Do luxury brands need social media?

I was reading Steve Rubel‘s latest thoughts on Social Luxury Is Personal, which left me wondering if luxury brands need social media.

Luxury brands are defined in part by their exclusiveness and inaccessibility; social media rebalances power and control via its inclusiveness.

  • I was walking down a London side street with my CFO yesterday and we paused to admire a Maserati drive past. Ford and GM are running influencer outreach programs; Maserati is not.
  • A couple years ago, I delivered a speech at a Google reception for luxury brands. Afterwards, I spoke with representatives from Bulgari, Cartier, and others who felt that my remarks weren’t applicable to them given the presence of brands like Coach and Ann Taylor in the room.
  • When I ran global digital marketing at PUMA, I worked with our Black Station group on co-branded presences with Philippe Starck, Neil Barrett, Christy Turlington, and Yasuhiro Mihara. At the time our comparison sites included Prada, which was forever just a single picture, and Helmut Lang, which was a list of links. Forget any usability or even worse, drive to sales.

All brands today are thinking about social. But do luxury brands need social media? Yes, but not in the way many would think – this isn’t about making the Burberry plaid into a uniform or seeing every kid on the corner wearing an Armani Exchange cap. Luxury brands can benefit from social CRM – which leads to more effective business and better understanding of consumers, but not necessarily Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. For more on social CRM, attend my webinar tomorrow.

Luxury brands can benefit from social business. But significant differences lie within operationalization and by all means, please don’t confuse “true” luxury with what premium or mass brands should do…that would be quite gauche. 🙂

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  1. I commented on @DigitalRoyalty ‘s post a while back on the same topic
    We ( @EmbryRiddle Worldwide ) are a very niche brand. Word of mouth is key and we are mainly using social media to build communities for our prospective students, students, alumni & faculty/staff. So if the customers want a luxury brand to have social media communities my opinion is to give them somewhere that you can at least monitor.
    Let me make this clear: It’s not if a luxury brand needs social media, they’re not in control. It’s if the customers of those luxury brands want social media.

    ~ @bbryon

  2. Peter, it almost seems like you’re confusing social media strategy with SEO. Scott Rafer said it best in reference to Groupon and Gilt Group, where traditional product SEO would kill their businesses by commodifying via comparison-shopping transparency: “Unless you’re Google, efficient pricing is the antithesis of profit. Instant, free, ubiquitous, constant, direct comparisons to the competition drives prices towards marginal cost (i.e. profit = zero) quickly. To escape this race to the bottom, information inefficiency must exist. Before the internet became ubiquitous, information inefficiency was the natural state in which society existed. Now it must be manufactured.”

    Go read Scott here:

    It’s important to remember that social media is not all about being open. One of my best online social networks is a Google Group, comprised of five people. I’m also part of another exclusive social network for digital CMOs, where we specifically limit it to around 20 people. That’s luxury and exclusivity, and should not be confused with SEO and open-market efficiency.

  3. Interesting point of view, Max. I think that inefficiency is one element, but while premium brands discount and can be compared, true luxury transcends based on palpable product characteristics. A Bentley Continental really is better engineered than a Chrysler 300 – and the price shows it. But we are talking about branding and advertising in this post, so well said on the SEO comparison.

  4. Thanks for the pointer – good key points in the post.

    As for customers, let them eat cake…because I don’t believe they’re in as much control of brands as the gurus would have us believe.

  5. I think luxury brands do need social media and word of mouth marketing, but it may be the “who” and not “how many” question (similar to B2B). Instead of attracting the 100k followers, you want the 1-2k that would actually have the money to buy your brand. And, it may not be on Twitter or Facebook but other niche communities. I remember a documentary a while back where a journalist in Europe was granted access to some of the must exclusive collections of haute couture dresses. These are dresses that are bought for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars, worn once and then put in a closet never to be worn again. But, these women are extremely proud of their dresses and are a very tight community of women who can afford these dresses. Finding out where they are talking about things online and getting involved in that conversation would be something a luxury brand would want to target.

  6. Good point Sue_anne…my guess is that these consumers are talking online but not in public social networks. They use email, texting, and old fashioned voice to discuss dresses, etc. They use mainstream media to get widespread public exposure – by being photographed, not by spreading publicity about themselves.

    Social media may have created new types of celebrities – even revived some old ones (e.g. MC Hammer) – but from what I can tell, the nouveau famous are all about making it in mainstream media. Not the other way around.

  7. Long standing luxury brands have spent years building customer loyalty, elegance and style. Why on earth would they wish to ruin all that by associating with proven untrustworthy environments (generalising, but you all know who I’m talking about), especially on the basis that those environments are entirely constructed around user-generated grafitti. (Not very sophisticated really…) Besides, most importantly, ‘if you want to stand out from the crowd, you don’t put yourself in the middle of it!’

  8. Hi Peter,

    Like you, I believe luxury brands are actually perfectly positioned for social media as long as they reward their community in appropriate ways so that the social aspect of new media doesn’t dilute the premium quality of the brand. I just had the pleasure of speaking to such a group at the Gucci Group Conference in Miami. They did a wonderful job of inspiring the c-suite from all their eight brands as to the possible applications of their innate creativity to the social space. i explained what they did here:

    I hope it’s useful in encouraging other brands to do so. I sat in on their brainstorming sessions the next day and they had amazing ideas that took advantage of technology and social media.

    Thanks for the great post,


  9. I believe that there are is an emotional spectrum for marketing luxury brands: on one side of the scale is exclusivity, which is of course about maintaining the mystique of the brand as a way of creating value. On the other side, however, is accessibility – the myth of the brand has to be available and understood on a more mass level in order for it to be valuable for those who can understand it. My Chanel handbag wouldn’t have the same cache (and wouldn’t have cost what it did) if no one recognized what Chanel is. So I definitely think that social media can play a role in the accessible part of the spectrum – publicizing the promise of the brand.

    For more thoughts on luxury brand engagement in the digital space, you might be interested to check out a deck myself and a colleague put together on the subject:

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