Luxury Brands: Igniting the Imagination
Luxury brands fire up the mind and senses, driving want and making their products customers’ goals
Luxury brands know how to make people burn with desire, in slow smolders to intense flames. The thirst high-end companies create in customers makes them do what they can to attain merchandise, and thus share in the enjoyable image the brand presents. What exactly are these techniques companies use, and how difficult is it to become a brand of rarity? With the right strategy and design, the status of being a luxury brand is more attainable than you may think.
what does luxury look like?
Before you can begin building a luxury brand, you must have a clear picture of how the ending image should appear and the emotions it needs to stir up. Nick Foley, President, SE Asia Pacific & Japan, Landor (landor.com) explains the most sought after brands speak to customers’ primal wants.
“What sets luxury brands apart?” asks Foley. “Like mainstream brands, luxury brands need relevant products, clear positioning, keen understanding of the target customer, and solid business strategy. But luxury branding goes far beyond these basics—sometimes even beyond logic. Luxury brands evoke an emotional response, be it the subtle satisfaction of pouring the best bubbly on the market or the sheer joy of letting out the throttle on a Lamborghini. Luxury must be felt.” Foley lays out the following eight principles of luxury for brands to use in creating deep-seated fascination, lust for the products, and an overall rich and tempting brand image.
vision sets the tone.
Luxury brands command substantial premiums in part because the vision behind them is unique and compelling. The focused, engaging vision of a creator is key to the longevity of a luxury brand.
rarity and mystery heighten appeal.
Mystery, uniqueness and a sense of discovery enhance consumers’ fascination with elite products and brands, drawing them deeper into the luxury experience.
obsession generates excellence.
Successful people who have built something out of nothing share one trait: They are obsessed with perfection. The precise tick of a Swiss watch or the finely tuned hum of a German automobile result from the maker’s insatiable quest to achieve the highest possible level of performance.
origins serve as a touchstone.
Luxury brands that remain true to their heritage give consumers a special reason to build a relationship with them. When those origins have a component of intrigue, they hold even more sway.
emotional intelligence anticipates needs.
Impeccable service and personalized attention are among the hallmarks of luxury brands. Frontline staff must bring highly developed emotional intelligence to understanding customer needs, then fulfilling them to perfection.
exclusivity ups the ante.
Knowing that you belong to a select group adds an extra dimension to the luxury experience. The allure of prestige and distinction can prove irresistible to affluent customers.
appearance conveys status.
Displays of wealth, once discreet, have changed markedly in recent years. Luxury is more overt, sometimes even paraded, and luxury brands are increasingly seen as reflecting one’s status in life.
expense is reassuring.
The price tag of an object of desire should announce its worth—even if the cost seems beyond reason. Asking for any less diminishes its value in the eye of the beholder.
And as your brand builds on these foundations, remember that while sophistication is a major element of luxury, brands should never be stodgy or resort to clichéd images of class: Where’s the aspiration in that? The beauty of being a luxury brand is that you have a bigger opportunity than most companies to make people dream. People look to your brand to escape the mundane and be inspired, not pay a higher price for more of the same.
making luxury tangible in packaging
Once you have your story in place and your product quality top-notch, it’s time to focus on the packaging: the touchpoint that makes luxury consumer goods incredibly experiential.
“It’s easy to know luxury or prestige retail packaging when you see it, but what exactly are you looking at?” asks Evelio Mattos, creative director, Design Packaging Inc. (designpackaginginc.com). “What sensory cues are being activated that trigger a luxe response in the mind of the consumer? As a leading firm in luxury packaging, we asked ourselves to list the design and sensory cues we most often utilize.” Here are the agency’s top 10 plus tips to use them in no particular order.
Delaying instant gratification with user-initiated discovery of the details and functionality through a layered unveiling process can lead to stronger brand impressions. It creates a memorable feeling of heightened suspense in an otherwise mundane task. Pop-up constructions, pull tabs, unexpected uses of materials, plush suedes, smooth tyveks, ribbon closures, box toppers or tissues are standard ways in which you can create interactive points for the consumer. How you visually guide the consumer to interact with each component at the appropriate moment in the unveiling is fundamental to the process, making it intuitive is critical.
