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Why brand is the engine of the luxury drinks model

Brands drive the appeal of luxury products. By providing better brand experiences, from packaging to in-store and beyond, luxury drinks brands can succeed all over the world, says the MD of RPM

Dom Robertson RPM

Brands drive the appeal of luxury products. By providing better brand experiences, from packaging to in-store and beyond, luxury drinks brands can succeed all over the world.

Brands are the engine of the luxury drinks business model. As Vincent Bastien, the former CEO of YSL said, “Can we imagine luxury without brands? The brand is an integral part of the luxury product…there is no luxury without brands.” It is the brands that drive the desire for the luxury products. They sell the luxury dream. Luxury brands confer status, and this status is an important part of any consumer decision to treat themselves to a luxury drink product. Different people want to signal status in varying ways, and status changes across generations and geographical borders.

Luxury has never simply been about scarcity and exclusivity – it has always been much more complex and revolved around notion of image and self-identity, reflecting status and aspiration. Luxury not only varies across borders and ages, but there also seems to be a wider shift happening in the way that elites are signalling their wealth which is key for luxury brands to understand. This is best described as the rise ‘inconspicuous consumption’ – where knowledge and building cultural capital are prized above consumer goods, with the spending habits that follow this. Instead of purely focussing on price tags, knowing the less expensive social norms, like reading The Economist, show that you have gained the cultural capital necessary to gain entry. Cultural capital is king. For luxury brands, this means they not only need to make sure they maintain their status as highly desirable to their audience in culture. When we worked with Talisker to create a sail-in cinema they were not only telling the brand’s story – that they are made by the sea – but also connecting with an audience through their passion for sailing, giving the brand cultural salience.

People are looking for hand-crafted brands and products that are distinctive and personal; a step above and a world apart from mass produced, artificial and uniform products. You only have to look at the rise of the craft beer and spirit market to prove that consumers are willing to pay more for a quality crafted product. Consumers value authenticity, the knowledge that someone with passion has spent time making a great product. If you take a brand like Fentimans, with their traditional glass bottles from the Victorian era and their all natural, hand crafted drinks, taking consumers back to an era before mass production and chemical filled factories. This is a packaging world that appeals to the consumer and delivers a quality experience in line with their brand.

Luxury is of course hard to define. It’s an abstract concept in many ways. Not wholly rational, very emotional and highly subjective, which of course impacts on brands that operate in its sphere. Necessity is all about surviving, while luxury is all about living and it’s this basic truth that informs consumers purchasing decisions. It’s all about the experience – the feeling that enjoying a luxury product provides. For those looking for a luxury experience, a £27 bottle of whisky is a cheap ticket into the luxury world. These excursionists into the luxury world may not be infrequent luxury buyers in categories such as spirits, but are not fully in the complete luxury world. They are venturing into luxury, and are therefore a significant opportunity for brands.

From packaging right through to how your products appear in retail, luxury brands need to deliver a great brand experience to consumers, otherwise it is hard to justify the price tag. Brands and retailers must look at the total buying journey and consider how they optimize every touchpoint, from the retail experience which should feel approachable and highly personal, to the actual product experience which should implicitly tell stories, for example of the craft behind the product, to increase the value perception.

To ensure brands deliver a consistent luxury experience to their consumers across every touchpoint, they need to move beyond creating key visuals to creating brand worlds. Brand worlds move how the brand manifests in the customer’s world far beyond what traditional brand guidelines are capable of. They draw on a sense of time and place that the brand opens the door to, they are physical, textural and behavioural, which in a day and age where interaction on-line and off-line is crucial, provides the back bone to the consistent experience that customers desire. The starting point for the luxury brand world will of course differ by brand, each brand has a different place of origin, story, or time that encapsulates or conveys its purpose. Single-minded focus on this brand world and an unwavering commitment to delivering this world at every touchpoint, from branded content to retail and product packaging, will build and preserve the brand experience, ultimately, helping defend the premium price tag.

Ensuring this brand experience is delivered consistently across any touchpoint in any country can be extremely challenging. Creating toolkits that can be implemented by many different markets in a way that preserves the brand experience is vital to maintaining the luxury status. We’ve worked with Diageo on toolkits for World Class and Johnnie Walker helping them to deliver their better brand experiences across the world. This work also led us to help tackle the problem of counterfeiting, an issue for sought-after products everywhere, but particularly for luxury whisky in Thailand. We worked with Johnnie Walker to create a smart bottle to track this issue, while opening a world of digital content for the consumer. Enhancing the experience people have of the brand, while tackling a key business problem.

Brands drive the appeal of luxury products. By providing better brand experiences, from packaging to in-store and beyond, luxury drinks brands can succeed all over the world. With elites looking for products that are not only beautifully crafted, but also culturally relevant, brands need to ensure they do both to remain relevant. For Excursionists and die-hard luxury fans alike, the brand experience, wherever they interact with the brand, is key. Focussing on brand worlds and remaining true to them, while connecting with people in culture will ensure luxury drinks brands continue to succeed.

Dom Robertson, Managing Director, RPM

31 July 2017