The Digital Exploration of Luxury Brands

Jul 20, 2010

Elizabeth Canon

There’s something innately special about the act of discovery. In our lives, we are on an unconscious mission to uncover things through experience: knowledge, insight, connections, relationships. This constant state of exploration is what enables us to unlock meaning through our experiences by creating something memorable. Luxury taps into this directly, as the value of a luxury item is based on emotion. When a consumer has an amazing experience with a brand, this facilitates the emotional connection that leads to loyal customers, high customer retention and high referral rates.

When we take a positive experience and we add to it the element of discovery, the positive sentiment is magnified because the person feels that they have individually uncovered something special, something not widely known, which in-turn makes them special as well. The exclusive nature of luxury supports this as luxury, by definition, is not widely attainable.
Until recently, luxury brands have relied solely on traditional means to promote exploration of their brand, by being located on prominent streets like Madison Avenue, for example.
With the introduction of the internet and social media, brands have the ability to prompt discovery on a global scale in an immediate platform. If we think of the internet as what connects brands to consumers internationally, social media is what connects the consumers to each other.

But how do luxury brands position themselves online to facilitate an experience that is memorable, and that supports and establishes an emotional connection with consumers?
As the elements of discovery vary for large, global brands compared with boutique brands, so do the tactics online. For a small brand, just having the ability to be found online (by having a brand website that is friendly to Search Engine Optimization) may be enough, while for larger brands (or smaller brands looking to expand their audience), the internet can be used to discover parts of the brand story that are not widely known. Often times, social media provides an impactful platform for this because it allows the voice of the brand to be more personal and therefore more exclusive, and since it connects consumers to each other, social media allows for a wider distribution of this content.


A brand such as MaxMara may not need their brand to be discovered, but if people begin to understand unique traits about the brand heritage through discovery, they will in turn develop a more emotional connection to the brand that can potentially lead to brand loyalty and positive word of mouth. For example, in working with MaxMara I learned they have a private villa at their headquarters in Reggio Emilia, Italy where they employ a team of chefs to prepare delicious meals for meetings and guests (of which I was fortunate enough to be one), creating an atmosphere of hospitality that truly embraces the notion of finding luxury in simplicity and elegance, something represented fully in their collections.

For a brand such as J.J. Marco, a high-end jewelry boutique that is family owned and operated, discovery may mean strolling down Madison Avenue and into their shop, having a positive interaction with the store owners and being introduced to the exquisite and unique jewelry designs. This was ultimately where my engagement ring was designed and purchased, creating an experience so overwhelmingly positive and special that I will forever be grateful.

Each of these experiences is positive. Each conveys the brand in a different way, and each is an offline experience.
So how do we communicate this notion of discovery and experience online? The key is not to replicate what happens offline, but to compliment it in a way that is natural to both the brand identity and the online platform. Here are some initial guidelines:

1. Understand your customer and their expectations both offline and online.

2. Ensure your brand presence online provides them with the information they need. Position the website as a resource.

3. Provide an experience that not only meets or exceeds expectations online but that validates a consumer’s choice or interest in your brand.

4. Through the website or social media campaigns, allow the user to discover elements of the brand that are less known, providing exclusivity and adding value to the brand offering.

5. Provide the ability for people to easily share what they have found.

In many ways, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and allowing people to learn and uncover elements of the brand story is something that happens with every interaction a persona has with the brand. However, I would invite more brands to use the digital platform to prompt, guide and celebrate in the discovery of their own brand stories.

Photo Credits: Madison Avenue, Smith Valliere
MaxMara Headquarters, New York Times 2005