Writing For Luxury Brands
It’s easy to get caught up in writing in a voice suited for aspirational luxury, but the true luxury brand has a very different message.
For one thing, a real luxury brand won’t use the word “luxury.”
Aspirational brands are based on status
Some luxury brands, like Coach and Burberry, have become aspirational brands – meaning they appeal to people who aspire to belong to a certain class. Once upon a time, Coach and Burberry were true luxury brands, but over-exposure in the market knocked them down a few pegs. They became too accessible.
Both are now trying to regain their luxury brand status through slick marketing.
Luxury brands are based on exclusivity
On the other end of the spectrum, you have true luxury brands like Dolce and Gabbana, Farfetch, and Hermès. Price is not necessarily the deciding factor. A Burberry pea coat and a Dolce and Gabbana bomber jacket cost about the same, but Dolce and Gabbana is seen as more of a high fashion brand.
Why? Well, simply because Dolce and Gabbana has less exposure in the common market and a greater level of exclusivity. Luxury brands must be exclusive to some extent because the wealthy do not want to buy brands that are accessible to everyman. Yet, luxury brands must be accessible enough to make money.
Don’t talk about being exclusive. Imply exclusivity by wrapping it inside a story about quality, craftsmanship, passion, etcetera.
The 5 Story Elements of Luxury Brands
Here are the five essential building blocks of luxury brand stories.
Aspirational brands sell status. But the luxury brand knows a status-based message is likely to turn off the person who already has money, power, and social prestige.
Luxury brands talk about being handcrafted, meticulously designed, and impeccably finished. People with money understand – everyone understands – that exceptional quality is expensive and therefore reserved for a certain class. For example, Dior’s website talks about craftsmanship as its story. BMW talks about German-engineered performance.
When a brand is expressing its quality, you may hear it talk about performance, craftsmanship, and similar attributes.
Heritage is another dimension of luxury. These include luxury brands that have become traditions among the elite. Surprisingly, heritage resonates across age groups.
Although most U.S. millennials do not crave luxury products, millennials with incomes above $150,000 are the exception to the rule. These affluent millennials are keenly interested in Rolex, Jimmy Choo, and Tiffany (the leaders in their categories), according to a 2017 marketing study.
When a brand is expressing its heritage, you may hear it talk about tradition, its past, its cultural roots, or where it is made.
Great design is a foundation for luxury brands. Kartell relies upon the work of distinctive designers, such as Philippe Starck (Ghost Chair) and Ron Arad (Popworm). Pandora (a more accessible brand) is noted for its collectible, self-expressive jewelry charms. Christian Louboutin’s $1000-a-pair stilettos have a distinctive red underside that is the brand’s visual bookmark. Miu Miu is the rebellious brand made by Prada, known for its sublime elegance. Miu Miu shirts tell “women’s tales.”
When a brand is expressing its design, you may hear it talk about creativity, aesthetics, innovation, and vision.
Wealthy consumers do not mind spending more for quality products that have a reputation for doing good. The consumer shares in the goodness of the product.
Tesla tells a story of environmental consciousness that is worth the price tag. It is pretty blunt on its website, calling the Model S “the best car on the road.” And the entry level Model 3 simply touts a high safety rating. Tesla’s story doesn’t happen on its website so much as in the news and social media. Which is fine, because Tesla is unique in the market.
Wealthy millennials are very concerned with ethics. For example, Prince Harry bought Meghan Markle an ethically sourced engagement diamond from Botswana.
When a brand is expressing its ethics, you may hear it talk about transparency, fair-trade, the environment, social responsibility, and charitable donations.
In the past, buying Chanel No. 5 was enough for a woman to feel that she belonged to a specific echelon of culture. There was relatively little clutter; the brand stood for something without much effort. Now, the brand has to expand upon its story; the Chanel website is filled with movie-stories.
The individual stories may be fictionalized, but they add up to a greater truth. Call it a point of view or a stance. Luxury consumers buy brands they believe in. And they buy brands that express something they want to say about themselves.
Shinola and Rolex are both luxury brand watches, but they appeal to different mindsets, so they have very different stories. Both brands are true to their audience and to themselves.
So how do you write for luxury brands?
- Start with the mindset and values of your target customer.
- Build a heartfelt story from there.
- You won’t appeal to everyone. But you will appeal strongly to the people who matter most to your brand.