Flip it ‘round however, and the answer to what could consistently be classed as a luxury for brands through the ages is ironically timeless.
It’s customer loyalty. Hard to get, even harder to keep, and "priceless".
As we continue hurtling through the digital era, it is set to become even more of a rarity and infinitely more valuable; so that said, the million-dollar question at hand is: how can brands foster loyalty and keep their customers coming back?
Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, it begins with quid pro quo. As we have all heard —probably far too many times by now — consumers these days are enlightened, savvy beings, who have all the balls in their court, a universe of information at their fingertips and myriad options to choose from in a market saturated to the brim.
In short — they have the power to dictate who lives or dies in the luxury arena, they owe brands absolutely nothing and they know it — so their stamp of approval doesn’t come cheap; and as the chips continue to fall in their favour, you have to work for their fidelity more than ever before.
1. You only get out what you put in.
Two words: Add. Value. Most consumers these days won’t stick with a brand forever just because they like the look, feel or taste of it. They have far too many options on their hands to relegate their spending and attention to just one — and even the best brands have far too many competitors springing up day-by-day to rest on their laurels.
The trick is to offer consumers something for their trouble.
Net-A-Porter, for example, does the ‘add value’ bit really well with their online editorial suite, which includes the weekly, digital (and shoppable) magazines The Edit and The Journal — offering customers browsing the high-fashion e-commerce hubs a mix of interesting, high-quality articles, celebrity interviews, travel reviews and relevant fashion & style advice free-of-charge.
Another strategy in this vein is to add value by removing cost — much like what supermarkets do by giving out discounts and tokens in a bid to keep customers coming back — luxury brands can also apply this concept to their operations, albeit in a classier way, of course. On that same note, plastic membership and loyalty cards are out — apps are in. Less is more for Millennials in this case.
But rather than focusing solely on the monetary aspect, luxury brands can also surprise and delight loyal customers by offering up a twist on the traditional points-based/membership schemes and coming up with personalized offers and exclusive rewards to keep their clientele engaged and coming back for more.
However, as always, the more original the idea — the more you’ll stand out from the crowd as the one to stick with because of the added benefits and status that conveys — which leads to point number two.
2. The enduring allure of ‘limited-edition’ & the tactile touch.
Connecting consumers to brands via one-off, limited-edition gifts which reward them for their loyalty and add a touch of beauty to their lives is the perfect fit for luxury – plus, if these gifts are gorgeous enough to be noticed, they can also generate word-of-mouth within the desired target market.
As must be obvious, this one works best if restricted to a specified group of customers — those at the very pinnacle of the loyalty pyramid.
There are a range of gifts that could fit the bill, so it pays to get creative, but keep in mind that a recent article by The Drum, among others, recently highlighted the fact that quality, exclusivity and timelessness are the three key pillars by which customers identify ‘luxury’, and those remain unchanged through the ages — so keeping those three markers in mind is vital to hitting the nail on the head with this one. Consumers these days don't just want more 'stuff' — they want timeless, quality souvenirs that evoke something special.
Overall though, this particular strategy is as much about gift-giving and added ‘extras’ as it is about inspiring customers to pay attention, stay engaged and keep coming back by making them feel special.
3. Knowledge, access & exclusivity are key.
A continuation of the point above — rewarding loyal customers with something particularly unique can help keep them engaged.
As identified in the industry tome, Customer Relationship Management Strategies in the Digital Era (pg. 259), this can be an exclusive, material treat or something as intangible as added convenience, knowledge or access, which is still inherently valuable.
The latter is the thinking behind offering ‘queue-cutting’ and priority customer perks, as well as ‘insider’ looks behind-the-brand, either digitally or by actually offering loyal customers a rare, physical tour of the brand’s operations — much like Willy Wonka’s ‘golden tickets’ rational.
This is a rising trend that both Hermès and the Peninsula Beverly Hills, among others, have recently adopted to engage and inform their customers about what goes on behind-the-scenes of their brands — albeit on a broader scale.
It can also refer to insider information, so perhaps updates on what’s coming up before its out in the press, exclusive up-to-the-minute tips on what’s hot and happening at the latest, emerging luxury destination, or a digital magazine with rich, relevant content that goes out to subscribers or top customers only.
A digital influencer aligned with your brand ideals and who holds particular sway or appeal with your customers, could also be brought in to launch a collaborative, content-led campaign to give key customers some special attention in the form of custom style or travel advice, for example.
This strategy taps into consumers’ desires to be ‘in-the-know’, and sends the message that loyalty is a key that grants access to an elite club which gives them an inside track on their favourite brand, exclusive tips and golden tickets to rare experiences that elevate them above the rest.
4. Be a smooth operator & leverage data.
Customers in the digital age want efficiency and convenience more than ever before. They also want to feel special. So in this digital age, where so much gets lost in the noise — luxury brands need to customize the online experience for each and every customer.
Access to data on customer behaviour and tracking on how they shop, navigate sites and what each client responds to best is now more available than ever before, so using those golden nuggets of information to increase user experience for each and every customer is key.
Because, just as technology is seemingly destroying loyalty, it can also be leveraged to engage customers and create long-term relationships.
I’m not talking about greeting each customer as they log into a site with their name — I’m talking about letting them customize their own shopping experience — whether that be the set-up, music that plays when they enter, colours, and highlighted goods/services matched and suggested just for them.
All experiences and transactions that take place on your turf should be a breeze — including billing too — this is a pet hate for many consumers, so if they are coming back to your brand’s website, make it as smooth and positive as possible. The trick is to get them to stay in your digital world, not because they have to but because they want to.
Also – be consistent across platforms, whether you’re a local boutique business or a global corporation with offices across the world — innovation and evolution is one thing, but no-one likes a flake, so if you are constantly shifting the way you do things with no continuity, explanation and/or changing your attitude on a whim — people will disconnect and unfollow.
As above, delivering quality, enjoyable interactions that start to build a lasting customer relationship is key. Think about it — you wouldn’t continue to spend time with a person or at a place just because it’s useful or pretty to look at.
But in order to build a solid emotional connection with consumers they also have to feel appreciated, listened to, understood and pampered — so communication and involving them in the evolution of the business is vital.
As a recent report on The Power of Emotion and Personalization by InMoment recently identified, “in this age of the customer, both co-creation and co-evolution of brand promise, and how it's executed, is essential".
The study, which surveyed 10,000 brands and 20,000 consumers around the world about customer experience (CX), confirmed that “customers increasingly see their interactions with brands as more relationship-oriented than transaction-based,”, according to Brennan Wilke, SVP Customer Experience Strategy at InMoment.
He added that if “the brand promise is in alignment with consumer expectations and consistently delivered, customers are much more like likely to continue, and even, grow that relationship.”.
So keeping a close eye on what your customers want, how they react to different initiatives — online or offline — and the minutiae on how they shop and like to be treated, goes a long way. Involve your customers in your decisions and changes and let them know you’re listening and you’ve heard them loud and clear by responding in kind — they’ll love you for it, simply because you went that extra mile.
These insights are an except from the fresh ‘Luxury Trends 2017’ report created by The Ink Collective. For a PDF of the full report, click here.
Photo Credit: NET- A- PORTER- THE EDIT