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build a luxury brand online

How To Build A Luxury Brand Online

Welcome to the Maxwell-Scott Broadsheet, a place to discuss business-related subjects with a range of industry experts. The first topic: how to build a luxury brand online…

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

By 2025, luxury fashion ecommerce will have a quarter of the industry’s market share. Successfully building a luxury brand online, therefore, offers significant potential for growth.

Maxwell-Scott was founded in 2002 by William Scott Forshaw with one simple aim: to combine British design with Italian craftsmanship, in turn creating beautiful and practical accessories which will last a lifetime. Forshaw decided to focus online, with building a luxury ecommerce site seemingly the perfect way to modernise the Italian leather industry.

The Maxwell-Scott marketing manager, Julia Munder, explains how a brand can define itself as luxury online through the more general question in the fashion industry today as to what even constitutes a “luxury” brand? Online or in-store she comments that luxury should be defined as quality and the service received with the product, plus a certain exclusivity. Though more and more often luxury is defined by price and brand power these days, those focusing on building a luxury brand online should be inspired instead by the product and the brand ethos. For Maxwell-Scott another significant aspect of this is the heritage which the artisans draw upon to create each product. Evidently, creating a successful luxury brand online pivots around a few key steps: quality, service, branding, investment, marketing and innovation.

Establishing The Brand

There are two key strategies to building a luxury brand online – making an unforgettable product (in terms of design, quality, timeless style) and going above and beyond for all customers. A product is, of course, central to business and as such, should be considered first. Customers value quality and luxury price points ensure that the very finest is possible for the company and expected by the consumer. Maxwell-Scott’s Munder explains that quality is one of the most fundamental factors to Maxwell-Scott’s growth due to the fact that, through this, the brand has been able to find its niche in being sustainable and environmentally friendly. This is a significant commitment as slow consumerism has been a ubiquitous topic, particularly in the last few weeks of fashion week month. Luxury is not the same as today’s culture of fast, throwaway fashion. Rather when building a luxury brand online it is crucial to provide a product which is a worthy investment. Establishing such a brand ethos that focuses on only the very best ensures the brand’s credibility, authenticity and authority within the marketplace.

build a luxury brand online
The Donnini Doctor's Bag

Reliability is also important. Consequently, consumer-centric customer service is a critical component to building a luxury brand online. Simply put it must fulfil every desire of the customer aiming to continually surpass their expectations throughout the whole purchasing process. David Robinson, founder at Robinson of England who have crafted furniture for the Bank of England, argues that the post-purchase experience should be a little more bespoke and personable when it comes to a luxury brand. This way, there is a commitment to constructing important relationships.

A customer’s experience is important for two reasons. Primarily, if they are more than satisfied by their purchasing experience they will, most likely, repurchase. Moreover, thoughtful and meaningful communications will increase the organic growth of a brand as customers will be more likely to recommend to a friend – probably within the brand’s target demographic. For early investment strategy then, in the first years of a brand, it is imperative to invest in a strong internal infrastructure which provides the customer with a personal service.

There a few people more qualified to discuss the very best service than James Harford-Tyrer, founder and CEO of Cudoni. Cudoni is a serious contender within the pre-owned luxury goods market, offering a concierge service to selling pre-owned luxury items with a simple formula. They meet the customer, evaluate their piece, and subsequently sell it on their behalf. For the busy individual Cudoni provides a service which excels every step of the way. Crucial then is how to translate luxury (that is to say the quality of the product and level of customer service) to the customer online. Harford-Tyrer argues that success in this regard is two-fold. Firstly, once again, quality is key with high-resolution images and curated content a necessity. Secondly, it is the experiential factors that defines a company online as luxury. This means a hand-held process – such as Cudoni’s concierge and personally tailored service – as well as a super high-quality user interface and a easily digestible user journey. Truly, a mature platform allows for customisation and personalisation; this is the privileged position that luxury allows and customers expect.

The website is the store, less tangible but equally curated in order to create a single aesthetic. The first impression must exude an air of luxury, visually, but also linguistically with high standard and intelligent content. From the homepage, this first impression needs to filter down to every page on the site. Especially on product pages where each of these factors need to bridge the gap between the opportunity an in-store experience provides and an image. This suggests that elevating an online site to fit a luxury brand requires deep consideration and a continual effort to produce an experience which mimics that which is available in a bricks-and-mortar store.

“The internet is full of all most every conceivable product, so it is important to represent your brand in a way that is visually appealing and instills confidence in your product and service.”

– David Robinson, founder at Robinson of England

Hence, in order to assure that there is consistency in the way in which the brand presents itself, it is important to outline brand codes. A truly transformative moment for Maxwell-Scott, which allowed the company to truly compete in the online luxury sector, was the rebranding in 2014. Only at this point did the visual image match the high quality of the products on offer which highlights branding’s significance when attempting to build a luxury online site. Branding is the foundation from which everything follows, like a roadmap. Matt Kendall, founder and Creative Director at RetroFuzz, the ecommerce strategy agency, argues that customers appreciate brands that have a purpose and story which must be communicated heavily in the branding on the brand’s site and across social media platforms. As customers become more discerning in their purchasing choices, the brand story is often a key differentiator and if products are available on multiple channels telling this story well throughout the entire customer journey is essential. A good example is Hiut Denim – a brand which is dedicated to bringing denim manufacturing back to Cardigan Bay in Wales. Not only does Hiut tell their brand story, but they use their position to continually curate interesting content and keep people engaged with their brand. Consistently presenting a cohesive brand with clear guidelines then is the last initial facet of creating and building a luxury brand online. It is the unifying force between quality, service and the consumer’s online experience.

