I had an interesting opportunity today to explain the difference between mass-market and luxury market consumers, and why mass-market social tactics aren't as effective with luxury product buyers. Here are my insights.
There Is No Single Magic Bullet
First, let’s be blunt and say that there is no one way to approach the entire luxury market. For every Johnson and Johnson heir, there is a Justin Bieber. While the former would never make a big deal about wealth, the latter is caught flaunting it publicly in the tabloids.
But if we had to identify one commonality, it would have to be the penchant to be tastemakers. While they are still caught in the “keeping up with the Jones” cycle and will buy things to fit in with friends or competitors, they would much rather be the first to discover something or be one of the few that can have that thing.
Exclusivity is the real currency.
This mindset makes it hard to create social/digital engagement. Whether flaunting or not, the luxury market is all about not being part of the crowd. To advocate for a brand, customers in this segment need to be pursued first rather than just assume that if they like a product they will become a follower or liker. This puts social efforts less in the public eye and more on the personal level. The smart luxury brand has to work a lot harder to earn the right to be part of their customer's world, before the customer will deign to be part of the brand’s world.
Tactics Should Be All About Taste And Tact
While I would say a Facebook or Pinterest effort would be important for luxury brands for tasteful aggregation and digital presence, the bulk of social activity should be about empowering influential customers who are true trendsetters to use or be tastefully seen using the product or service in their own social feeds. The brand needs to provide opportunities for the tastemaker's own brand to shine first, playing only a supporting role to the tastemaker's own presence.
Further, the brand's role in making the tastemaker look good also needs to acknowledge the reality I pointed out at the beginning that many wealthy people find flagrant displays of wealth to be distasteful. This means the brand must be especially tactful. The goal is to not tie the tastemaker to extravagant excess, instead tying them to causes or focusing on personal good-will and character...while, of course, looking fabulous in that designer gown.
The Brand's Role
To bring all of this into perspective, the brand needs to empower and aggregate, more than participate when talking to luxury customers. The good luxury marketer already should understand that their role is to be a good servant, valuing their customer’s brands as highly as their own. So social marketing efforts need to be in the same vein. The brand's role is not to be the customer's friend, but to be...well...their bitch. Get comfortable with it.
Of course, from there things get much more complicated. Many luxury brands have mass market extensions, so the general interactions with customers are much different than trendsetter interactions. Some brands are exclusively the province of the uber-rich, so interaction is kept low-key, personal, and private to create a club-like atmosphere. Ferreting out these differences and keying into the proper strategies and tactics takes time and considerable effort. But hopefully this broad-speaking analysis can help you better understand how social in luxury markets is a different beast, requiring more sensitivity in relationship building than with your average CPG brand.