Restaurateurs and master chefs citywide cried tears of joy and despair as the Michelin Guide announced its New York restaurant ratings in Soho recently. To be knighted by the storied red guide is to achieve culinary greatness, and to lose a star is to suffer inglorious defeat.
Who was behind this renowned tradition in the world of fine dining? A tire company. Such is the power of luxury branding to elevate an image that goes far beyond the product itself. Here are three key steps to incorporating prestige into your own branding strategy.
Create the myth
Mythology remains a fundamental principal of luxury marketing. High-end brand culture is built upon carefully crafted stories and lore -- all of which are intentional rather than innate. As the [email protected] podcast notes, "a luxury brand is not an experience but an image…what we are buying into is the aura of the brand."
Take the case of alcohol made in a nondescript manufacturing plant in central Poland. Put a grand presidential palace on the label, develop a narrative of exclusivity for using the finest rye, add the tagline "the world's first luxury vodka" -- and you've got Belvedere.
Myths must not only be created, but perpetuated, in order to inextricably equate a brand with luxury. In the case of Belvedere, consider their advertising campaign linking themselves to the latest James Bond film, "Spectre" -- complete with signature bottles featuring MI6 headquarters. When he ordered his martini shaken not stirred, 007 continued the legend. Luxury is a fantasy that must be conceived and maintained through purposeful messaging.
Use scarcity to boost allure
As Katherine Kaputa points out in "Breakthrough Branding: How Smart Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs Transform a Small Idea into a Big Brand," "faux scarcity" serves as an effective tool to garner attention and build brand prestige.
By artificially putting up barriers to access, elite companies manage to drum up surprisingly intense motivation among consumers. Interested in buying a Birkin, a top of the line bag from notoriously exclusive designer Hermès? It's not simply a matter of handing over $10,000+ (though you'll have to do that, too). As the Washington Post put it, "babies are conceived and born in less time than it takes for a dedicated customer to acquire a Birkin handbag." Within the luxury realm, it is the impression of rareness that heightens appeal.
For an in-depth look at a current example of scarcity at its best, take a look at "By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop," by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. The take-home message? Supply and demand need not be literal; rather, it is the illusion of low supply that appears to work just as well.
Secrecy may sound counterintuitive. It's the opposite of most marketing approaches, which instead strive for exposure at all costs. Yet, luxury branding once again defies expectations.
The anonymous reviewers working for the Michelin Guide live under a veil of secrecy normally reserved for CIA agents and witness protection program participants. This is no Yelp; instead, carefully selected gastronomic experts covertly determine ratings, with zero input from the public. The system was the perfect fodder for a Michelin ad campaign which asked, "Who's the Famously Anonymous Inspector? You'll never know." Curiosity, intrigue, and even a bit of reclusiveness are compelling elements of luxury.
In the quest to craft a luxury reputation, myth, scarcity, and mystery all serve as timeless tactics worth their weight in gold.
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