Strategies For Growth

Once the brand is established, growth is vital. Investment, ecommerce marketing and innovation are the pillars of growth strategies in regards to luxury online. To start with, investment. In order to invest in new infrastructure, marketing opportunities and innovation, fundraising investment is a necessity. Harford-Tyrer, founder & CEO of Cudoni, recently secured initial investment nearing half a million pounds from British companies including Vita Coco and Capital One. This strategy allowed Cudoni to quickly outgrow its original market positioning within just one year and evolve into the serious contender within the pre-owned luxury goods market. It is thus a prime example of how fundraising is key to staying competitive – it is impossible to just grow organically. Harford-Tyrer offers this advice for pitching to investors: pitch scalable technology and never talk of conceptual ideas in a pitch. So, people invest in people and a disruptive company model to revolutionise the system, in turn eating up market share. It is necessary to have a unique, hard to replicate business structure and a highly skilled and educated team. These are attractive features  for investors in any business, with investment an inescapable necessity when building a luxury brand empire online.

build a luxury brand online
The Calvino Business Bag

Another such way to increase growth is to increase traffic to the website through ecommerce marketing. This is however more of an art than searching for investment. It requires a plethora of facets to the company. For instance, e-commerce marketing combines different fields of marketing, branding, PR, technical skills, and digital expertise. The art is to really understand each aspect of ecommerce marketing to maximise all opportunities and understand potential problems and shortfalls. It is important to always stay ahead of the curve and make sure that creativity is not constrained by technical hurdles. At its most successful, the following are combined in harmony in terms of the brand message. This includes expressive marketing, that is to say marketing the brand as exclusive, rare, unique and expensive, impressive-functional marketing ie the product must be of excellent quality, durable, refined and handmade and lastly, impressive-emotional marketing which means that the brand message should always be elegant, sophisticated, creative, and innovative. Direct attention must be payed to content marketing and psychological influences on customer. It is helpful, therefore, to tap into aspects of individual well-being, happiness, and success through the product and/or the lifestyle, in turn boosting self-esteem and life satisfaction. A prime example of this is the recent success of brands such as Gucci who, through capitalising on the millennial market with a customer experience that connects perfectly through ecommerce, social, apps, and offline, recently took the top spot in L2 Research’s Best Performing Luxury Brands. Accordingly, RetroFuzz’s founder and CEO Jonathan McNamara argues that:

“Social media offers the opportunity to directly engage with your customers and can be valuable in numerous ways – from learning about their product and marketing preferences through to generating buzz online to spread the word further afield to new audiences.”

Ergo, a purely online luxury brand should embrace these media outlets, utilising them within ecommerce marketing campaigns in order to build awareness, reach and subsequently, sales. However, these social media platforms are increasingly using algorithmic news feeds to make decisions about what content users should see. As a result, a brand’s connection with customers is now entirely at the behest of the platform owner, with as little as 1-2% of a brand’s following actually being shown the content that is posted out. Consequently, it is critical that brands make a deliberate effort to convert social media followings over to email or text subscribers in order to build a better environment for maintaining this relationship. Conversion is key, as is building a dedicated community, which is why ecommerce marketing is much more of an art than a science.

Lastly, the final piece of the puzzle is innovation. Any online brand, luxury or otherwise, cannot grow without maintaining technological advances – luxury brands should be at the vanguard. Innovation is vital to be competitive, especially in the areas of web experience and design as customers have such high expectations nowadays. Innovation therefore lies most significantly in enhancing the user experience, by creating technology which personalises the purchasing journey by making people feel special and through making the process time and response time faster. Everything needs to be seamless behind the scenes. After all, as RetroFuzz’s creative director Kendall succinctly puts it, ultimately it is important that any innovation is viewed through the lens of improving the end-to-end customer experience – not just adding the latest technology with some innovation theatre. Focused online luxury marketplaces such as Farfetch are now showing what can be done, blending bricks and clicks to create customer experiences that mix in-store guidance and delivery with the convenience of shop anywhere, with features such as same-day express delivery in key fashion-focused cities. Or Burberry’s recent decision under new chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci to have a 24-hour flash sale of the SS19 collection via Instagram. Such innovation allows a brand to maintain a credibility year after year – this is crucial for a purely online brand that must compete with heritage luxury brands which have physical stores. As from the very beginning, the customer and quality are key.

Overall, it is evident that creating a successful luxury brand online centres around a combination of steps: quality, service, branding, investment, marketing and innovation. Maxwell-Scott’s CEO Forshaw has this advice to his former self: Do not be afraid to embrace technology and use it to your advantage. The marketing manager Munder on the other hand offers this more general guidance:

“Trust your gut and stand up for what you know is right. Often voicing small concerns can avoid bigger issues.”

A luxury lifestyle and price-point requires the product on offer to be of the absolute finest quality with materials having been sourced sustainably. For the consumer purchasing such a product the customer service must be at a level that ensures that it is a hand-held process which exceeds expectations of care. These need to be part of the brand ethos which should be clearly defined and consistently outreached, with the brand website the primary place to translate luxury on to a mobile phone screen. Next, in order to grow the business into a sustainable market competitor investment is crucial. Alongside organic growth, a cash-flow injection can be funnelled into marketing campaigns and innovation to increase brand awareness. These ecommerce campaigns require artistry and skill in order to optimise interaction with the campaign. Innovation on the other hand should be used directly or indirectly to improve the customer experience. This is how to build a luxury brand online.