fosters long-term advocacy and helps justify the premiums you pay for their handbags, watches, clothes, and cars.
Their experiential approach also helps distract from the inelegance of transaction. In luxury circles, the physical act of buying and selling is often deemed somewhat gauche. But by dressing it in pomp and ceremony - by making it a small part of a bigger experience - the act of handing over your dosh for your Dolce is minimised.
In short, luxury brands understand the power of making selling less about the hard-sell and more about lifestyle, escape, experience, ego and theatre.
So why do they so often fail to show this on their digital platforms?
It’s a strange phenomenon in luxury marketing that high-end brands often fall down when it comes to their websites, creating clunky platforms that betray the glamour and beauty of their products.
Blocky and dated design, a multitude of clashing font types, inconsistent tones of voice, a lack of e-commerce options are just some of the sins of the luxury online world. The effects of these have been exacerbated since the outbreak of Covid-19.
When the pandemic hit, we quickly realised two things at Woven. The first was that the importance of digital would be catalysed still further. (It was already important, it’s now essential.) With these intimate, experiential events in the physical space either cancelled or postponed, digital brand interactions will now have to work harder than ever.
Of course, failing to translate your brand’s essence into your digital environment is a crime for any business, let alone those targeting HNWIs. But the lockdown – and the resultant wholesale switch to digital by consumers – has exposed those whose online proposition doesn’t match their offline one.
The second thing we realised was that, so as not to appear too mercantile in a period of great turbulence, luxury brands would learn to sell by not selling. Instead of focusing on product and price, they would instead appeal to the things that make us human – the non-material stuff that really matters in life.
Together, these two factors mean that luxury brands have to quickly catch up with those leading the pack in their online offerings but in a way that prioritises a more human brand experience over a sales message.
This is the approach we took with the Princess Experience page we created for Princess Yachts – a section of the site dedicated to the brand lifestyle and backed up with its own marketing strategy and budget. This page eschews the ‘sell sell sell’ mantra in favour of softer, more family-focused and lifestyle-based design and messaging.
The result is something that captures the essence of Princess’ brand – beauty, aspiration, craftsmanship – in a way that’s as much about people as it is about yachts.
Other luxury brands have embraced this softer approach, too, as they come to understand that COVID is changing what people find important. More brands are harking back in time with their creative because it’s safer, more reassuring – whereas the future is uncertain, scary.
The current Gucci homepage typifies this: its Jackie O-inspired shoot is pure ‘60s nostalgia. And if you take a scroll through the Hermes Instagram account, you’ll see stone, plants and water instead of glass, silver and steel. Nature is returning to high-end social media, so it seems.
In short, Covid-19 is making us yearn for family, nostalgia and nature because in these things lie safety and surety.
All of which means three things for luxury brands.
One, they have to up their digital game. Websites and social media content that doesn’t epitomise the spirit of their brand or live up to their offline experiential events will deter those who expect better. And in a post-Covid world that’s prioritising etail over retail, failure to do this could mean game over.
Two, they need to tread carefully about how much they push their products. Instead of being sales-focused, they should consider digital experiences that promote lifestyle over lucre.
And three, they have to be aware that what people find important, at least in the medium-term, is shifting. Less stark minimalism, more home comfort. Less nu-wave, more nostalgia.
You get the idea. Only time will tell if luxury brands get it, too.
Ben Fitton, copywriter at Woven Agency.