Bulgari toiletries at the luxury property Magnolia Hotel Salou in Spain. Magnolia Hoel Salou
Skift Take: Is affordable luxury an oxymoron? Do luxury products risk diluting their images by brand extensions? We speak with a global branding expert about the unquestionable underpinnings of luxury brands.
— Laura Powell
In Skift’s continuing quest to define “New Luxury,” we are seeking out experts in the high-end brand domain. Today, we speak with Rebecca Robins, Global Director for Interbrand and co-author of Meta-Luxury: Brands and the Culture of Excellence.
Interbrand is a global brand consultancy, part of the Omnicom Group Inc. network of agencies. It specializes in areas such as brand strategy, analytics, brand valuation, corporate design, digital brand management and more. It even creates names for products. If Prozac, Viagra, and Bing ring a bell, thank Interbrand.
First, tell us more about Interbrand.
Rebecca Robins: When it was founded in 1974, Interbrand was the world’s first global brand consultancy. In those days, branding was little more than a trademark and push messaging. Now, the consumer drives the conversation in this age of personal brands.
Skift: How do you define luxury?
Robins: Things that aren’t necessary, but are able to improve the quality of life through emotions they arouse or desires they fulfill. Pillars like craftsmanship, focus, history/timeliness and rarity are all factors.
The definition of luxury is so diluted, though, that it’s becoming meaningless. Where does premium end and luxury begin? True luxury starts with an absolute quest to achieve. What drives the successful luxury brand is the founding vision. They were created to do something. Excellence was based on a rock-solid conviction that there is a space in the market to do something better than everyone else. That conviction means they are adamant about protecting their brand.
Skift: You talk a great deal about the quality of timeliness that long-time luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Bulgari have. But how does a new brand develop a sense of timeliness?
Robins: It starts with a purpose-driven approach, so that consumers know what they are getting. This can create value across the generations. Having a strong tie to the heritage of a community — like Shinola in Detroit — is another way for a newer brand to create a sense of timelessness.
Skift: What do you think about the entrance of so many luxury fashion/style brands — Armani, Bulgari, Ferragamo — into the world of hospitality?
Robins: Several luxury brands are tapping into the hospitality space. The ones who get it right first consider how the brand extension impacts the current offer. You have to consider if the brand can legitimately stretch into a hotel. You need to be able to replicate the same levels of service excellence in the hotel as in the retail space, making it a seamless experience for the brand-loyal consumer. The sweet spot is where integrity of product meets integrity of brand experience.
But the challenge is that hospitality has its own set of standards. In Meta-Luxury, we discuss the importance of focus. Doing one thing well, having a depth of expertise, is core for luxury brands. But can the core competency of a jewelry/fashion/leather goods brand translate to hospitality? You have to think in terms of curating an experience that relates back to the brand rather than simply building a hotel.
Skift: What are the pitfalls of luxury brand extensions, whether into the hotel space or into other levels of the market?
Robins: You can be diluting the brand. That’s why it’s so important to know why you are trying to stretch. You can stretch across (to other luxury sectors) or down (to develop brand-labeled businesses at lower price points), but you have to think carefully about how you brand the new entity and the implications.
For example, you may want to change up the product name when getting into another space so that the new brand is appreciated on its own merits and there’s less risk of brand dilution. Whatever you do, though, your brand portfolio strategy has to be to protect the original brand.