Exploring market mapping, messaging and more, we sat down with our Strategy Director James Lees to break down why brands need to nail their positioning before embarking on digital projects.
The Power of Brand Positioning
The world is inundated with brands; as of 2021 there were 5.6 million private sector businesses registered in the UK alone. And although luxury is a more curated collection, it’s still a vast one.
Carving out a place in the mind of contemporary consumers is the goal of every wannabe-timeless brand. Even for those who already are, the goal is still to stay front of mind. Clever marketing campaigns and cool, immersive digital experiences are vital to modern businesses but intelligent brand positioning…
Three central tenets to a durable brand. So how do you do it?
Branding is all about two things: distinctiveness and relevance.
How is your brand distinctive from other brands in the market? And how is it relevant to your audience? Exceptional, forward-thinking brands need to have a harmonious mix of both.
Because a brand can be relevant and forgettable. Or distinctive in something no one would think twice about.
So when we talk about brand positioning, it’s a journey to discovering how your brand relates to an audience – their lifestyle, their needs and aesthetic sensibilities – and how to do that while being so unique that you exist in a category of one.
Too many brands get caught up in copying their competitors. The luxury industry’s cascade of metaverse dabbling is a timely example of that, with many businesses racing to take up space in these shiny new virtual worlds through activations that aren’t true to their spirit.
Even brands who extend similar offerings, whether it’s watches, supercars or seven-star experiences, will serve a distinct desire or lifestyle. Aspirational or otherwise.
Every travel or hospitality brand has its individual belief of what travel should be and its own flavour of how to achieve that. And it’s the same in fashion. The type of lifestyle depicted in a label’s imagery, video and how they talk about fashion and concept is all informed by their distinctive positioning – born from a philosophy that is uniquely theirs.
In an industry as primed for innovation as luxury is, businesses habitually prioritise their tech and digital experiences over time for branding work. But when there’s a disconnect between positioning and digital projects, a brand’s overall perception will crack.
The classic, maybe even original, idea of UX was fixated on flow. There was a widely accepted theory that the best kind of experience was one the user didn’t know they were in.
Much of this way of thinking is purely about removing friction in pursuit of seamless movement that gets the user to the outcome rapidly, ideally in just one click.
But if you do that with a luxury brand, you kill it.
And one of the murderer’s could be, and often is, buyer’s remorse. Where you have clients or customers who have bought something too hastily, without having understood its value or the story behind it, not only will they question their relationship with your brand but the perceived value of the product or service is cheapened.
Whereas when customers are seduced by a product over time, with clever, emotive storytelling – whether it’s being enlightened on how the stitching is painstakingly done by hand or how a concierge will interact with guests from day one of a trip – they’re much more likely to believe the hype. And also, internally, rationalise or post-rationalise their purchase.
So when there’s a disconnect between the digital experience and brand expression, it’s usually because one side of that core tension is winning out and it’s the wrong one.
When you remove every ounce of friction in favour of conversion, you optimise things to death.
Smart luxury brands, even when they’re heavily ecommerce-based, will give a trove of information just on a product listing page. Perhaps through video, a stitching guide or other storytelling vehicles – anything that forces the customer to lust after items in these transactional moments.
On the other hand, luxury can be guilty of fixating too much on branding and in quite flawed ways.
The language of luxury can be very self-indulgent. And it can be difficult to achieve an elevated essence without reams and reams of meaningless copy and empty statements. It may sound meaningful, but if it’s not been crafted from the consumer perspective and relies on clichés or tired phrases, you’ll lose them by the end of the line.
Precision without pretentiousness is everything.
Phrases that saturate industries, like ‘surprise and delight’ in hospitality or ‘putting the customer first’ in retail, they’re tedious. Remove them from your vocabulary. It’s just noise.
Simultaneously, brands need to realise that there’s some aspects of service that you can’t communicate through words, that need to be felt more than heard or read.
Hospitality, for example, at its very core is about service. So claiming and reiterating your high-quality, best-in-the-world service is table stakes. It’s expected.
Brands need to go beyond the bare minimum with their messaging – again, highlighting their distinctiveness from competitors and their relevance to the customer.
Without these two qualities, a brand will float away into the ether. So how do you find them? Comb through your brand archives, sit down with stakeholders – especially those who have facetime with your audience – and understand your founding principles. These details are fundamental to your brand positioning. Of course, some parts become less relevant and are cut as time and culture moves on but a strong enough founding concept, one that captures a unique heritage and the why behind the brand, will always be distinctive and resonate with your audience.
The core tension between brand and conversion must be maintained for a business to thrive. The secret to conversion is claimed in every corner of the internet yet it’s not a one-size-fits-all model. Building a solid brand positioning will effortlessly inform your CX at every significant touch point, creating a symbiosis between branding and conversion that will develop in tandem.
Language is one of your most powerful tools. As the spirit of a brand isn’t a tangible thing but rather something that’s felt, pinning down your brand positioning on paper, as precisely as possible, is vital. It can be tempting to wax lyrical about your brand but if it means little in relation to your audience, it’s futile. Confusing who you want to be or what you’ve done in the past with who you are comes through in lacklustre or lazy language. If you’ve done the work to differentiate your brand and ensure its relevance, spotlight it with evocative, unambiguous messaging. Not an epic poem.
Never leave your brand positioning as a static document. It’s essential to workshop it into your main brand touch points (not necessarily all, some are purely functional). How can your new or refined brand positioning change or inform some of the interactions you have with customers? Once you’ve got this core idea, one that’s true to the spirit of your brand, distinctive from everyone else and relevant to your audience, it’s easy to form and cultivate marketing concepts, new services, etc. that are founded in that central notion.
Being classified as luxury doesn’t excuse brands from the necessity of strategic positioning. Without well thought out branding, the foundation becomes shaky. At MOF, we challenge and help luxury brands to hold themselves to a higher ideal. Particularly because they tend to be selling a lifestyle rather than a need, which requires an even larger belief in a unique concept. With every affirmation surrounding your brand, we’ll ask ‘so what?’ It’s a question central to our strategic approach with clients which we help answer through our experiences with other luxury brands, our in-depth understanding of luxury sectors and vertices and our interactions with your brand stakeholders.
If you want to partner up to nail your positioning, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org to chat with one of our consultants.
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