my turn


Meet Me Exclusively @Target

Zac Posen, a young designer with authentic red carpet cred, just launched a collection for Target. Which means your 17-year-old niece can now afford to answer the question, "Who are you wearing?," the same way Claire Danes, Anne Hathaway, Cameron Diaz, Rihanna, Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet have.

It's a great deal for that 17-year-old. But is this a step forward for the designer or just a short-lived strategy to reinvigorate sales numbers and boost profits? Will Claire and Anne and Kate, et al., be willing to face the likes of Billy Bush and Joan Rivers wearing a designer who's so accessible?

Clearly, it's a risk. So why take it?

Although luxury brands remained surprisingly isolated from the downturn in 2007 and 2008, 2009 was tough on all sectors, including haute couture. Even the acclaimed Christian Lacroix was driven out of business.

Naturally, when circumstances call for bold actions, it's tempting to expand your market to enhance your bottom line. But is it possible without compromising the luxury nature of your brand?



I would say, yes -- with the understanding that you absolutely cannot cheapen the brand. Contradictory? Not really.

Luxury is in many ways an ineffable quality that goes far beyond the premium price point associated with it. Essentially, it's an opportunity for the consumer to experience exclusivity, to feel like one of the chosen ones.

Can you maintain the perception of exclusivity even when reaching out to "the masses?"

Take another high-fashion designer, Stella McCartney. Five years ago, McCartney launched a line, available only at H&M. Offered in 400 of the company's stores in 22 countries around the world, it generated extensive attention from the press, leading to ginormous lines and near riots from Manhattan to Stockholm. The New York Post chronicled the madness with the headline "H&M Crowds 'Rack' Havoc with War Cry: 'Back Off My Dress, Bitch!'" The line sold out within hours.

Net/net: Stella enjoyed substantially increased name recognition for her two-year-old firm with no diminution of her status.

Exclusivity was the key to her success. Savvy H&M shoppers were invited to preview -- but not buy -- the line online so they knew what to look for at the store. Limited access combined with limited quantities sealed the deal.

What can Zac Posen or any other luxury brand do to reap the benefits of mass market without losing their cachet?

Luxury is about the experience at all brand touchpoints, from store to packaging to "white gloves" to brand magazines. It now utilizes new platforms to maintain a dialogue with the customer that feels authentic and unique.

You have to develop a strategy for managing the experience for the brand's various audiences by developing one-on-one relationships with your customers on all platforms. In the past, that relationship would exist in the context of "bricks-and-mortar" stores. Today it begins on Facebook and Twitter.

Even in the luxury field. Wealthy customers' participation in social networking sites has risen from 60% to 72% since early 2008. More remarkably, 62% of wealthy customers over the age of 55 engage with any or all of the better known sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Of those, one in four say they would participate in a community dedicated to, and sponsored by, a particular luxury brand.

Smart brands will leverage this model to engage in provider-consumer communications. Really smart brands will encourage consumer-consumer communication and bonding. Really, really smart brands will find ways to segment their markets and craft communications to appeal to each. In every case, the message should promise an exclusive and special experience.

Zac Posen, for example, could work with Target to reach out to Target's fashion-savvy shoppers on Twitter with a message that says, "Meet me: exclusively @Target."

In either case, the perception of exclusivity is preserved. The customer feels engaged in a one-on-one experience, enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime event. No one feels cheapened or betrayed.

Luxury brands that leverage today's constantly evolving relationship technology to grow closer to their customers are the companies that will continue to thrive on the high end and @Target.

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