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Lifestyles of the Rich and Social

In June 2008, I presented at a conference in Southern California where I debuted The Essential Guide to Social Media. While it seems like a lifetime ago, I remember this event distinctly because a couple of the questions at the end of conference addressed luxury brands specifically. And, they’re questions that many ask or have yet to ask today.

What role do luxury brands take on the social web and what is the corresponding voice and personality associated with the activity. When do luxury brands engage and does interaction take away from the stature and prestige of the brand?

The answer I gave then, I stand by today. The personality and tone of the brand should already exist as part of an overall brand design, captured and articulated in the brand style guide. The key word here is “should.” In my experience, whether it’s a luxury brand or any brand, stature, persona, and essence must be defined or redefined for the Social Web. This is different than merely humanizing the brand. What I’m referring to is bringing a brand to life. If the brand was a person, who would it emulate. What’s the tenor/tone of the voice? What is the personality of the brand? Can the brand be many things to many different varieties of customers?

For example, the brand essence of Nike is “authentic athletic performance.” Zappos is built upon “delivering happiness.”  Starbucks conveys the comfort of “rewarding everyday moments.” The essence of Disney is “Fun family entertainment,” although for Disney I would add that the brand essence is “making childhood dreams come true.”

In the case of Disney, its brand is brought to life through the personality of its characters, in the real world and in traditional mediums. How would you bring to life the Disney brand in social networks? If we gave it the “essence” and personality of the characters or their characteristics, we might have something different than what exists today.

The point is that bringing a brand to life for the social web is a deliberate exercise, whether it’s a luxury, consumer, B2B brand, organization, etc.

Influencing Affluence

I recently stumbled across the Ipsos Mendelsohn Affluent Survey that studied the media habits, lifestyles, and attitudes of the affluent and luxury marketplaces in the U.S. The report states that most wealthy Internet users, with wealth defined as households with income levels of over $100,000, are optimistic about the economy.  As these attractive consumers focus their attention to social networks, retailers and also luxury brands are either already following them or considering extending their reach to connect with them directly.

A new study from Unity Marketing however, reveals just how affluent consumers are engaging in social networks.

It’s clear from this particular study, that the top uses for social networking are purely that…social. For affluent consumers, connecting with friends and family and sharing news and pictures are at the top of the list. Concurrently, you can see where the opportunity lies for luxury brands. While less than 10% today report activities associated with brands and products, including research, deals, and referrals, everyday consumers, depending on the source of research, paint a different picture.

According to research conducted by Performics and ROI Research, about half of Twitter users who were introduced to a brand on Twitter were compelled to search for additional information. This particular study found that 48% of those who came into contact with a brand name on Twitter went on to search for additional information on search engines compared to 34% on other social networks.  30% claimed they wish to learn more about a product, service, or brand. Just under one-third (27%), reported that they were receptive to receiving invitations for events, special offers or promotions. 25% stated that they visited a site after learning about a product on their social network of preference.

The Unity study to the contrary, shows that affluent consumer, for the moment, maintain a different relationship with brands within social networks. They visit brand pages, but do not always take the next step of “liking” the brand in Facebook. Of those well-off consumers, only 25% of brand page visitors actually liked the page.

If we look at Coach, Inc., which I consider a luxury brand, they are embracing social and also engaging a large group of stakeholders. On Twitter, for example, Coach currently maintains a following of almost 270,000 followers. On Facebook, Coach is currently interacting with a community of over 760,000. Circling back to the earlier part of the discussion, Coach has certainly found its voice as well as brought the persona of the brand to life.

Social marketing, as exciting as it is, is one part of an integrated marketing strategy. The most effective marketers and brand managers will ensure that their brand is celebrated in the mediums where their consumers are active however consumers expect to engage and be engaged.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

To learn more about the business of social media, please consider reading my new book, Engage!

Get Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and The Conversation Prism:

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76 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Lifestyles of the Rich and Social”

  1. Waqas Ali says:

    Bringing a brand to life for the social web is a deliberate exercise.

