Why Failing At Messaging Can Have Fatal Results

Brand audits are always fascinating. In a recent project we analyzed the messaging of a well-known luxury house, and the result revealed an issue that most face. When we asked the top leadership team, around 10 people, for their one-sentence description of the brand, it resulted in about 30 different aspects; instead of one sentence, on average there were three. On top of that, practically no two brand messages were the same. 

When there are even just a few inconsistencies in messaging at the top of any organization, these automatically multiply the further you go down the hierarchy. Hence, 30 messages can easily become 100, 1,000, or more different ways of how to describe the same brand. And these are not the exception — they are typical brand audit findings across countries, industries, and sectors. Very few companies manage to have one message, hence one brand story, across the organization. Brand stories today are, in most cases, a sea of sameness. 

This gets even more compounded if the employees, say in the sales department, feel that the brand message is more a “marketing message,” rather than a relevant one for them. The result: on an operational level people typically use their own way of describing the brand, like “this shoe company is from Italy and their quality is fantastic,” or “this French skincare brand gives you great results.” While these descriptions are positive, they are rather what I call a “category story” and not a “brand story.” In other words, they describe vaguely what the brand is doing and where it’s from. The problem is that any brand in the category could match these descriptions.

Recommended ReadingWhy Messaging Is Luxury’s SuperpowerBy Daniel Langer
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As a result, the message around the brand gets ambiguous and undifferentiated. But more importantly, it creates practically no client-related value. In other words, for any client or audience that is being targeted, most brands resemble each other. They lack any specific cue about who they really are, with no purpose and little emotion. It’s not surprising that the service experience — based on a generic brand script — very seldomly stands out. 

This has fatal results: undifferentiated brands cannot realize any significant price premium so their profitability will be far below their potential, in some cases dramatically below. Advertising costs on increasingly complex and noisy digital and social platforms, whether in Web2 or Web3, skyrocket because the breakthrough of these blurry messages will be minimal. Thus, brands that are confusing in their messaging don’t reach their audience. Given that up to 95 percent of today’s luxury purchase decisions are influenced through digital audience interactions, the competitive disadvantage can endanger an entire brand. 

The consequences are even worse in luxury. ALV, short for Added Luxury Value, the main component of the perceived value of a luxury brand, is by far the most significant part of the total brand value. And it is dependent on the brand story. In other words: if there is ambiguity in the story, the brand suffers. Take Gucci for example: before Alessandro Michele took over the creative direction of the Kering label from Frieda Giannini, it significantly underperformed. The reason? Gucci’s story is traditionally about liberation, about being unapologetic in the way you dress and show up. It taps into a critical insight: that many people are — at least at times — either insecure or they feel that they must follow certain rules and conventions.

When Tom Ford was the creative helm of Gucci, his interpretation of the story was very provocative, often overly sexual, and the brand was one of the hottest. When he left, the consistency in storytelling was lost, and the brand declined significantly. Gucci felt more like other luxury brands and became much less distinctive. There was insufficient ALV, hence less perceived value despite many wonderful collections. 

Tom Ford, who served as creative director of Gucci from 1994 to 2004, was known for his provocative storytelling. Photo: Gucci

Then, when Michele took over the helm, his interpretation of unapologetic liberation was poetic, theatric, and often inspired by the 1970s. While very different to the vision of Tom Ford, both told the same story, both had the same fundamental message. Back on story, Gucci soared from one all-time high to another and prices increased steadily and significantly.

Another fascinating example is the collaboration between Nike’s Air Force 1 franchise, Louis Vuitton, and Virgil Abloh. Virgil was an outspoken fan of the Air Force 1 and he led Louis Vuitton’s first collaboration with Nike. Before the collection, limited to 200, was auctioned by Sotheby’s, Abloh sadly passed away. This made the “story” much more unique and non-repeatable. As a result, the highest bid in the auction exceeded $350,000. And we’re talking about a leather sneaker, not about a sports car! 

This is how much the clarity and uniqueness of a story and its message can boost ALV. Without the story, a pair of Air Force 1 retails around $180 dollars; add the story the price tag is multiplied almost 2,000 times, even accommodating for the higher quality leather and the craftsmanship of Louis Vuitton. Compared to around $1,800 for a pair of “standard” Louis Vuitton sneakers, the story-related value multiplier is almost 200.

Without a unique and intriguing story, these multipliers would collapse almost entirely. It teaches us that in luxury, story and message carry the value, not the product. The product is an expression of the story but not the story itself. And the value is intangible, which means it can collapse immediately when clarity is missing. This happens when what should be one message becomes many.

It’s a huge missed opportunity for many luxury names in terms of impact, clarity, and pricing potential. Therefore, messaging is luxury’s superpower and too many messages is its kryptonite. How many messages does your brand have?

This is an op-ed article that reflects the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Jing Daily.

Named one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch,” Daniel Langer is the CEO of the luxury, lifestyle and consumer brand strategy firm Équité, and the executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He consults many of the leading luxury brands in the world, is the author of several best-selling luxury management books, a global keynote speaker, and holds luxury masterclasses on the future of luxury, disruption, and the luxury metaverse in Europe, the USA, and Asia. Follow @drlanger

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The Future of Luxury