Luxury marketing and the great digital challenge?

We look at what luxury brands need to do to stay relevant in today’s digital world.

As consumers tighten their belts, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only brands who can put their feet up are high-end designer ones. But even luxury brands can’t bank on brand loyalty in these disruptive times. It’s not just a case of holding your head up high while the rest of the high street fights it out with discounts and shopper promotions to attract and retain customers.

Luxury brands need to turn up in the digital sphere as much as the next household name.

Deloitte’s Global Powers Luxury 2017 report states that the economic environment for luxury goods is set to be challenging. Shoppers are still making luxury purchases, especially in emerging markets, but the way luxury is perceived is shifting. For consumers, the report tells us that status is less about ‘what I have’ and rather about ‘who I am’. And that persona is often being created by individuals online.

The challenge for luxury brands is how they can embrace new and innovative technology without losing their heritage or focus on tangible materials and modes of manufacturing. Right now, 63% of luxury purchases are made in-store. But Deloitte also found that consumers see the future of luxury as digital, with e-commerce set to drive that trend.

Matching the demand for a digital presence will be an area of customer engagement that luxury brands will have to get right. But it’s a fine line to tread when you’re promoting a touch of quality.


The luxury brand model has always been placed in an anti-marketing format, viewing active selling as a big no-no. Discounts and promotions are thought to devalue brands and create a more mass market interest – we can’t just let anyone in now, can we?  More discerning customers (high earners, to you and me) don’t need promotions in their lives, right?

Well, not entirely, as our research reveals.

As much as marketers want to pursue cash-rich consumers, there’s still value in finding the right people to engage with your brand, depending on who you are. Brands need to find out where their audience is, to truly make sure they’re mixing in the right circles.

At this juncture, Brooklyn Beckham is popping into our heads as the hero of skatewear and high end fashion brands. Luxury designer Louis Vuitton collaborated with streetwear brand Supreme to bring Supreme X Louis Vuitton to life. Then they put it on brother Cruz Beckham’s back and soon it was all over Instagram.

Influencer marketing is a space that’s always been key for fashion brands. Product placement, even more so. The cool kids are wearing luxury brands, but traditionally, manufacturers have kept supply lower than demand. That’s the price of exclusivity. 

So, is the future of luxury finally going digital?


Well, let’s start with what we know. Luxury is entering the digital space, against its better nature. Concerns about devaluing the brand are moot. Millennials are digitally led shoppers making 42% of purchases on a computer or a smartphone. And baby boomers – traditionally the ones with the cold hard cash – aren’t that far behind them.

The Sodexo ‘Consumer Promotions: What Shoppers Think in 2017’ report tells us that all shoppers are now socially savvy cynics, using social media more and more to engage with brands. There is real currency for those businesses who connect the physical experience with the digital space – and even luxury brands are finding the need to do this.

Brands that fail to show up online, will ultimately, fail. Yet as we’re seeing, this poses big issues for luxury marketers.

As Ben Kerr, Chief Strategy Officer at Content Agency, Somethin’ Else told The Drum, “Once you click to buy from the catwalk, you’re effectively commoditising the brand…all of a sudden if you’re creating a conveyor belt, you risk really devaluing your brand and effecting your long-term opportunity for growth.”


Brand devaluation is one thing, but there’s no doubt that growth is still happening across emerging markets. And they’re well connected online. Just look around Selfridges on any given afternoon and you’ll soon see who is coveting the latest Mulberry handbag to take back home.

The Chinese love luxury goods – and they also love social media. And right now, they’re flocking to London to take advantage of the fluctuating pound. We don’t even want to think what Black Friday might bring to the Oxford Street melee.

Travel and luxury always tend to go hand in hand – almost half of luxury purchases are made by people who are travelling. That makes bespoke travel promotions a very real marketing option for high end brands seeking to get in front of new audiences.

In fact, the Chinese are mega prolific social media users, with over 700 million mainlanders connected to the internet. WeChat is a top performing platform with over 90% of Chinese professionals said to be using it. A survey for Marketing Week suggested 25% of Chinese people interacted with western brands on the platform.

