Social Media… Just a luxury ?
Marketing Week recently ran a cover story about luxury brands seeking mass appeal by embracing social media, which emphasised the importance of achieving accessibility without compromising exclusivity. With the tragic events in Japan casting a shadow over the world’s largest market for luxury goods, and the second, China, starting to chip away at advertising by aspirational brands, now is the time to get the balance right.
We decided to look at the world’s most valuable luxury brands and find out what they are doing to limit their exposure, and appeal to the masses. Taking the luxury marques from Interbrand’s list of the 100 best global brands, we compared their brand value with their social media fanbase and press coverage. Global Facebook fans and Twitter followers were found using the networks’ inbuilt search, while our free monitoring tool Pickanews provided the number of editorial and advertising mentions of each brand across four European countries (France, Italy, Spain and the UK).
The first thing we found is that there is no correlation between a brand’s value and its media profile, either on- or off-line. It is no surprise that a simple, direct relationship doesn’t exist, given the complexity of the formula for brand value – which incorporates financial performance of the branded products or services, the role of brand in the purchase decision process and the strength of the brand, itself made up of 10 components.
For example, Tiffany & Co is cited by both Interbrand and Marketing Week as a brand that has lost points on Authenticity (one of the indexes of brand strength) by shifting its focus towards “accessible luxury for all”, but it has maintained its 2009 ranking as the 76th most valuable brand. Its relatively small media profile may signify that consumers and editors are unimpressed by this watering down of the brand’s exclusive status, but it may be the result of something else entirely. Instead, our results offer a chance to compare luxury brands’ different approaches to print and social media – are they managing to strike the right balance between accessibility and exclusivity?
LVMH, the parent group of Louis Vuitton, seems to be doing just that. Appearing at number 16 in the overall list of best brands and first out of the luxury marques, it has become a byword for status. The universal charm of the Louis Vuitton brand in particular means that it is well represented by the press in all four tracked countries, while its competitors tend to perform better in their home states (e.g. Armani in Italy, Burberry in the UK). The brand has gathered the third greatest social audience (2m+ on Facebook, 40,000+ on Twitter) thanks it part to its existing fame – presumably they gain fans whenever Kanye West refers to himself as the “Louis Vuitton Don” – but certainly without compromising its aspirational values.
As Franck Sagne, LVMH’s head of digital marketing for wine and spirits, told Marketing Week, “we can’t hide ourselves in an ivory tower but we have to remain precious and exclusive”. He argues that brands can use social media to drive aspiration over accessibility, to affirm luxury consumer’s brand choices and to help consumers become “connoisseurs”. As long as the true purchaser remains at the heart of a brand’s strategy, the fact that millions of other people cluster around its social properties can only be a benefit.
Sagne takes a measured approach with LVMH brand Moët. The “Most Loved Champagne” has protected its tweets so that users must submit a request before becoming one of its (fewer than 400) followers; it has also developed a Facebook page that doesn’t allow its 60,000 fans to comment or contribute, except to specific campaigns and under strict conditions (e.g. through the Moët Miami app). Only the brand itself knows whether this strategy is delivering users of the right demographic, or paying off in terms of key business events (Keep Me Informeds, event attendance, sales), but this is exactly what the experts mean when they talk about using social media to create an exclusive experience.
By contrast, Burberry seems far more open to courting the mass market. Press coverage of the brand, centred in the UK, reflects its broad appeal: from catwalk reports in national broadsheets to classified ads in local newspapers reselling Burberry baby clothes. This popularity has attracted huge social audiences of 4.5m fans on Facebook, and over 170,000 followers on Twitter – more than three times as many as its closest competitor, Gucci. And yet Burberry hasn’t lost sight of its identity, with campaigns like the Facebook-enabled Art of the Trench bringing the online conversation back to the brand’s iconic designs.
All of which proves that it’s not the size of your media profile, it’s what you do with it that counts. The world’s most valuable luxury brands show that it is possible to become accessible to all, while still retaining the aspirational values that appeal to a core market of buyers – or, in the case of Moët, to actively use social media to reinforce the exclusivity of the brand. Only time will tell which strategy works the best, but one thing is clear: for aspirational consumer brands, social media is no longer a luxury.
Press Index is a leading provider of media intelligence across the key European markets. Over 50,000 media sources – print, online and broadcast – are delivered to over 4,500 corporate and PR agency clients across Europe. Our business solutions include an Analysis department, specialised in quantitative and qualitative evaluation of your media coverage.