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Is digital killing luxury brands?

Oddly enough, this is not a question that's keeping me awake – it's one recently posed by Adweek.  I'm writing this because I disagree with the article's central premise:  the web's democratizing power might weaken a luxury brand's cachet.

The article suggests that most luxury brands were slow to embrace "new media" because the web makes brands too accessible.  (By the way, if you want to make a 30 year old laugh, refer to the web as "new media.")

To address Adweek's question we need to tighten the vocabulary.  I don't believe cachet comes from offering a luxury, it is about being premium.  A brand is considered premium when we believe it is worth a higher price.  That's how you measure cachet.  

Certain brands compel us to pay more even when there are others that provide the same service or function at a lesser price.  Previous wikiposts have explored this point.  Having worked with brands such as Sony, American Express, Jaguar and Land Rover, I tend to believe premium brands are built on a core set of attributes that give them greater perceived worth – e.g., sensuality, rarity, confidence, authenticity, quality.

Brands are defined by creating an empathetic relationship with customers.  Those brands that offer a premium lifestyle or image, in particular, are often defined by what they do, not just by what they say.  In other words, it is our experience with the brand that helps define its worth.  Part of Apple's worth is the retail experience; part of Nike's worth is its authentic and deep involvement with athletes at all levels; Land Rover's cachet is in part formed by the off-road test tracks at the dealership, and the fact that its showrooms feel more like an LL Bean store than a car dealer.

Given the importance of orchestrating rich experiences, no medium is better suited for this than the web (other than event marketing).  Interactive platforms, whether a website or an app, offer the opportunity to inspire deep engagement, personalized experiences and highly emotional storytelling.  These tactics can build mystery, exclusivity, a sense of authenticity and craftsmanship – the hallmarks of a premium brand.

The web's accessibility is not the point.  A Burberry store in a mall is equally accessible.  It is the experience that Burberry creates in its stores that makes it feel premium and exclusive.  This same attention to detail when designing the in-store experience – e.g.,lighting, surfaces, wardrobe, signage, product displays – is required when designing an online experience.