Sometimes the Riskiest Customers Are a Brand’s Most Zealous and Noticed Endorsers

While they thrive on feeding and satisfying their customers’ desires, leading brand owners recognize that they must stay in control of the brand. This often leads to a paradoxical relationship with customers.

While modern mass media brand building techniques are designed to cut through the noise, leading luxury brands tend to speak in tones that are self-assured and sophisticated. Modern marketing invites viral contributions that challenge the control luxury brands need to exert. Even customers can present risks to the brand if they misuse the brand or confer the wrong associations upon it. This can lead to the ultimate paradox: that sometimes the riskiest customers are a brand’s most zealous and noticed endorsers.

In this sense, excluding market segments rather than including them can actually drive luxury brand value. While luxury products may feed desire, the mantra of luxury brand management is one of restraint – resisting the temptation to change or even possibly grow. Leading luxury brands are steeped in disciplined conviction, bordering on a form of brand chastity. For example, leading luxury brands like Rolex, Ferragamo, and Prada don’t advertise on television (with the exception of licenses), often feature fairly austere print campaigns, and seldom sell products directly on their websites.

To preserve an aura of conviction and exclusivity, leading luxury brands even go so far as to edit and advise their purchasers. They conduct business on their terms. Even if there is a deviation in customer demand or if customers ask for alternatives, the brand must remain resolute and in control. This can be at odds with shareholders who may come from a business background and don’t understand the subtleties involved with managing a luxury brand or appreciate luxury brand’s legendary heritage.

Knowing when to say “no” – remaining the seducer not the seduced — requires a confidence and discipline that can be interpreted as bordering on arrogance. So collection lines are kept short to ensure they are scarce. Lead times are antagonizingly long to ensure craftsmanship isn’t sacrificed.

Additionally, winning customers isn’t the issue, as leading brands often want to sell less to maintain their exclusivity. As one leading luxury car supplier recently commented, their issue was how to sell fewer cars, not more!

Although a few prosperous years may result in brand growth, broad appeal can potentially undermine a brand. The Mont Blanc ballpoint, for example, may have opened the brand up to a wider audience, and generated impressive sales, but has the cachet of the brand maintained its levels of desire in the face of such accessibility?

Similarly, while Gucci’s ubiquity benefited the house in the 1960s and 1970s, overexposure, brand monotony, and lack of innovation left the house struggling until Tom Ford’s arrival in the 1990s. Ford revamped the brand, restoring its glamorous and exclusive image. Even today, after he has departed, the brand still thrives, proving that the brand outlives the designer.