The 9 Key Challenges of Influencer Marketing In The Luxury Sector
By Nicolas Chabat
When Louis Vuitton (established in 1854) advertised on his shop on Boulevard Haussmann that the Empress Eugenie was a customer, he was already using social endorsement as a marketing strategy. Coco Chanel built her initial success in the 1930s by developing close ties with the Paris fashion community. Most creators still today have built their initial success by building strong relationships with a small community of influential clients.
Louis Vuitton today boasts over 18M likes on Facebook, Chanel 13M and Chloé is the fashion house that has women talking the most on social media, but this didn’t happen overnight and certainly not in response to beautiful adverts. Karl Lagerfeld, for example, has been courting fashion bloggers as far back as 2007.
Citing that trust and consumer purchase behavior is largely driven by peers and authoritative content and that only 3% of individuals drive 90% of conversations and impact online, the global Influencer management company, Traackr, believes that influencer marketing has emerged as one of the most promising approaches to generating authentic impact on social and has become the primary means of harnessing the power of such influencers.
Making the most of social media marketing and for that matter, influencer marketing, implies having a strategy. It’s not about the likes, it’s all about the romance that becomes a relationship. Romance sells and relationships are meant to last through achieving authentic engagement and resonance.
We explore in this article the new challenges that this emerging practice raises for the luxury sector and the questions that luxury brands must now consider.
- 1) Reach or Relevance?
Why does Aston Martin invest marketing resources to build and manage a community of 6.6M Facebook fans when they can only produce and sell 7,000 cars per year? Should luxury brands leverage influencers and celebrities to reach large audiences or focus efforts on working with small scale specialist influencers? Should Cara Delevingne always be the best bet? What is a relevant influencer for a luxury brand?
Selecting the right individuals is paramount. One easy mistake is to go for the social media celebrities who seem to offer the best reach and whom your brand would like to be associated with. This may give easy and quick returns, but it will not give you the creative depth and long term loyalty you need. So one simple but often forgotten rule is to engage people who already have an affinity with your brands. Those who love your products will speak about them with passion and knowledge that will inspire others. Those who share your values and whom your audience listens to. They are individuals with profiles, but they also express themselves. Who they talk to is relevant, and what they talk about is critical.
Luxury brands have always looked for that edge, that personality that captures people’s imagination. All you need now is to look in the right place. Among social media influencers are today and tomorrow’s muses.
- 2) Beyond Luxury
Luxury brands have long invested in territories that have in turn nurtured their history and values: Louis Vuitton with travel, Hermès with horse riding, Longines with competition. Influencers that can have an impact on a brand’s audience do not only publish about watches, haute couture or It bags.
Looking beyond the usual “fashion and lifestyle” influencers will be key for luxury brands that wish to increase their impact and be relevant to their audience. Premium brands have quickly understood that digital was redefining communities around areas of interest and lifestyle aspirations – behavioral and attitudinal pointers were the new clusters to target. Luxury brands that understand this look beyond appealing to the same people, to networks of individuals who share similar interests, with the benefit of expanding the number of prospects in the pond.
Marriott recruited Jack Harries, writer of JacksGap, a beautifully inspiring “storytelling project inspired by travel” travel vlog which boasts around 4M subscribers on YouTube, providing great subtle exposure and credibility to the Marriott brand.
- 3) Conflict of Personalities
Luxury brands have personality. Influencers have personality too. Influencer marketing in the luxury world is truly about collaboration and affinity. Identifying and selecting the right partners will require in-depth analysis, and long term monitoring.
Social influencers expect to be seen and welcomed as collaborators. They know their worth and they have a wealth of knowledge to share. They are also mindful of their own communities and of their own image. Give them a voice and you will be contributing to their success as much as they are to yours. Trust them and in return they will talk about you like no one else. They will include you in their lives and your brand will become part of the narrative that makes them so successful. It’s a win-win situation that is most likely to turn into a long term fruitful collaboration if you play fair.
- 4) Scaling Exclusivity
The notion of luxury has always been associated to exclusivity, mystery and even scarcity. When some of the most advanced brands are able to manage influencer programs of a few hundred or thousand influencers, how should luxury brands optimize the balance between scaling impact and staying consistent with the exclusivity they wish to preserve?
The audiences are there, but retaining your most loyal customers and those who associate luxury with exclusivity is paramount. Traditional luxury buyers may not be as social as your new audiences, but they are still adopting digital behaviours. Influencer marketing provides a super effective tool to reach very disparate and select audiences that reside around the themes and values associated with your brand and can steadily and selectively build a network of integrity that resonates with your audiences.
