Over the past 10 years, a voraciously connected millennial customer has changed the way luxury and premium brands approach their online presence. Skyrocketing digital sales create increasing pressure to create online experiences that remain aspirational, without losing the unique point of view and integrity of the brand. While catering to younger customers, brands must also avoid losing their older clientele; a challenge that many brands struggle with.
Below, we’ll share our seven rules to follow when marrying strong user experience techniques with a premium brand, as well as examples of brands that do this best.
1. The best brands approach user experience holistically
Differentiation is achieved by viewing the customer experience end-to-end. Generous, informative content, “swag” that the user will be excited about displaying or using, delivery methods and packaging, and added digital services are all touchpoints to consider.
In Asia, we are seeing luxury brands beginning to establish a presence on e-commerce marketplaces, because that is where their consumers need them to be.
Whilst luxury brands were cautious at first, marketplaces have been working to make an environment that’s suited to them. TMall established its Luxury Pavilion, which is invite only and therefore restricted to only a few luxury brands. Meanwhile, accessories maker Coach is now on Lazada and has created a LazMall flagship store that provides all the premium qualities you would expect to see from the brand both online and offline.
While it seems like a luxury brand would risk a loss of their finely crafted customer experience by setting themselves up on marketplaces, it is now integral to a customer’s shopping journey in Asia. And just as a physical presence is important to reach customers, a digital presence, in select locations, is now just as important.
2. Create immediate scarcity
Luxury traditionally signals few customers and small quantities. But a recent online trend now shifts the emphasis of luxury to “who you know” and “how quickly you know it”.
A prime example of this is the luxury product drops by the Chinese fashion influencer Tao Liang, better known as Mr. Bags. Mr Bags regularly drops luxury bag collaborations with brands such as Dunhill, Givenchy and Montblanc to his 5 million Weibo followers with little to no warning. You have to be in the right place, at the right time, to get them. Customers can purchase the bags the moment they drop via their phones using Baoshop, Mr. Bags WeChat mini program, which ensures a seamless, in-the-moment experience. The result is stock that's snapped up in minutes; his recent Dunhill bag drop sold out of all 200 units within 26 minutes.
Scarcity is a crucial element to maintaining allure within any luxury brand, and when creating an online experience, be sure to explore the different ways you can deliver that scarcity.
3. Personalisation is key
A VIP experience is a tailored experience, personalised to the specific type of customer involved, however the personalisation tool can work both ways. One method is to harness the power of user generated content.
Beats by Dre, a headphone company with a staggering 70% market share globally, launched a new range of colourful Power Beats Pro headphones. Their desire was to launch into the Asian market using colour, self-expression and the emotion of music. Given the target customer, generation Z, Beats decided to meet them where they are: TikTok.
By featuring singer Ashnikko, the #BeatsDaisyChallenge campaign leveraged talent from Tiktok’s vast community to create the world’s first TikTok music video featuring user-generated content. Over four weeks, Ashnikko challenged TikTok influencers to showcase their creativity via a series of TikTok challenges centered around self-expression through colour.
The result was a visual experience that users had created themselves. The campaign drove unprecedented reach and engagement for Beats, with 8.1B hashtag views, 946M likes, shares and comments, and 2.2M videos uploaded.
(Disclosure: This campaign was by AnalogFolk)
4. Drive desirability
People often associate status with items, products and services that are exclusive. This means that brands wanting to appear exclusive must follow through with that promise.
Social and professional networking app, Raya, whose users include celebrities, entrepreneurs and other elites, can be joined only by referral from another member. Even then membership is not guaranteed. This process not only generates desirability, but often, free PR.
Another method of status-building is verification. On social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, the “blue check” is a symbol that represents validity and authority.
Gatekeeping online can be tricky given the lack of face-to-face contact. Brands should also keep in mind that an overzealous approach to exclusivity might deter valid customers, so every effort must be made to find desired customers wherever they are, and not rely on an online-only approach.
5. Strive for a unique point of view
It might feel impossible to do things differently in a crowded market. There are e-commerce sites, mobile apps, and games aplenty. Standing out comes down to commitment to vision.
Monument Valley (a mobile puzzle game that won Apple Game and App of the Year, Apple Design Award and several BAFTAs) is a perfect example of a premium digital experience with serious cut-through. Designers of the game wanted each frame to be so aesthetically pleasing that it could be hung on a wall, like art. The sound design also won accolades for its exceptional originality and quality.
The creators of the game prized minute attention to detail, and the commitment paid off: the game attracted users outside of the typical “gamer” persona and earned $25 million in revenue since launching in 2014. Not bad for a young team on its first mobile game.
6. Privacy and discretion must be maintained
Luxury clientele are famously discreet and sensitive to their personal lives being exposed in any way, but ordinary users worldwide are also becoming more attuned to the risks of life online. Brands must be hyper-aware of how they are gathering, treating and storing customer data.
At best, customers should fully understand and give consent when allowing brands to access their personal information. At worst, a major breach could destroy the trust a brand has built over years of investment in a customer or user base. Invest in data privacy best practices now to maintain credibility as a brand and avoid any risk of violation.
7. Go above and beyond
Customer service perks are an obvious first step for any luxury brand, but what are some other exciting examples of value-add?
Race Scout, conceived by AMG/Mercedes, provided an exciting new service for owners of the AMG race car which included first access to racing events, driver training, and participation in international racing events.
The Race Scout app was originally conceived to allow owners of an AMG vehicle, which start at a cost of around $500k, to connect with teams that need a car for their next race, from amateur to professional level drivers.
In China, Nio, the premium electric vehicle manufacturer, went above and beyond for their clientele, by creating Nio Houses across China. Positioned as a members only club, Nio Houses elevates Nio’s offering from cars to a fully tangible lifestyle where members can relax, meet friends, learn and discover more about their cars. Nio Houses even include child day care services for their esteemed members.
Think laterally when it comes to going above and beyond, and don’t assume you know what it is that your customers need or desire. You might be surprised at what your customers want, and the best way to find out is to prototype different options and test their responses.
8. (Bonus tip) Create a consistently authentic experience
Taking a premium brand experience across to a younger customer base, as Tommy Hilfiger did with Tommy Jeans, can be risky. The authentic spirit of the brand must be maintained, otherwise the namesake brand could be compromised by a less-than-luxe experience.
Tommy Hilfiger wanted to find a new space for its Tommy Jeans products online, where it could showcase the Hilfiger brand DNA, and ensure the approval from a street-savvy, drop-obsessed audience. Authenticity became the key challenge.
From creative to art direction, locations to cadence, Tommy Hilfiger mirrored fashion fans’ lives and digital behaviours. The key to creating this type of alignment was to be obsessive about users; finding who they were, what type of people and images represented them, and how they could connect content to commerce.
Finally, aspirational and premium experiences aren’t limited to luxury brands. Some of Asia’s most popular and respected brands take their customers on a journey that might start on Instagram and finish with a purchase, but the unique perspective of their brand is hyper-present throughout the user experience.
Stephen Pill is Asia Strategy Director at AnalogFolk.