#DPiPackTip: Guide consumers to self-discover layered micro-interactions designed into the packaging or product.
Consider every sound your packaging makes. Each sound provides you the opportunity to fine tune the perceived value of your packaging design, and therefore, the brand.
Hinges creak, cellophane crinkles, two-piece rigid boxes slide, blister packs crack, and shopping bags open, to name a few audible opportunities. Each of these can be adjusted through material selection or manufacturing processes to increase (or decrease) the pitch of any sounds to deliver the brand-appropriate pitch. Thinner materials will provide a higher-pitched noise than heavier-weight materials. Compare the sound cellophane makes to a heavy-weight paper shopping bag. The heavier the weight, the deeper the tone, and the richer and more luxurious the product and packaging appears.
#DPiPackTip: Higher-pitched retail packaging can lower the perceived product value.
The fragrance frontier is currently being employed to provide layered brand identification and recognition across many retail environments. Yet the majority of products purchased online continue to arrive with warehouse-scented packaging, creating an olfactory disconnect for end-users. Packaging designed with a thoughtful unveiling process and aware of powerful sensory cues can transport users and create memorable signature olfactory moments regardless of environment.
#DPiPackTip: Weaving brand-specific scents into packaging can offer memorable olfactory impressions in end users.
Luxury can be recognized through both touch and the number of hand positions required to interact with packaging. The sharply folded 90-degree angles on boxes or bags and the smooth bevel of a perfume bottle all communicate something at every touchpoint. Product accessibility is a study that is best done with eyes closed. Can the consumer easily remove the product in a dimly lit romantic setting, or will they need pliers? Sharp folds and ease of use speak to quality and craftsmanship, both virtues of luxury.
#DPiPackTip: Redundant hand positions required to open packaging can reduce perceived product value.
#DPiPackTip: Dull folds or paper-cut inducing edges are equivalent to popped stitches in couture. Consider the details.
Allow your fingers to do the walking. You will discover that tactile design features are able to create brand-defining cues. A classic tactile cue to luxury is pairing an all-over embossed uncoated paper with a sculpted metallic or high-gloss hot-stamp. The finish and tactile contrast presented by many top prestige retailers follow this classic rule.
#DPiPackTip: Textures in packaging can provide a rooted-heritage feel to a new brand.
Satin ribbon closures as the point of entry create a luxe in-home product unveiling experience. Custom molded snap closures can also add visual weight to differentiate keepsake from throw-away packaging. Commodity products are packed with a secure, in-store and on-shelf at-a-glance experience. Luxury products require the exact opposite, a well-designed layered unveiling process to build suspense up to the final reveal in the user’s personal environment.
#DPiPackTip: Much like fashion, packaging can be all about the accessories.
7. contrast finishes
Light interacts with materials and finishes differently. Always ensure that your stock is smooth and crisp, consistent in color and evenly distributes light across the sheet without imperfections regardless of texture. Contrast matte sheets with gloss UV, or foil hot stamps to make a crisp impression to reflect lighting in any given environment.
#DPiPackTip: Two classic visual cues to luxe are a matte black with metallic gold scheme, or crisp white with gloss black accents.
From custom papers and fabrics to stock materials with custom processes, luxury and prestige is a matter of restraint, not excess. The current trend of minimalist design and discreet luxury began prior to the recession and became the go-to luxury brand strategy post-recession. The complete opposite of flaunting logos, prestige brands instead focus on projecting a look and feel rooted in the brand’s heritage visually communicating their story.
#DPiPackTip: Luxury packaging design communicates heritage and craftsmanship over logos, opposite of the visual noise of mass market.