- 5) Paying For Praise?
Some question why the most aspirational brands on earth pay selected égéries to represent them. Should they duplicate this established model and pay for praise from online influencers or should they aim to leverage their formidable attractiveness, history and content to build authentic relationship and brand advocacy?
Savvy brands have long since realized that they actually don’t need to pay for endorsements, as the best and most impactful endorsements by influencers come from a place of authenticity.
Brands must develop and nurture relationships with influencers, which starts by making a human connection and putting the influencers’ needs first. Such organic endorsements don’t require a monetary exchange between the brand and the influencer, and they produce the most impact. Value exchange doesn’t mean money exchange.
- 6) Letting go…or not?
While luxury brands exert a strict control over their image and position, user generated content online has challenged the exclusivity of their message. To what extent are luxury brands able to collaborate with online influencers to co-create unique content or to engage with influencers owned posts and publications that are by definition not fully aligned with the brand’s guidelines?
This is one of the reasons brands have been tempted to pay influencers so they keep control of the message. However, the lack of authenticity, which is so important to luxury brands, will be apparent.
The route that has been chosen by the most savvy luxury brands is to co-create content with their selected influencers so the content remains on brand, and curate and share the most aligned user generated content.
When it comes to optimizing influencers’ user generated content, luxury brands have a very distinct advantage to help them ensure consistency and correct messaging: their history and craft. If they bring influencers close to their brand by developing personal and strong relationships with them and by encouraging them to get to know as much as possible about the brand and their products, they will greatly minimize the risks.
- 7) Status Symbol and Privacy in The Social Age
High net worth individuals cherish their privacy; and at the same time the new affluent millennials do not hesitate to Instagram their new £20,000 watch publicly. Is social engagement therefore a threat to brands, and how much engagement can brands publically demonstrate without breaking the golden rule of privacy?
This diversification of the luxury buyer segments, each with different expectations, can be tricky to handle for a luxury brand. It may be the reason why luxury brands took a long time to embrace digital, and even more so social media. Brands must both protect the privacy of their traditional buyers while giving the millennial generation what it expects in terms of communication and engagement.
As long as the selected influencers are a good fit with brand values and have the potential to woo any audience, it shouldn’t be a problem. Those whose personalities align with your brand’s personality and values will not push your traditional audience away. The experience, the savoir faire and beauty of the brand must remain central, highlighting and respecting its heritage and traditions while evolving.
- 8) The Quest For Perfection and Craft
Customers and influencers alike expect the best from luxury brands. Quality and attention to detail are paramount. From design and production to staff training, most luxury brands have implemented strict processes to maintain the best ultimate experience to customers. Can they say the same of the quality and professionalism of their influencer programs?
Indeed, key influencers for a luxury brand will have high expectations when associating with a luxury brand. Luxury brands, more than any others, need to provide the highest level of quality to their influencer program. However, they already have in place many activities that once used to be reserved to their customers and the media that they can now involve influencers with. These are often money can’t buy opportunities: VIP access to their events, visits of their factories, exclusive content, meeting their team, product loans or testing.
Once again, the key will be to have selected the right few influencers and to put in place an engaging program that will generate the most visibility and aligned impact.
- 9) Global Locally
High net worth Individuals are probably the most mobile customers, but expect the most personal relationship in whichever boutique they step inside, from Tokyo to Portofino. Influencers are the new stakeholders and expect the same treatment: structuring and organizing influencer programs at a global level while enabling, building and maintaining relationships locally is expected. Is your brand able to manage this?
Influencers are the luxury brands’ new stakeholders and have the same characteristics. In today’s mobile world, whatever their language and whatever their location, they will most likely have a global reach. They will expect being treated the same way as the brand’s customers. Therefore, structuring and organizing influencer programs at a global level while enabling building and maintaining relationships locally will be key.
Building relationships and communities has always been one of the foundations of luxury brands from Chanel to De GRISOGONO. With the rise of social influence, the opportunity to develop and grow relationships with key individuals who can collaborate with the brand and help engage their audience appears a natural extension.
Influencer marketing in luxury might be a complex undertaking. It will require careful planning and the right technology to optimize flawless execution. Smart influencer relationship management platforms will clearly be a key to success in the sector by helping brands to identify the right people, meaningfully engage with them, manage their relationship over time and across departments and geographies and measure impact in real time.