OPINION15 September 2016

A life of luxury

Opinion Retail Trends UK

Luxury marketing strategies are changing as flamboyant attention-seeking makes way for privacy and personalisation says GfK’s Joe Staton. 

The world of luxury marketing is at a turning point. There is abundant evidence that it is fragmenting. It’s a story of NOW and NEXT. So the themes we are all familiar with currently are beginning to change and we will need to become comfortable with the new environment. This, in turn, will require a new vocabulary, a new tone of voice, a new approach.

Luxury consumers are raising the bar and expecting more from brands about the traditional luxe cues according to insights from GfK’s Consumer Life (Roper Reports©) annual global survey which covers 26,000 respondents over the age of 15 in more than 30 markets.

There’s evidence that new luxury is becoming more experiential and immersive, driven by technology and on-the-go lifestyles.

The good news is that the demand for luxury remains strong. And new markets want ‘old’ brands but they are looking for a contemporary spin.

The themes we all recognise today? Authenticity, personalisation, craftsmanship, the opportunity for co-creation and ‘I want it now’ are all important. We are all familiar too with the importance of experiences, the value of virtual interactions, the ethical marketing narrative, disruption and new ways in which people can experience a brand. Consumers also need to experience satisfaction, surprise and delight within the overall service offering.

But where next?

There’s no doubt that novelty and fun is on the agenda.

Look at the menswear campaign from Harvey Nichols that launched in May this year. The retailer’s campaign operates on the premise that ‘Great men deserve great style’, giving personalities as diverse as Charles Darwin, Boris Johnson and Barack Obama a sartorial update. The message is clear – it’s time to say hello to playful luxury and tongue-in-cheek humour. It’s a good example of how luxury brands are no longer taking themselves too seriously.

Collaboration? The Berlin-based artist Christophe Chemin created a series of Prada shirts that are covered with some of his original work.

Invisibility is important in contexts such as property. Privacy is perhaps the greatest luxury anyone can buy, hence the trend for properties hidden from prying eyes and online searches.

Think too about the art of ‘stealth-wealth dressing’ from Bottega Veneta. Luxury brands are embracing subtle signals and inconspicuous consumption. They are more ethical, creative, connected and tasteful than before.

An excellent example of the ‘direct-to-consumer’ trend is the availability of the iconic Lady Dior bags on the WeChat platform, the most popular messaging and social network in China. Consumers could drag the online pictures of the decorations they want to the bag, tailor-making them to their needs. Buyers were then able to purchase and pay though WeChat. Christian Dior was the first luxury brand to do this.

Bulgari Vault emphasises the importance of safety and security in the busy digital world we all inhabit. Bulgari Vault is a mobile app that aims to secure an affluent user’s entire digital life. It’s provided and secured by WISeKey, the Swiss leader in e−Security.

Interesting questions remain: what does the longer term future hold; will luxury ever become truly democratic; are we entering an era in which we’ll see haute luxe complemented by mass market luxe; and if so, will the luxury mid-market miss out?

One thing is clear – we all want luxury in our lives. But what is it? Georgio Armani reminded us in the Financial Times back in August just how challenging it can be to define ‘luxury’. “It’s a very personal concept and difficult to generalise, but anything that makes you feel good. It can be a handmade, bespoke jacket, a finely detailed accessory, a home that reflects the owner’s style. The ultimate luxuries are freedom and independence.”

Joe Staton is head of market dynamics at GfK and is speaking at the Market Research Society’s Luxury Conference taking place in London on Thursday 22nd September.