Creating mystery, romance and elevating suspense utilizing a well-orchestrated unveiling process walks the fine line between luxury and over-packaging. The idea of opening a box and revealing the final product immediately leaves much to be desired. As a standard practice we prefer to add a moment of pause once the pack is opened, to create a sense of anticipation followed by a translucent layer to softly reveal the product below prior to delivering that final “aha” moment.
Poorly designed unveiling processes have been known to increase buyer’s remorse and product return rates by providing an opportunity for end-users to reevaluate their purchases and sets the value put upon the products by the brand up for question.
#DPiPackTip: Create at least one brand appropriate moment of pause after the initial opening of the pack to add romance.
10. quality control
No matter how well your design communicates luxury on screen or in photographs, the tangible mass-produced package is what has to deliver the goods. Understanding how climate impacts materials and print processes at every stage, from production through final user interaction, is critical to understanding luxury packaging. Humidity is the most often overlooked element in packaging design. Are materials from a humid environment being imported to a dry climate or vice versa, have you considered grain direction, or taken corrective measures to avoid warping, bubbling, mold growth or glue separation? This critical understanding of quality control at every stage is what can make or break the sense of luxury as presented by packaging.
#DPiPackTip: Warped packaging is an immediate way to devalue product.
staying on top
Finally, never forget that the work of building a high-end brand is never done. You now have a great image, excellent product and experiential packaging. But it only takes a couple missteps in a row to begin watering down your image and worth to customers, and sometimes the damage is irreparable.
Luxury brands that want to retain their lofty position should follow strict strategies counterintuitive to typical marketing rules, says Jean-Noël Kapferer, branding expert and author of “Kapferer on Luxury: How Luxury Brands Can Grow Yet Remain Rare.” He lists ways brands can avoid cheapening their good name or ruining their product’s value.
- Do not delocalize production: Luxury is the ambassador of the local culture and refined art de vivre.
- Do not advertise to sell: Luxury communicates to build the dream and to recreate it. This is not measured by short-term sales increases because, unlike consumer packaged goods, possession of a luxury good dilutes the excitement one had before the purchase was made.
- Communicate to non-targets: Part of the value of owning a luxury good is the quality craftsmanship of the product, but another necessary part is the recognition by non-owners. This is why Aston Martin, although a very small brand, used product placement in the blockbuster James Bond movies – so that everyone in the streets could recognize one, thus endowing the driver with admiration.
- Maintain full control of the value chain: From ingredient sourcing to the retail experience, luxury quality can only be delivered if the brand has 100 percent control.
- Maintain full control of distribution: This is where one-to-one service and interaction should take place. The experience must be exclusive.
- Never issue licenses: Brand licensing necessitates loss of control and increases the risk of consumers having a bad experience. Luxury brands promise exceptional quality and an exceptional experience, but licensors must be profitable even after having paid important licensing fees. This can only be achieved by reducing the quality of the products themselves or of the distribution. This is why between 1998 and 2008 Ralph Lauren retail sales from brand licensing decreased from 60 percent to 35 percent. The U.S. fashion brand bought back many of its licenses worldwide.
- Always increase the average price: Since the middle class gets richer, to remain its dream the luxury brand should never trade down nor cut its prices. If it does create some accessible lines, this must be done on a limited scale and be counterbalanced by systematic trading-up. All new models of Jaguar, for example, when managed by Ford were designed to make the brand more accessible. The brand never created its own ‘S Class’ (as Mercedes did).
- Develop direct, one-to-one relationships with client: Luxury means treating all clients as VIPs. This necessitates direct, personalized, one-to-one interaction, ideally in exclusive stores that represent the dream in 3D.
blazes of glory
Luxury brands have the clout, opportunity and room for profits many consumer goods brands dream of having. And despite their mysterious, slightly unattainable perception, building a luxury brand isn’t an impossibility to all but the lucky few. Using a well thought out business strategy, putting checks and balances in place for quality, cultivating emotional pull with image and packaging, and never lowering standards can help companies master the ability to inspire and draw the customers they want.