Jo Johnson our Deputy MD spoke to high end hoteliers and restaurateurs in Scotland this week at Silver Spoon, an event in Edinburgh organised by Scotland on Sunday journalist Richard Bath.
I spoke on making your business a brand within the luxury sector. We looked at the trends within luxury - the overuse of the actual term luxury; the democratisation of luxury; the smart moves on the high street of mass market brands linking with luxury designers and the development of more entry levels products by luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton developing their Junior leather range.
Luxury brands did very well on the whole last year - Prada, Hermes and Mulberry all had very strong Q4 sales and share prices rose strongly by the year end. I highlighted the trends in luxury that began before the recession but have been accelerated by the inevitable move in a recession away from ostentatious purchasing towards a more inconspicuous consumption - consumers caring about the provenance of food; prepared to pay more for clothes that are not made in a sweat shop and wanting to give something back when they go on holiday.
Owning a brand category was the first brand challenge highlighted - the importance of looking very honestly at your business, analysing the competition, looking at where the gaps in the market are and then deciding on a core proposition that can give you real stand out.
In keeping a brand fresh I talked about our work for Raymond Blanc and Le Manoir. Keeping a brand, that celebrated it's 25th anniversary last year, in the minds of guests and the media is a big challenge. Everyone likes something new. We use Raymond Blanc's evolving passions and initiatives to keep him in the news - putting him at the heart of debate engaging with everyone from politicians and editors to celebrities and supermarket CEOs. We get him involved in, and creating discussions on, subjects that he is passionate about and are therefore at the core of the brand.
I highlighted brand partnerships as an effective way of accelerating your brand positiong with the caveat that it must be a brand that truly reflects your brand values, targets the right demographic and must work for both parties. Brands that we have worked with for bgb travel clients include Veuve Cliquot, Jo Malone, VW and publishers Hodder Headline. Luxury brand partnerships in the news are new partnerships between Anya Hindmarch and Barbour, Longchamp and Kate Moss and Jimmy Choo and Ugg - creating a limited edition product.
Building your brand through media relations focused on building relationships with key media across your target titles or websites. Don't just concentrate on the restaurant critic if you're a restaurant - there are opportunities for columns, business profiles, lifestyle features, reader offers, gardening pieces and news. You've got a much better chance of securing coverage if you phone one journalist with a thought-through, relevant story than by emailing a press release to dozens of journalists who won't even both to open it. Invest in photography - the people with the best photographs get the most coverage.
Online media - you should take the same approach in terms of relationship building and targeted sell in as with offline media. Your good photography gives you the chance to sell-in ideas for image galleries and if you can invest in video (short, 1 minute slots) you can have great success on line - websites are very keen for video content and it helps your SEO. Expert webchats are another really effective way to help build your brand online- you position yourself as the advisor and expert in your sector - everything from sourcing local ingredients to best wedding venues will work.
SEO - you need to be in the top 3 or 5 when your customers are searching for restaurants or hotels in your category. You can help this by online pr - getting onto the right media and lifestyle websites, but if you're serious you should invest (it's not expensive) in professional SEO support. Our SEO team helped a hotel client get from position 13 to position 3 - the difference between being noticed and not.
Social media - listen and understand what's going on in social media - that is relevant to your business. Go onto sites like technorati or blugpulse and see what's being said. Talk to your customers and find out what networks they use, and don't use. Work out what's right for you and your customers. It might be that for your brand the luxury social network asmallworld.com is a better forum than facebook. When you're clear about what's being said you can enter the fray!
Social media rules of engagement - you must be honest and transparent, you've got to be prepared to take the bad with the good and you've got to do it regularly. Dipping in and out is no use at all. Social media is not about hard selling to your audience. It's about engaging with them and putting them in touch with each other. Start debates on topics that you are passionate about and that are central to your brand - but do it as person involved in a business, this is not a corporate brand message and should have a different feel to your website.
Gucci recently got in touch with its customers via twitter to alert them to a preview day before they started their online sale. Each customer effectively turned into a brand ambassador by sending this on to friends and colleagues and Gucci did $1million worth of business that day - 10 times their usual sales figures.
Online can be immediate, flexible and cost effective.