A narrative will still romance millennials – just tell it sincerely, truthfully with emotional power and humanity. The old way won’t do.

Post truth. What and who can you believe? In consumer goods what’s real, what’s click-bait, what’s an SEO strategy showing, what’s for time-poor UHNW’s who just want the usual luxury brand platitudes, what’s marketing puff, what is their purpose, real or bolt-on? Purpose. The new marketing mantra.
And yet, and yet…in luxury, a good honest meaningful story still works. Consumers – even the cynical millennials still respond to them. Gucci and Louis Vuitton are millennials’ favourite brands, according to the survey and social-media data analysed by UBS/Oct 2018.

The rational differences between Bremont and Breitling or Vacheron Constantin or A. Lange & Sohne watches are minimal. They all tell the time. Looks, design, styling of course all play a part. But it’s the individual stories behind them that make the difference.

Chanel’s marketing uses events from Coco’s life which perfectly convey the brand’s themes of femininity, fashion and attitude. The site takes viewers into its world through individual chapters.
It’s the mystique, the myths and the anecdotes.

What makes a good luxury brand story?

The successful companies craft stories with the same precision, and care as the product or experience itself. The Cartier marketing department probably puts in as many hours as their diamond cutters….
Underpinning them all is the virtuous mantra of authenticity, preciousness and – for the best ones – humanity and purpose.

What captivating craft stories can be weaved. What thought and attention is put into sourcing the best, the newest, the oldest, the rawest materials. The artisans, artists all of course - in their studios, their ateliers, at their benches, in the vineyards, sketching, colouring, sewing, finishing, enamelling, smelling, touching, moulding, soldering.

Blanc Creatives in the US make hand-forged steel and copper cookware. Staffed by blacksmiths, each piece takes an average of eight hours to produce. Thom Sweeney tailors, Miller Harris fragrances, and Decca Luxe’s new commission using David Linley’s marquetry expertise, are some examples of modern brands built on craftsmanship.

Decca Luxe Pavarotti Linley Life in Art case Luxury branding agency

LA-based sneaker brand No.One employs the same shoemaking techniques that cobblers used a hundred years ago. The sneakers are hand-lasted. Each pair takes about two weeks to make.
Loren Manufacturing sells handmade jeans. From ring-spun, premium selvedge denim from Japanese, American, and Italian-based mills, they highlight the fabric's beauty through simple washes and even yarns made from recycled plastic bottles. (Note to the fashion conscious: ‘Selvedge’ means the ‘self-edge’ of fabric. Selvedge is woven so the fabric’s ‘edge’ can be used in garment construction. Using the outer edge of the denim (the self-edge), makes a jean a ‘selvedge’ denim jean.)

Celebrating craftsmanship

More profoundly was the philosophy behind “Homo Faber: Crafting a More Human Future,” a monumental celebration of European craftsmanship in Venice last month.  This exhibition is the idea of the (Richemont-backed) Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, whose raison d’être is to preserve fine craftsmanship, enhance visibility for creators by placing them on the global map and, crucially, attract a new generation of artisans.

‘Homo Faber’ means ‘human being as maker or creator’ and workshops in the exhibition offer a glimpse into the art of luxury craftsmanship.

Hermès, for example, sent a master saddler, while artisans from Cartier demonstrated the art of glyptic, or engraving on gems. Lesage, the Chanel-owned embroiderer, displayed archival samples of needlework. For two weeks, visitors could work alongside two Lesage embroiderers to embellish a 6ft+ view of Venice on toile fabric, adding blue-grey needlework to a canal, a palazzo, or cypress green to a garden. It was so successful it will return to Venice in 2020.

Photos courtesy of HomoFaber.com

A key theme to a good luxury story is the long hours spent making an object but also the process itself:
Making a remarkable - if sometimes eccentric - investment in time and tradecraft. Luxury craftspeople are inspired by intense curiosity for the intricate nature of their product speciality, the potential of new different materials, and techniques.

Characteristically this motivation often goes well beyond market demands and sometimes is seen as ‘extreme’ or an ‘unbalanced’ desire for total perfection – but useful in a business sense. We go to the ends of the earth for you. Literally.

