Marketing lessons from the luxury startups stealing your customers

If the successful luxury brand of the past was Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, aloof and aspirational, today, it’s Andy, endearing and relatable, yet glam.

Today’s luxury consumers are younger and more idealistic than those of the past, and they’re starting to demand things that seem to run counter to the very DNA of luxury: transparency, friendliness and a democratic ethos—all while maintaining the air of exclusivity that makes luxury, well, luxury.

With the very definition of luxury as we know it rapidly evolving, young startups are in a better position than ever before to hack into the market. But instead of quaking in their Gucci loafers, heritage brands should whip out their pens and pencils and start taking notes. These startups are following several simple, replicable strategies to attract young luxury customers:

  • Personalized touch
  • Openness and authenticity
  • Omnichannel marketing
  • Building community
  • Leading with a mission and values

We’ve zeroed in on a few companies that do these things exceptionally well to discover how these principles are working for them, and how you can apply them to your own brand.

Journy

Millennial and Gen Z customers are looking for experiences that help them grow as people while boosting their social image, making travel the logical new frontier of luxury. Everyone wants to be a jet setter, but with international travel growing more common (and more commercialized), no one wants to ’gram the same shamanic healer in Bali as everyone else.

Journy is delivering on the craving for an authentic, personalized travel experience with a custom travel-planning service. Since most young luxury customers have more free income than free time, Journy promotes itself as the company that will crawl through thousands of online reviews and foreign websites so you don’t have to. For $25 to $50 per day of travel, you can get a custom travel itinerary that takes all your preferences and constraints into account, going above and beyond a traditional travel agency by catering to ultra-specific requests, like days planned around a baby’s naptime or restaurants that can accommodate specific diets.

Through a canny product and even cannier marketing, Journy has come out on top of the new luxury travel market. Here’s how.

Personalized touch

Gone are the days when luxury brands could get by on being aloof. The new luxury customers want brands to act like friends, not faceless corporate entities. By offering customer travel itineraries, Journy’s product already caters to the desire for personal attention. But it also makes a point to connect with customers one-on-one from their very first contact.

As soon as you land on the site, a pop-up offers a sample itinerary for the destination of your choice, which Senior Trip Manager Dave shoots over in an email. Dave follows up several times, offering a free 20-minute consultation call, and, a week later, a 20% discount. In this way, Journy establishes individual rapport with potential customers, giving them a sneak peek of how they can expect to be treated as customers before any money changes hands.

Openness and authenticity

Today’s luxury customers want brands to be open, honest and authentic—and constantly available. That doesn’t always come naturally for a heritage brand used to operating under the shroud of secrecy and mystique. Journy establishes openness by explaining (and re-explaining and then explaining again) the “how it works” of their service and by being constantly available for questions. I mean, constantly. Custom itineraries come with unlimited calls and emails with your trip designer, and you can call and chat with the company for free before you commit.

M.M.LaFleur

M.M.LaFleur isn’t just making business wear cool, which is a pretty big feat in itself. Essentially, M.M.LaFleur is a line of curated, chic business clothing for women, available online and at several retail locations around the country. Smart branding and marketing have made it the millennial yuppie’s uniform: youngish, corporate women of the Lean In variety, looking to smash glass ceilings with consciously designed stilettos, flock to M.M.LaFleur.

Beyond offering a staggering amount of customizable, personal touches (complimentary in-person styling sessions, free alterations, free shipping, no-subscription bento box orders pulled by a personal stylist), M.M.LaFleur excels at bringing their brand to the customer, and bringing their customers together.

Omnichannel marketing

While many old luxury brands are making clunky attempts to reach their customers on digital, omni is in M.M.LaFleur’s DNA. While young people are getting the bulk of their info on brands through social media, many still preferto shop in store. That means companies that can do both could have an edge over the purely digital, especially for a product like business wear, where fit is so important.

By developing their digital platform while investing in brick-and-mortar locations, M.M.LaFleur is getting the best of both worlds. There are three ways to buy from M.M.LaFleur: purchasing online à la carte, old-school style; ordering a bento box custom-built by a stylist around your style and preferences; and coming into a brick-and-mortar store for styling and fitting. The store then ships orders to your house or office, and returns are accepted via shipping or in person.

In communication, too, the brand pulls off seamless transitions across channels. AcrossFacebook,Instagram,LinkedIn, Twitterand Pinterest, each post is picked and tailored for the platform: product features on Instagram, career features on LinkedIn, styling tips and links to human interest blog posts on Twitter, and so on. Naturally, news about new product launches and styling edits link back to the site, where customers can smoothly sail into shopping.

Building community

Today’s luxury customers make purchases to buy into a tribe of like-minded people. In this case, that tribe is career-oriented women with a passion for fashion. While many brands are skirting around the issue by referring to their social following as their community, M.M.LaFleur goes the extra mile to actually organize in-person meetups and events. These include career events like Changemaker Chats with inspiring women, Self-Care Saturdays, store launch parties and more. Giving customers the chance to meet and mingle creates a network effect, increasing brand loyalty by fostering a sense of belonging.

Sakara Life

In the explosion of meal-delivery services, Sakara Life has come out on top. The reason? Definitely not affordability—if you do the math, some meals come out to $30 a muffin. By branding itself as a chic and holistic wellness and lifestyle company, Sakara Life sells not just delicious salads, but the promise of buying a whole new identity. Order the meal service, and you, too, can live your best, classiest, healthiest, sexiest and most wholesome Sakara Life.

Take a scroll through their social, and you’ll see how they pull this off. Peppered in between gorgeous shots of colorful salads against white countertops, you’ll find inspirational quotes that speak to mind, body and soul. In a luxury market where customers are increasingly choosing their brands for their mission and values, Sakara Life has expertly leveraged its own story to appeal to customers.

Leading with mission and values

As soon as you start engaging with Sakara Life, you’ll notice that the founders are much more visible in their marketing communications than those of most companies. Pictures and quotes from co-founders Whitney Tingle and Danielle Duboise pop up across social, and lots of the website is written in first person. This is a tricky tactic—done poorly, it could backfire, coming off as annoying or self-involved. Unless the founder is already famous, like in the case of Goop, there typically aren’t too many reasons to build the brand around her.

In Sakara Life’s case, it works because the founders’ stories set up the company’s broader values: inspiring healthy, happy lives through high-quality food. Whitney Tingle and Danielle Duboise have publicly spoken about their struggles with food, health and body image earlier in life, which lends credibility to the brand’s message pivoting from food as diet to lifestyle, and from scarcity to abundance. Plus, they’re the perfect brand ambassadors for their own product. Successful, gorgeous and radiant, they’d definitely inspire me to sign up for a week or two of $30 salads.

More importantly, Sakara Life’s social is all about the aspirational lifestyle, from Instagram posts promoting feeding your soul with the occasional slice of pizza, to blog posts profiling women working in health, wellness and spirituality, and even Spotify playlists with names like “Liberation Season.”

Along with the empowerment and abundance comes a subtle “treat yo’ self” message. With 67% of affluent consumers age 18–34 feeling guilty for spending on luxury, this kind of messaging, when done right, can give customers the little push they need to splurge on the service.

While these trends might stray from the traditional luxury model, with a little creativity and soul-searching, any brand can integrate them into its marketing strategy. Still, not everything will work for every brand—and that’s okay! Technologies and trends may come and go, but the core of your brand should withstand the test of time.

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