Katie Jansen, CMO of mobile marketing platform AppLovin, believes WeChat is the most important platform for western companies to use when targeting Chinese consumers in the domestic market. If your luxury brand ain’t online, it ain’t front of mind.

Download Your Free Customer Loyalty Planning Sheet


Yet the internet is eating itself. People are demanding more engaging content, faster and faster than ever before. It’s outpacing itself at a rate of knots and that’s leading to a digital nightmare for brand marketers. You launch one product one day, and then your social media page needs updating again.

For luxury brands, it’ll be six months before your next designer product or collection is out. What do you do?

Brands can try to keep up with this insatiable demand for ‘new’ by launching more products or crossovers more regularly than they would have before. But the key for staying away from the cheesy smell of dated online material, is to stay on top of content, period.

Regular product endorsement and tie ins can drive this and it’s definitely on the up – good news for the Beckhams – but carefully created bespoke competitions and promotions should also be considered to drive content across multiple platforms.

Personalisation also has a massive part to play in keeping brands relevant. Burberry were one of the first luxury brands to jump on the digital bandwagon. Their pioneering digital campaign, ‘Art of the Trench’ turned streets of the world into runways growing their Facebook fan base by a million users. With enabled personalisation, it cleverly integrated the essence of the brand with the ease of technology.


Interestingly, if marketers wish to create the sense of ‘niche’, they could do worse than consider more niche social media platforms. Burberry was also one of the first to collaborate with Pinterest. Their ‘Cat Lashes Mascara’ range promotion allowed users to create customised boards. With over a million subscribers on the pin board platform, the Burberry Pinterest page is regularly updated with brand specific content.

Brands who think differently and embrace new technology will thrive as the fourth industrial revolution approaches. Cue scary music.

Of course, there have already been many attempts by luxury brands to be seen as collaborators of new technology. First there was the Pierre Hardy-designed Hermès strap on the Apple Watch. Samsung then partnered with luxury jeweller and watchmaker de Grisogono to produce a limited edition version of the Gear G2. We were as surprised as the next person, but isn’t that the point? 

From where we’re sitting, disruption in the luxury sector is set to stay.


Like their wealthy clientele, luxury brands need to take risks to stay relevant and fresh in consumer’s minds. Deloitte’s report also indicates that consumers want more rewards for their brand loyalty, with 44% expecting rewards through gifts. Plus 45% are asking for more personalised products and services. There’s that digital doorbell calling again.

As promotional marketing experts, our research reveals interesting findings for marketers interested in engaging with affluent consumers.

Big prizes, low odds

We found that high earners are attracted to big cash prizes with low odds. A promotion with a luxury prize can boost engagement and reinforce the idea of exclusivity so brands shouldn’t rule them out.

A passion for competitions

Those earning £70-80k continue to win more competitions than anyone else, suggesting that they’re a very receptive audience to competitions and promotions, presenting an opportunity for luxury or high end brands looking to reach this group of consumers. Cars were the preferred choice of prize for those earning over £80k. Life in the fast lane and all that.

Lots of time for leisure

These hard-working high earners have a lot of time for leisure. It’s for this reason that cinema promotions offer another way to target affluent consumers. In 2016, the group ‘much more likely’ to buy if it was part of a free cinema tickets promotion were those earning £70-80k (14%). In 2017, the cinema won the hearts of those earning over £80k (15%).

Paul Parry, Head of Filmology at Sodexo, says, “We’ve seen high value products offering high value cinema rewards. So, cars with free Annual Cinema Passes that retail at over £200. Here, clearly two free tickets weren’t going to entice a consumer to part with serious ‘car money’!”

There are lots of opportunities for luxury brands but like any business, the importance of evolving and staying agile in today’s modern world is a constant factor for marketers to work with. The rest of us will surely have a lot to learn as we wait to see where luxury goes next. Right, we’re off to Selfridges for a browse. Coming?