In an age where people have a miniscule concentration span there is something wonderful and Zen-like on this intense focus on one small speciality. In this spirit, some luxury is not especially concerned with practicality but with the unusual, the non-essential and the exclusive mastery of a craft and brilliant expertise is showed by outstanding precision, attention to detail and stunning finishes.

This sort of quality is only achieved by challenging the accepted rules of craftsmanship. And the slight variations or mistakes even of being hand-made are for many better than machine-made perfection. You know someone was there; hands were there. Someone put their imprint on it. Imperfect art can be perfect art.

It makes for a good story. In a tech world, old world legacy tradition exerts a strong pull.

A business model that wears well

So let’s look back: The story has always been important. It has prolonged the life of the luxury sector since time immemorial.

For thousands of years, humans have aspired to more than the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter. In Ancient Rome, the ultimate status symbol was a set of robes dyed Tyrian purple. The colour, named after Tyre, the town, was made from mucous secretions from predatory sea snails called Murex. It took twelve thousand snails and much manpower to yield about 1.4 g of pure dye- enough to colour only the trim of a single garment. Well beyond the means of most people. Unquestionably, clothes for the wealthy. We haven’t changed that much.

Photo credit:  Ryan Somman/ Flickr

The concept of luxury is still alluring. Its deeper psychological role is well noted. Having experienced a turbulent history, luxury has had great capacity to adapt and survive.

Madame Clicquot spotted a defining moment for her near bankrupt champagne business when, after the defeat of Napoleon she supplied the Congress of Vienna as they drew up the new frontiers of Europe, with her champagne: turning the event into a huge party. Early experiential marketing.

Madame Clicquot Veuve Clicquot Luxury Marketing Agency

Her inventive spirit is alive and well today. November 2018 sees the launch of the "Rebels", the theme for this year's Widow Series. It explores radical moments in British culture  and is billed as a "metaphorical nightclub", because the brand says this is a "catalyst to where great things begin".

Luxury is being challenged again as the category has become a complicated genre which is no longer the territory of the elite.

An old story told in a new way

Expectation is always high with luxury brands. The modern luxury audience - Generation X and Millennials - is intelligent, curious, and in the West increasingly uninterested in attaining status from price alone. Instead integrity and a meaningful narrative is required. They expect greater social responsibility and are becoming increasingly smart at seeing how brands behave. They get supply chain economics.For them, ‘luxury’ says elitism and exclusivity. They want luxury that is inclusive, honest and democratic.

This should be a godsend to the luxury world.

Many luxury retailers started out as simple, single product artisans with incredible – real - purpose: to create perfect jewellery, luggage or wine, a dress often in deprived times. Think the Hermes horse harness workshop or Louise Vuitton’s flat-bottom lightweight, airtight and stackable canvas trunks ideal for boat voyages

Hermes saddle workshop luxury branding agency

Photo courtesy of Hermès

Going back to, and understanding these origins properly – upholding the values and provenance of materials and the social conditions under which a company started out with – is a truthful and meaningful way to attract and keep the next generation of customers.

Children of the revolution

The new questioning, discerning, audience for luxury brands still want stories and in a post-truth consumer world the luxury brands still have the best ones – if you tell them sincerely, truthfully with emotional power. If it’s from the heart, it reaches the heart. We are natural storytellers. It makes us human. We know their power. From the Bible, to Dickens through to Netflix. In an uncertain world structure contains us. We make up stories to help us through this world in ways that reality can't.
Everything - faith, love, politics, science - needs a story for people to find it understandable. No story, no apparent sale.

Unlike the previous generation who was seduced by the shop experience and stories of craftsmanship for their own sake, people seek brand truth – in a world that is apparently dismissive of any facts, history or expertise.

A world in which a generation of consumers is coming to terms with the fact that all their assumptions and expectations in life might be changing , that growth and consumption might not go on for ever, that hard work might not pay off and that they might not have more than their parents.

This is galvanising the luxury industry.

Luxury brands should tap into the innate desire we all have to believe in something real.  Storytelling still matters in luxury if told with emotion, authenticity and humanity.  The truth is that celebrating design pieces with a soul is now more vital than ever. For craftspeople the real enemy is homogenisation. When everything is like everything else there’s no space for difference and no space for beauty.

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