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    Luxury’s wake-up call: Why your brand’s story matters now — more than ever

    The biggest misconception in luxury is that it’s not about quality and price first, but about the story. Photo: 
 Unsplash
      Published   in Finance

    In my work, brand audits consistently unveil intriguing insights. In a recent undertaking, we scrutinized the messaging of a renowned luxury brand, uncovering a challenge that's prevalent in the industry. When we queried the top leadership team — approximately five individuals — about the brand's essence in one sentence, we anticipated a clear and unified response. Instead, we were met with a symphony of about 20 distinct facets. Instead of concise descriptions, each leader articulated an average of three sentences. Even worse, no two brand stories aligned.

    You can imagine that, if at the top of an organization there is such significant misalignment, this multiplies within the organization, and even more so through external sales channels until the message reaches clients. In other words, in the hierarchical structure of an organization, even minor discrepancies in messaging at the top have a cascading effect. In some cases, we found thousands of different brand stories. The result: a complete disaster, costing companies millions of dollars in profit every single day. If your brand has many stories, then it has none.

    As a consequence, clients will only use generic words to describe the brand, and when the perception is generic – or what I call a “category story,” then fundamentally there is no distinct value that the brand creates. The biggest misconception in luxury is that it’s not about quality and price first, but about the story. The story carries most of the value and if there is no story, then there is no value. And when there is no value, brands will significantly underperform.

    Companies often ask, how can we increase our prices? In a scenario with a missing story, the answer is, “you can’t.” Brands with category stories can only charge around the category average, independent of their objective quality.

    To make matters worse, in our algorithm-driven reality, the lack of brand storytelling means that advertising costs will skyrocket. The reason: a story-less brand can’t create cultural capital and won’t have a distinct brand profile that the algorithm can match with the target audience. I have seen cases where the customer acquisition cost went from $50 to $500, just because of the inability to create meaningful story-based social media content. When there is no story, everything falls apart.

    The eruption of brand messages, ranging from many to an astounding 1,000 or more, all ostensibly describing the same brand but with subtle distinctions, creates a discordance that is not an isolated case but a recurring theme, transcending geographical borders, industries, and sectors. Few companies successfully maintain a cohesive, singular brand message across their organization. In the contemporary landscape, brand stories have become a sea of sameness, exacerbated when employees, particularly in sales, perceive the brand message as a mere marketing construct, detached from their daily tasks.

    The consequence, as we saw, is a dilution of the brand messaging, rendering it generic, and devoid of differentiation or clarity, offering minimal value to clients or the targeted audience. In essence, many brands blur into one another, devoid of distinctive identity cues. This lack of purpose and emotion echoes through the service experience, resulting in an unremarkable encounter.

    For luxury brands, this is the kiss of death, because Added Luxury Value — the key driver of perceived brand value in luxury — hinges on the brand story. Ambiguity within the narrative translates to brand adversity. A brand that does an excellent job in brand storytelling is Louis Vuitton, where each product is embedded in the ethos of travel and the spirit of exploring new horizons. At the core of Louis Vuitton's identity lies the timeless narrative of traversing uncharted territories, a compelling story that resonates profoundly. This captivating story has consistently permeated the brand's history, infusing it with unwavering clarity and purpose. However, Louis Vuitton is the exceptional standout.

    In contrast, brands that lack a unified narrative risk inconsistency in their storytelling usually see their brand value decline. It becomes apparent that storytelling plays a pivotal role in luxury, as it has the potential to augment the perceived value of a brand significantly.

    In luxury, the story and the message are the true drivers of value, not the product. The product serves as an expression of the narrative rather than the narrative itself, and the value is intangible, rendering it susceptible to instantaneous collapse in the absence of clarity. This materializes when a singular message splinters into myriad iterations, causing brands to lose their core value.

    For numerous luxury brands, this represents a colossal missed opportunity in terms of impact, breakthrough potential, clarity, and pricing prowess. Messaging stands as luxury's superpower, and an abundance of narratives undermines your prospects for success. How many stories does your brand convey?

    This is an opinion piece where all views expressed belong to the author.

    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 him: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drlanger, Instagram: @equitebrands /@thedaniellanger

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