For luxury branding, don’t lose sight of essential branding rules

It’s fascinating how certain themes emerge in the marketing world. One that has been impossible to ignore in recent years is the massive growth of the luxury sector which, if we believe everything we read, has been fuelled by ‘greedy bankers’ and ‘emerging global economies’ (China, India et al). While the rest of the economy went through a credit crunch, the richest in society got richer, their numbers grew and of course, brands followed.

What’s fascinating and infuriating in equal measure, however, is the way marketers attempt to separate luxury into an impenetrable secret club that only those equipped with special knowledge and understanding may enter. Indeed, we often receive briefs with requests that ‘the agency demonstrate their luxury credentials’ and ‘show us how you understand the mindset of our high net worth individual consumer base’.

The major issue with luxury, of course, is that it’s an abstract and subjective concept. In consumer terms, I guess you could loosely define ‘luxury’ as any purchase that lies beyond functional need. A Rolls Royce does the same functional thing as a Ford KA. A Rolex does the same thing as a Swatch.

These are the obvious and extreme examples. But what about others? Ice Cream? Coca Cola? A chocolate biscuit? Are they not sometimes elevated to luxuries in our everyday lives? And does that mean that Wall’s, Coca Cola and McVities are sometimes luxury brands? What about time itself? Surely it’s the ultimate indulgence. It can all get a bit messy and shows that, as a consumer, there isn’t a fixed line you cross into luxury.

It’s hard not to marvel at the unnecessary over-complication of luxury as a concept. One quick look at high-end luxury brands tells you all you really need to know. Here’s the checklist:

  1. Create an iconic mark or logo
  2. Set everything out of black
  3. Add a simple typeface
  4. Mix with a heavily retouched product shot
  5. Finish with a short, sharp emotive strap line

That’s your luxury branding right there. That’ll be £150K please! I’m joking of course, but the serious point is that if there really was a specialist skillset required for luxury branding, would the opposite also not be true? That you need to have a specialism in order to tackle commodity products too? (Surprisingly we’ve never been asked!).

Nowadays the role of brand is really important. In a world with thousands of SKUs, brand is the only differentiator: whether you’re a high-end spirits product, or a low-end soft drink. It matters a lot. But, please let’s not pretend that luxury branding is somehow more complex, challenging or esoteric than any other type of branding. It just has a slightly different set of rules that any professional branding consultancy worth its salt understands.

It’s the principles of branding and good design that matter here, not trying to prove that one product or service is more luxurious than the next and therefore deserving of specialist knowledge.

And, at the risk of coming across horribly pragmatic, every brand is made up of the same building blocks. You need to work out what you’re about; your foundations and essence, and express it through brand identity, colours, imagery and tone of voice.

And that won’t change, whether you’re a Swiss Watch or a Swiss Roll.

About the Author

Chris Lumsden_expert profile

Chris Lumsden is the Co-founder and managing partner at Good. He founded the agency along with business partner Keith, in 2004. As managing partner, Chris works with Keith on the running, development and growth of Good.

During his career, Chris has worked on brands as diverse as Coca Cola, Harper Collins and BT. Prior to founding Good, Chris worked with Keith at 999 Design Consultants, and prior to that, was at BD Network and Swordfish London.

Today Good is one of the UK’s most effective design consultancies, with client experience on brands including Bacardi, Ford, Scottish Power, Angostura, Land Securities and more.