American Marketer


Personalization: Tailoring the luxury experience without the pitfalls

September 29, 2014

Duncan Stokes is global CEO at Redworks Duncan Stokes is global CEO at RedWorks


By Duncan Stokes

The concept of luxury is ambiguous. It can mean a number of things to different people, but what is clear is that it is a concept that implies exclusivity. It is about making the customer feel connected to the brand and integrating them with the entire experience, not just a product or service.

Personalization can be an extremely effective tool to further enrich this experience and with improvements in customer data and digital reach, the opportunities for a luxury marketer to personalize their marketing are vast.

Luxury brands can now capitalize on these greater data insights and tailor a customized experience for consumers – a powerful strategy if used correctly. But get it wrong and the results could be devastating.

So how can high-end marketers avoid the risks and successfully use personalization to channel the exclusive essence of their brand?

Burberry is a fantastic example of a brand that has effectively harnessed the power of personalization by creating innovative yet exclusive brand experiences.

For example, as part of its London Fashion Week show in 2013 the British heritage brand launched a new made-to-order catwalk and smart personalization service in which customers could order bespoke pieces straight from the show with the option to have their name engraved into the metal coat tag or on the bag plate.

The products were also embedded with digital chips, which when scanned with a mobile device would unlock unique content about the history of the item purchased, from the initial sketch to the runway fittings.

This campaign beautifully illustrates how in-sync Burberry is with its audience and effectively demonstrates how high-end brands should look to incorporate personalization as part of a wider marketing strategy.

By using the data it has about its consumers to build a relevant campaign, Burberry has truly encapsulated the luxury essence of the brand.

Luxury Italian fashion house Fendi has built its niche on creating custom-made handbags for consumers. As a result, personalization has been integrated into every stage in the process of making a product for a consumer.

Each handbag is the only one of its kind in the world, with customers having the option to not only choose color and material, but also have their name or initials woven into the body of the bag.

Once finished, the handbag comes delivered in exclusive packaging complete with a personalized and signed letter from designer Silva Venurini Fendi.

From start to finish customers are made to feel exclusive as they become fully incorporated into the Fendi brand experience.

American Express
The American Express Centurion Card, also known as the Black card, is an invitation-only card issued to platinum cardholders once they meet certain criteria.

The card is hand delivered to the new member in a custom-made box engraved with the member’s name on the outside and fully personalized welcome literature on the inside.

Centurion cardholders are a bespoke group of individuals and through this personalized aspect, American Express successfully ensures that members are made to feel a part of this exclusive brand lifestyle.

When brands go too far
Using your consumer data to create a tailored marketing strategy may make your customers feel special. However, there is a line that brands, luxury brands, in particular, should not cross.

Mass merchandizer Target famously crossed this line when, having correctly predicted that a teenage girl was pregnant before the father had been told, it targeted her with coupons for pregnancy goods.

This is an extreme example, but it shows that while brands are gaining a deeper level of insight into their audience they must remain cautious when using this information as part of a marketing strategy.

If a luxury brand were to take this approach, it would be intrinsically damaging to its reputation.

Luxury marketers need to take a much more subtle approach when it comes to implementing a personalization strategy. It needs to make sure it pins down the direct objective for the campaign: is it of value to the customer? If it is, it will drive sales. If not, it could have serious repercussions for brand image.

Do not fall at the last hurdle
When used correctly, personalization is a fantastic tool for luxury marketers to enhance the essence of exclusivity within their brand.

Attention to detail is key and luxury brands need to go that extra mile to ensure that no errors are made.

Having the correct gender information about the consumer and ensuring that communications are free of spelling errors are crucial basics to make sure the luxury experience is not shattered at the last hurdle.

Most importantly, luxury personalization should strive to convey the brand personality. It should evoke emotion and have the ability to delight its consumers.

As we have seen through Burberry and Fendi, the brands that successfully use personalization are those that make an individual consumer feel a part of the brand experience without overstepping the privacy barrier.

Duncan Stokes is global CEO at RedWorks, the London-based integrated communications, production and consulting agency of the Ogilvy Group worldwide. Reach him at