Last summer, agency InfluencerDB released an analysis of the brands with the most successful influencer campaigns in the first half of 2018. Notably, while the top five included high street/mid-range retailers Zara and H&M, only one luxury brand (Calvin Klein) made it into the top 20. We’re noticing more luxury brands experimenting in the influencer sphere, but why haven’t they caught on as quickly (and had the same levels of success) as other retailers? 

In principle, social media and luxury brands would appear to be at the opposite ends of a spectrum – the former, a champion of accessibility and the great egalitarian communication machine; the latter, the bastions of privilege and exclusivity. The purpose of a luxury brand’s marketing strategy is to continuously reinforce that the high price points are worth it. Status and sophistication are available – at a cost. But in the current retail climate where e-commerce and tech platforms rule, prestige is no longer enough. 

The ways we buy luxury products are changing

Influencer Marketing has become irresistible to luxury brands, not least as a way of introducing new consumers to their products, but in an age where print media, the natural habitat of glossy editorial and advertorial content, continues to suffer, social media provides an alternative access route to the high-level customers that have historically been their bread and butter. 

85% of luxury growth in 2017 was fuelled by Generations Y and Z, so the pressure is on for brands to tap into the demands of their new consumer base. Leading consultancy firm Bain & Company have reported a “millennial state of mind” in the high-end consumer market, so while luxury has always been in demand, in order to appeal to younger (read: Gen Y and Z) audiences, luxury brands have had to change tact, incorporating new techniques into their marketing strategies, and re-examining the ways that they merchandise product.  

Risk and Return

As with any sector, ensuring that partnerships between luxury brands and influencers are a good fit for both parties is the only way to guarantee meaningful engagement, lasting brand power and ROI. But by approaching influencers to do what they do best – using their credibility and reach to introduce their followers to products and experiences that they love – brands must relinquish a degree of creative control. Hearing a YouTuber or Instagrammer repeating marketing spiel verbatim does not make for an authentic-feeling collaboration, so influencers need to bring their own special sauce to the content; that’s what their followers have come for after all. 

This can be difficult for companies that have built their legacies on years of carefully cultivated brand narrative; control over creative assets has always been jealously guarded as it is this mouthpiece that communicates what separates them from mid-level, non-premium brands. 

What Influencers bring to the table 

Recently, we have seen luxury brands working with the very top tier of the celebrity/influencer realm, in a reflection of the more traditional spokesperson model, an important facet of conventional advertising (see Tiffany’s collaboration with Kendall Jenner earlier this year). Although this can certainly drive visibility, we have seen that this kind of collaboration doesn’t necessarily achieve the success luxury brands desire, particularly if the (eight-figure follower count) influencers are partnering simultaneously with lots of other brands. In continuous colossal waves of ads, the metrics might not prove favourable, and even run the risk of damaging the carefully cultivated brand values. Even though relinquishing creative control is a challenge, luxury marketeers should still approach influencer collaborations with the same expectations as any other kind of digital campaign: namely quality, credible content told through the right sources, that will drive brand awareness and ultimately sales. 

But if you do measure success by omnipresence, then look no further than the recent Dior campaign for the launch of their equestrian-inspired Saddle bag, which has been reintroduced for the Autumn/Winter 2018 collection. The bag’s first market release in the early 2000s spawned celebrity admirers and high-street imitators, and last week we saw a similar fanfare take place, though one which, in our opinion, was a little out of tune. One hundred influencers, including Susie Lau, Camille Charrière and Chiara Ferragni, were gifted the bag and posted pictures of the Saddle on social media at 2pm on 19th July, the global launch day of the new bags in Dior boutiques. From our perspective, the message was a solid statement of overkill, as well as a pretty murky campaign amongst declaration waters. However, in the eyes of the luxury consumer, it was nothing short of aspirational and perfectly attainable. What this then questions is whether negative coverage in the luxury market is actually ever negative? Or rather, in the eyes of the capable consumer, is it ever perceived as such? 

Price on Point

Where luxury brands are succeeding a little more subtly is choosing the right product to diffuse through Influencer Marketing. Take Calvin Klein - as noted on The Business of Fashion, the #mycalvins campaign was an eminently successful strategy that incorporated paid partnerships with a hashtag that “managed to trickle down to everyday customers by allowing for individual content that is authentic and highlights something personal”. How? Because the luxury fashion house focused on its lower price point items, such as underwear, that in turn could appeal to a more diverse purchase audience who themselves felt valued as a luxury customer, capable of association with the Calvin Klein name. This is a proven strategy for CK, as they’ve been riding high on the #mycalvins campaign since 2014. By taking their classic slogan and reinventing it as their digital campaign, the brand has built on their decades long reputation for creating minimalist, seductive fashion and reformed it for the online sphere and naturally greater audience. 

When working alongside influencers, luxury brands need to consider the arrangement as a partnership, not just with the influencer themselves, but with the audience that they also command. Rather than just paying for approved content that meets brand marketing guidelines, have a thorough understanding of where an influencer’s audience sits on the affluence scale. If what you’re looking to achieve is sales, make sure the product you’re pushing fits appropriately into this and on a majority percentage. Remember that despite an influencer having a certain percentage of your target audience as their following, all their followers will see this content. Misjudge the ratio and you’ll significantly dent both the aspirational access of the brand and the influencer’s own reputation amongst their existing audience. 

What’s next for Luxury Brands and Influencers?

As demand for these kinds of campaigns increases, we predict that luxury brands will turn towards the kinds of tactics that other less prestigious brands already employ, including diversifying the profiles of influencers they work with, and concentrating on mid- and micro-level individuals. These are accounts whose followers represent the same values that premium companies offer: authenticity, quality, personality and passion. A partnership should give content creators an opportunity to get creative and reinterpret established brand identities and legacies with a new lease of life, tailored to each individual’s specific audience. In turn, luxury brands can welcome a whole legion of new shoppers brought into the purchase funnel through the content produced by influencers associated to the brand.

Daniela Rogers