People in the luxury branding mix refers to everyone that is affected by the brand and everyone that affects the brand. These include those involved in the development of products and services, brand management and the employee-wide staff involved in the daily business processes. People also constitutes customers and the general public whose attitudes and predisposition towards a company and a brand affects its performance. People are the most important element of any service because the experience they have with a brand influences their relationship with that brand and is transmitted to the customers.
People in the luxury sector can be categorized into three broad groups.
1 Customers, who have been extensively discussed in Chapter 3
Employees such as retail store sales representatives and customer services staff are usually the first direct interface between consumers and the brand they represent. They are the representatives of the brand and reflect the spirit of the brand wherever they are located and under every circumstance. The luxury sector retails high-involvement goods and therefore the service expectation is high. The people who sell luxury products to consumers in the stores are consequently required to be professional, exhibit expert knowledge, be sufficiently stylish and emanate the brand's aura. This places a high level of responsibility on the employees of luxury brands.
There is a general consensus among a large percentage of luxury consumers of the negligible and sometimes poor level of customer services provided by the staff of luxury brands within the stores or after-sales. Consumers often complain that several representatives of luxury brands provide a 'cold' and 'aloof' service in their bid to maintain the 'prestige status' of the brand and a cool distance from consumers. This attitude spells unprofessionalism and neither inspires nor endears the customer to the brand. The customer interface and after-sales staff are important in luxury retailing and brands ought to invest heavily in them through expert training in sales, personal selling, customer service and brand stewardship.
Ambassadors of a luxury brand are the people that provide the brand with life. They are used by luxury brands in a peculiar way to promote the brand through 'giving it a face'. This involves using strong personalities that are connected with the brand to act as either the brand ambassadors or a symbolic figure linked with the brand. These personalities range from the designers and creative directors of luxury brands, to chief executives or prominent figures in the brand's management team. They could also include external public figures that are not involved in the brand's product design or management but have been adopted by the brand to become a part of its 'face'.
There is a difference between 'People' in the luxury branding mix, such as ambassadors and the 'People' that feature in the advertisements and other promotional activities of luxury brands. The people we are talking about here have a consistent and long-term relationship with the brand. As ambassadors of brands, they are a permanent part of the brand unlike the people used in advertisements who could be changed seasonally.
The people who act as brand ambassadors include creative directors such as John Galliano of Dior, Marc Jacobs of Vuitton, Jean-Paul Gaultier of Hermès and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel and Fendi. Others are chief executives and senior managers such as Sidney Toledano of Dior; Bernard Arnault of LVMH and Frédéric de Narp of Cartier. Yet there are those that are both presidents or senior executives of luxury brands and at the same time the creative directors. This group includes Giorgio Armani, Muiccia Prada, Donatella Versace and Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo, among many others.
Brand ambassadors often become household public names and sometimes celebrities in their own right with a personal brand value. They represent the brands both in their personal and public lives and are the expected faces at all public events involving the brand or the wider fashion industry. For example Donatella Versace acceded in an interview that it is impossible for the Versace brand to function without her because there is nobody that can represent the brand the way she does. She is also widely believed to be a fashion diva, which is an indirect definition of a celebrity. On the personal level, her home in Italy is an extension of the Versace brand. Donatella represents Versace just as Tom Ford represented Gucci and Karl Lagerfeld currently represents Chanel and Fendi.
There is yet another small group of ambassadors who are not directly linked with the creative or business aspects of luxury brands but have become 'muses' or 'eyes' or 'noses' for the brands. Their principal role is to bring inspiration and fresh ideas to luxury brands through their fashion vision, wealth of knowledge, worldliness and high aesthetic sensitivity. This group includes the likes of Sofia Coppola who acts as Marc Jacob's muse and Dita Von Tesse who is connected with Louis Vuitton.
The final group of the faces that act as ambassadors are the models through whom a brand's products are displayed both on the runways and in advertisements. The concept of fashion models was introduced in the nineteenth century by La Maison Worth and since then the popularity of models has grown. However, for a long time, models were not celebrated in the fashion sector until the era of the Supermodels of the 1980s, mainly promoted by the late Gianni Versace. Since then, luxury brands have promoted and even celebrated models such as Eva Herzigova, Cindy Crawford, Heidi Klum, Kate Moss and more recently Gisele Bundchen and Daria Werbrow.
The challenge faced by luxury brands in managing ambassadors is to know when the brand's ambassador should be promoted as a personal brand and if this is a positive factor for the luxury brand or not. For example, during Tom Ford's tenure as the Creative Director of Gucci, his celebrity status and personal brand power seemed so strong and influential that the thought of Gucci without Tom Ford and vice versa was unimaginable. On the other hand, both Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo were highly successful as the Creative Directors of Chloe but never quite overshadowed the brand.
It has often been argued that luxury brands should avoid celebrity or star designers in order to contain the risk of the designer overshadowing the brand. The proponents of this opinion believe that instead of promoting the designers, luxury brands should channel their resources into sustaining their brand equity. This debate could be approached from two viewpoints. The first point of view is the definition of the strategic role of the designer. The designer's role for a luxury brand depends on the position of the brand when the designer joined the company. Using Gucci as an illustration, Tom Ford as a star designer played a key strategic role in resuscitating the prestige brand aura of Gucci and elevating it once more to the luxury fashion brand status after the brand depreciated for several years. In this case, the star designer is imperative. On the other hand, Karl Lagerfeld's role at Chanel and Marc Jacobs' at Louis Vuitton are more aligned towards promoting the identities and 'spirits' of the brands and enhancing their value and less about defining the brand character and strategic direction as Tom Ford did for Gucci. Other rising designers such as Tomas Maier of Bottega Veneta who currently plays a purely creative role might be elevated to star or celebrity status according to the needs of the brand and the requirements of the market environment.
To say that a brand doesn't need a designer with celebrity status would be wrong but the presence of a star designer should be to play a key strategic role at the required time for the brand. This is one of the reasons for the importance of brand ambassadors.
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