The Luxury Letter Blog

Findability is Luxury
September 3, 2008, 1:48 pm
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By Adam Broitman, Director of Emerging and Creative Strategy, Morpheus Media

There is no doubt that over the past 10 years the world of media has gotten a facelift. The question I have been asking myself is–while the world of media was changing–did the definition of luxury change?

The definition of luxury has always been centered on certain core attributes–elegance, refinement, indulgence, comfort, service, quality and extravagance (to name just a few). Technology may have changed the way that certain luxuries are experienced but there is no substitution for the aforementioned qualities. In a phrase; luxury is timeless.

Given that the core attributes of luxury are timeless it is imperative that brand marketers keep up with the changing media landscape in order to present their brands in a way that highlights these attributes; the alternative is the decimation of a brand’s image and the relegation of products associated with these brands to becoming toys of the hoi polloi.

Many luxury retailers are doing a good job of replicating in store experience in the online space. On the flip side, a disturbingly large percent of luxury brands are doing an inadequate job of replicating their luxury image online. The disconnect lies in the fact that many luxury brand marketers simply don’t understand what luxury means in an interactive world. Some brand marketers do well with the surface level presentation of their brand online but completely gloss over the idea that the medium is the message. If online communications are treated like a digital magazine, a brand message can be completely distorted.

Let’s step away from the notion of luxury for a moment and think about how people access and find information online. According to the research center at the Pew Internet and American Life project, search engine usage has become the second most prevalent activity online (second only to email). 49% of internet users interact with a search engine on a daily basis (this is up from about 33% of internet users in 2002). It should come as no surprise that in an age where “google” is used as a verb, searching is the second most important online activity. What may come as a surprise to some is that higher income households are more likely to use a search engine on a given day. 62% of Internet users with a HHI $75k+ (this highest HHI bracket in this study) interact with search engines on a typical day. In light of this information brand managers that are not paying close attention to how their brand is found online have some catching up to do.

If you do a search for “Prada” on Google, the first natural ranking is from Prada. While I have a lot to say about how Prada’s site is optimized for search on the term “Prada”, I will save that for another time (or you can download the presentation I gave at the Luxury Interactive conference this year where I explore this topic further). If you do another, more focused search for “Prada sunglasses” you get the following results:

Natural Search Result Number One

Paid Search Result Number One (paid search varies)

According to a study done by iProspect 68% of searchers will click on a result on the first page. Prada is nowhere to be found on the first page of results for the term “Prada sunglasses”. Furthermore, 39% of search users equate a company’s prominence with their position in a search engine. The sites that show up on SERP’s (search engine results pages) for the term “prada sunglasses” are not reflective of the way that most people think of the brand, and I imagine brand managers at Prada would not be happy with some of the associations that are being made through the sites found in these search results.

The new media landscape is more complex than ever before. In an era where you are how you are found, luxury brand marketers really need to take stock of how their brand is being presented to consumers. While search engine marketing may not seem like the most luxurious practice, one things is certain—findability is luxury.


3 Comments so far
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Do you really think that Prada would be upset by where “Prada sunglasses” searches end up? Those corny retailers may well be what the Prada brand is at the boots-on-the-ground level, even if they maintain a different brand image at the top level. If those stores sell mountains of Prada sunglasses, Prada might be happy that their objectives are being achieved.

Prada is only one of the many luxury brands that maintains several marketing strategies in parallel. For every $150 shirt Ralph Lauren sells, they probably sell ten $20 t-shirts. This may be apocryphal, but I once heard that, for a while, Porsche made more money from their trendy sunglasses business than they did selling cars.

To put it differently, luxury brands that make a huge percentage of their money in downmarket mass-culture products have more complex marketing and brand strategies than simply maintaining a minimum level of class and luxury perception of the brand. They need to simultaneously maintain the aspiration and desirability of the brand while communicating to customers that they can get the products cheap cheap cheap, right at the strip mall, or online, without having to travel to a Prada boutique in New York or shopping in an exclusive department store.

For some luxury brands, perhaps their high-end couture and luxury product lines are really just advertising for their more lucrative downmarket sunglasses, t-shirts, perfumes, and baseball hats businesses? If you search for “Prada”, you are exploring the brand, so going to the Prada official site makes sense. If you search for “Prada sunglasses”, however, you are looking to buy and ending up at retail sites may well be a good thing.

Comment by Christopher Fahey


Great comments. I would be very interested to see what the brand managers over at Prada think. I understand what you are saying, but from my experience with luxury brands (which is pretty extensive)-association is very important. Sure-they are trying to move product, but not at the expense of tarnishing the image of their brand through an association with a low level looking site. Even if someone is looking for “prada sunglasses” they are still looking for something under the brand umbrella.


Comment by Adam Broitman

Following up on Chris’ thoughts, I also wonder about the brand being diluted by searches for competitive pricing as opposed to editorial content. Of course eBay has helped bring luxury to the masses, but how does a firm control its identity in response to now having any Joe Shmoe have access to a product/service that was once exclusive, and therefore considered luxury?

As a mkting mgr, I am watching my own company’s distribution increase, at the same price point both online and offline. And, I see the online service and response is what keeps them coming back to our site as opposed to our retailers.

Comment by NK

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