Creating humanistic and emotional connections with clients must be the top priority of luxury marketing and communication, according to executives from top retailers, agencies, and major luxury brands at a recent Luxury Client Experience Board meeting in New York.
The group of leading industry experts engaged in insightful and lively discussion regarding the current and future state of marketing and communications in the luxury industry. The discussion addressed an array of factors that contribute to the success of brands' efforts to achieve meaningful connections with clients, including the influence of social media, the degree of omni-channel integration, and the evolving roles of front-line sales professionals and brick-and-mortar stores.
"The most pressing challenges for luxury firms are boosting rates of customer acquisition and retention, which ultimately lead to growth in sales and profits," says Milton Pedraza, LCEB co-founder and CEO of the Luxury Institute. "Technology today presents an immense opportunity for targeting potential customers, but it is ultimately the intimate humanistic relationships that sales professionals form with customers that keep them coming back."
"Marketing to luxury buyers is continuing to evolve under pressure from the myriad of new web and mobile channels," says Laurent Ohana, Senior Advisor at Ohana & Co. "The investment in stores and sales associates is turning out to be a major advantage and differentiator for luxury brands, provided they have the tools and training to reinforce the brand value at every customer touch point."
Smart luxury firms are using technology to help store associates improve client acquisition, retention, and relationship development. They recognize that human interaction will never be replaced by technology, which becomes a commodity that brands in all sectors of luxury will adopt in order to keep up. LCEB members and guests agreed that all points of contact with customers should be seamless, with the front-line playing the lead role in representing brand values while being able to identify customers and meet their needs in a trustworthy and generous manner.
The Human Connection
Humans are a key differentiator for luxury brands with front-line sales associates maintaining valuable connections with clients. Those who leave a company can take hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual sales with them with their client list, one of the major reasons that companies are aggressively recruiting front-line associates from competitors. If an associate leaves, it's the brands responsibility to attempt to continue client relationship but it's ultimately the client's choice, a factor that underscores the value of human relationships.
Despite the numerous ways in which customers can interact and transact with luxury brands, the store remains central to the luxury experience. Luxury Institute research shows that nearly half (49%) of customers prefer purchasing luxury products in-store, compared to 21% who prefer purchasing online. However, it is no longer stores versus digital, the two channels work cohesively. Despite the opportunity to drive multi-channel sales, fewer than 10% of attendees in the luxury business said that they incentivize their people to sell to clients online. Internal company silos are often the culprit for preventing optimization of the front-line and the omni-channel experience.
"The journey starts with a customer's mobile phone and then providing a great app experience that can then be translated to associates in-store," says Wesley Chiang, Sales Director at GPShopper. "The store is not dead, but it needs to evolve. Brands should consider arming their associates with more tools to provide customers with the best in-store customer experience."