We learned over the past year just how effectively the gilded class could employ social media to influence the masses. Conversely, one wonders, could emerging popular trends such as live streaming and influencer marketing have as great an impact with the 1% as they are proving to have with the hoi polloi?
Rowan Kelshaw, managing director of The Luxury Network LA, says yes, and high-end marketers who shun these trends — perhaps thinking, as I was inclined to, that they are too pedestrian — are making a huge tactical error.
“It’s really about being where the clients are,” he says.
The Luxury Network is an affinity marketing franchise business that creates ad hoc partnerships between prestigious brands that have high-net-worth client lists to share. Familiar global brands in the network include Tiffany, Lamborghini, Coach, Mont Blanc and Harry Winston.
The first office was in London in 2007, and there are now locations in 28 cites around the world, from Singapore to Abu Dhabi to Melbourne. The Luxury Network came to the U.S. last August when Kelshaw launched a Los Angeles office. More recently, it has also opened in Miami. New York and San Francisco are in the planning stages.
Typically, a local office puts together events not meant to draw a huge turnout -- but, instead, high-income people qualified to buy the product at hand. For a recent showcase of new watches being offered by Porsche Design of Rodeo Drive, for example, Kelshaw’s team culled likely prospects from the client lists of members such as Montage Beverly Hills, Crystal Cruises and Clay Lacy Aviation.
Although the Los Angeles office has an incipient presence on Facebook and Instagram, it has not yet launched a social campaign for a client. But Kelshaw sees great potential for luxury brands in social media in general. He singles out three areas in particular:
-- “Facebook Live is the new broadcast TV,”he says, “and luxury brands need to start embracing this immediately.” Quite simply, Facebook Live has a potential reach that other platforms don’t, and Facebook makes it very easy to target, for example, by Zip code. The production values of a live video may not be up to Madison Ave. standards for a polished :30, but “it allows customers to connect with brands because it feels very authentic.”
He cites Land Rover’s live test drives — captured, of course, for later viewing — as an example of the potential for high-end brands to reach targets who nowadays are “watching on their own time” just like everybody else.
-- Brands are using digital influencers “instead of celebrity spokespeople to reach consumers and come across as more relatable,” Kelshaw observes. This can be just as potent on the high end as it has been for mass-market products.
Take beauty blogger Arielle Charnas, for example, who has represented both Yves St. Laurent and Peter Thomas Roth. A Snapchat session she did last April for the latter’s $52 Rose Stem Cell Bio-Repair Gel Mask resulted in nearly $20,000 in sales. “Do the math,” Kelshaw says — weekly sessions could, over the months, “result in millions of dollars in sales.” On the business side, Grant Cardone and Gary Vaynerchuk are extremely popular with entrepreneurs who are, after all, nothing if not one-percenters in the making.
-- Finally, there’s a melding of real-world events and online promotion, including excursions into VR. “In order to balance the need for exclusivity and inclusion, brands are hosting experiential events with VIP guests and are sharing the videos and pictures on social platforms,” Kelshaw says. “These events can reach people in every socioeconomic class, and consumers are increasingly placing value on experiences over stuff.”
An example of this would be an event in Singapore where Ferrari owners were invited to preview some luxury properties represented by Savills, and Savills clients test-drove a new vehicle. “It was kept very small and intimate” — about 50 people total, Kelshaw says, keeping the exclusivity of the brands. But the event was also captured for Facebook strivers to ogle.
More recently, brands like Audi are taking this a step further by using virtual reality in their retail outlets. Although VR is admittedly in its infancy, Kelshaw sees great potential for bringing the VR experience from the showroom to the living room, be it a cramped apartment in the Bronx or a Westchester estate.
“The difference between the luxury industry and anything else is that have to make sure they are reaching the right kind of people, which means they have to choose their influencers very carefully -- and make sure their values are aligned," he concludes.