    • David says:

      I agree with Tom. The essence of a luxury brand is that it is not available to all. Its the air of exclusivity that allows them to charge 20x more for a tshirt or handbag than regular high street brands. Once people can communicate with them as equals on social media, they lose that little bit of magic. So big luxury brands need to be very careful in this regard

  2. Eddy Badrina says:

    Brian – I totally agree with your comment about Coach. They are all about accessible luxury, and their social media presence extends that concept really well. We JUST wrote a post about our Coach experience yesterday (see…) ! I'd be curious to hear if you had any extended interaction with them.

  3. Charlie says:

    Wish you could share the thoughts in this post next week at the Corporate Social Media Summit in New York ( Plenty of big brands (McDonald's, Sony, PepsiCo, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson and Nokia, etc.) will be there discussing their social media plans (present and future). You could really offer some interesting insight (if you're interested in attending, or covering, let me know).

  4. Elenavprigojeva says:

    Very relevant topic, and I am completely agree with Brian! Thanks a lot

  5. Tom Mckenna says:

    Luxury brands are in a difficult position when it comes to social media. Brand,s such as Dolce & Gabbana, are built on the intangible factors of exclusivity. Social media is at its heart a communication tool for the masses. Therefore, if a luxury brand engages fully with the public it runs the risk of losing its exclusivity. A luxury brand cannot approach social media in the same way that the majority of brands do. They must take a different approach to the medium. Whereas volume of messages is normally seen as crucial, it may be better for a luxury brand to have a strict limit on the amount of times they engage. By keeping their distance from the consumer they maintain their mystique.

    The tone of voice they adopt is also very difficult to get just right. Communicate using simple language or slang and you devalue your brand. Communicate in to high brow a fashion and you risk alienating all your customers. The balancing act is crucial but this is no reason for luxury brands to shy away from social media.

    If you like my thoughts or vehemently disagree then check out my blog at



  6. markwilliamschaefer says:

    Interesting. I was just riffing about this topic yesterday in the comment section of a post I wrote about places where social media does NOT fit:

    Here's something to think about. If you saw a “follow us on Twitter” sticker on a Maserati, wouldn't it diminish the brand? This is line with your comment about making brands come alive. In some cases — especially in the true ultra-luxury market — I think association with the social web may actually cheapen a brand. It might take some courage to avoid the social hype but companies must stick to that brand essence.

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  9. connectme360 says:

    IMHO, the concept of “authenticity” plays out very differently with luxury brands than it does with your typical social networking interaction. (I should state that I don't consider “Coach” to be a true luxury, or couture brand, compared to a Louis Vuitton. Some consider even Louis Vuitton as somewhat mainstream.)

    The central conceit of all luxury brands is that the very rich ARE very different — and should be treated accordingly. The clientele of a true couture retailer may generate 90%+ of their business – and accordingly, there is no time limit for “how many times” or “how long” a luxury brand will cater to their clientele. Oprah once famously visited an unfamiliar Hermes store at 3am in the morning to select scarves for some event the next day. (“Unfamiliar” meaning she was visiting and did not have a personal connection with the store manager.) There is no way that this level of service can scale to accommodate all of the aspiring luxury good followers on Twitter.

    I believe the core disconnect of social media and luxury brands is that with social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc, all followers/friends are pretty much alike. Only Facebook appears to be focusing on the fine-grained privacy controls that might be useful to interactions between luxury goods and their clientele, and even so, the rules they are implementing often run counter to the way couture works. In the meantime, luxury brands need to free themselves from the distractions of the 98% of the people who aren't their true clientele, so they can be there when their best customers need them most.

  10. Whitevector says:

    Very interesting! I partly agree with Mark and Tom – true luxury brands simply cannot follow the same mark/comms strategy as more accessible brands. We've also noticed that: it's easier to convince an everyday brand to engage in social media analysis than a luxury brand.

    However, what is concerning is that some high-end brands tend to consider online discussions banal. Even if more common social media strategies (like a “Follow us on Twitter” bumper sticker on a Maserati!) should be left for masses, couldn't social media be embraced in more innovative ways that would stay true to the brand's values and essence? And, like in other forms of media, luxury brands can really find the most suitable ways to promote their products.


  11. The Unity study to the contrary, shows that affluent consumer, 

  12. I am deeply moved by what you said today.

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