Cultivating Desire: How High-end Brands are Staying on Top

Through savvy positioning and the clever use of new platforms, each of these [luxury-leaning] brands is further differentiating its place in the high-end category and driving interest among audiences beyond the uber-wealthy.

When talking about luxury brands, most people will start rattling off big fashion houses – Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermès, etc. All of these brands identify as luxury, and they sell everything from lipstick to leopard-print booties. What sets them apart from “regular” brands is the story that they tell. Each one is rich with tradition and heritage that sets the tone of the brand and gives customers something to invest in. That history, coupled with high quality, well-made products, serves to authenticate their luxury reputations.

In the beauty and fashion sector, what’s popped up in the last couple of years (due in large part to the popularity of beauty bloggers) is a demand for luxurious brands that offer more than your average drug store value brand. One of the more interesting aspects of this boom is that the majority of these beauty brands have adopted positioning similar to that of these mega luxury fashion houses. Through savvy positioning and the clever use of new platforms, each of these brands is further differentiating its place in the high-end category and driving interest among audiences beyond the uber-wealthy.

Anticipating Needs and Transforming Desires

Sephora has been a huge contributor to the boom of beauty brands. It used to be you had to head to Sak’s 5th Avenue in order to purchase your favorite high-end products. Sephora has continued to push the industry forward by shifting from being a strict brick-and-mortar to a robust digital player, especially with the launch of the Sephora Innovation Lab. The Lab is the company’s digital think tank, where team members ideate, test, and experiment with new ideas to push the store’s offerings further and identify new opportunities to surprise and delight their shoppers. Through this new leg of its brand, Sephora will continue to be at the forefront of new, innovative ways to offer solutions, elevate the customer experience, and expand upon how the world thinks of beauty.

Generating Brand Participation

An inherent level of exclusivity can encourage active participation for high-end brands. Take Best Global Brand, Hermès for example; its Birkin handbags are not easy to come by—and that’s by design. From the price—ranging from $10,000 to $150,000—to the variety of hides the customer can choose from (calf leather, ostrich, or crocodile, to name a few), to the purposely conservative number of bags produced each year (about 70,000 worldwide), this bag is the epitome of generating participation by cultivating desire: creating exclusive, yet flexible experiences between consumers and the brand.

Evolving with the Changing World

La Mer is a brand exclusive enough to turn customers into devoted fanatics. It is also notorious for being secretive about its products, which further fuels the frenzy. The hefty price tag on La Mer products could be enough to turn the newer generations away, but that hasn’t happened because the brand has been able to remain relevant and flexible through product innovation and a strong digital presence. The brand’s paid ads on Instagram are beautifully and artfully done, targeting millennials, who form most of their opinions on beauty products by reading reviews, following the brand’s social channels, and seeking the recommendations of trusted beauty influencers.

Developing a Living and Flexible Identity

Today’s tastemakers are channeling luxury brands’ knack for evoking emotions and tapping into audiences’ lifestyle aspirations. When shoe designer Christian Louboutin launched a line of lipsticks in August 2015, he did so with a story bathed in the exclusivity principle: “This precious object will be coveted by others. Suggesting a purse full of rare and precious stones that could have been discovered in Ali Baba’s cave, it will arouse lust and desire…and is made to be stolen,” he said of his new product. Priced at $90, there was no doubt that these lipsticks would sell out because Christian Louboutin had invested the time to develop a story and a long-term strategy for his brand that didn’t just consist of his core offering of shoes. He evolved the brand story to and put in the effort to expand his reach by flexing into a new category where his target audience already existed: cosmetics.

All in all, these brands have proven that in order to withstand the test of time, leaders must constantly think about what they can do to layer in the keys to success that allow them to anticipate, cater to, and even transform evolving desires, while also encouraging the involvement of their audiences. And they must do this all while flexing to the ever-changing market in order to continue to grow.

This takes long-term planning, forward thinkers, and an aligned drive toward an end goal. To be successful—especially as a luxury-leaning brand—you need to be able to identify what about your brand hits each of these touchpoints, and capitalize on those assets.