Luxury marketing search strategy, Part 1: Consumer mindset

luxury marketing search strategy, part one: consumer mindset

Did you know the world’s top 15 luxury brands generate more than 45 million web searches per year?

Gucci, ranked as the number one most popular luxury brand online based on Deloitte’s Global Powers of Luxury Goods 2018 study, has approximately 9.5 million web searches per year alone.

Luxury brands, resellers, and even counterfeiters are competing to win the top organic positions for these searches. This means that SEO is not just an opportunity for luxury brands, but an imperative. SEO is a highly strategic and effective way to fend off the competition and maintain a vital source of traffic to luxury brands’ websites.

However, before you can get to work on a rock-solid SEO campaign, you need to understand the mindset of the luxury goods consumer.

In this first of a three-part luxury search marketing series, I’ll dive into the consumer mindset in the luxury vertical. In the follow-up articles, we’ll discuss how to strategize and execute SEO campaigns based on this mindset and other aspects of the luxury industry.

Why do we buy luxury brands? The psychology driving our purchase decisions

The world’s 100 largest luxury goods companies generated over $217 billion in sales based on Deloitte’s Global Powers of Luxury Goods 2018 study.

That’s no small amount. As consumers we buy these goods for a variety of reasons. My own experience with luxury goods offers some helpful insight into why consumers purchase luxury items.

When I was growing up, wearing brands like Liz Claiborne, Reebok, and Guess meant you were one of the cool kids. My first “luxury” purchase was a Liz Claiborne purse, and my grandmother bought me a matching wallet for my 16th birthday. I was so excited that day. But, what was really driving my excitement? Ultimately, the purse fulfilled an emotional need for me – the need to fit in. Carrying my very own Liz Claiborne bag gave me confidence and appealed to my sense of belonging.

There are many other factors that influence the luxury shopper’s mindset. As search marketers, we need to have a solid understanding of these factors and how they drive your customer to search for and buy your brand.

Psychological and physiological factors to consider in marketing luxury goods

  1. Needs vs. wants

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs sheds greater light on our needs versus our wants. According to Maslow, human beings have a specific number of needs and these needs are arranged in a hierarchy, with physiological and safety needs being more basic than other needs such as social needs.

Once our basic needs like food, warmth, and safety are met, we can start to prioritize higher-level social needs like cultivating a sense of accomplishment and prestige.

As search marketers, we need to have a deep understanding of our customer and find a way to fulfill his/her need and wants. Although I was convinced it was a “need” for me at the time, my Liz Claiborne bag was really a want. There’s a big difference between spending $30 on a handbag as opposed to $3,000. If I’m looking for a specific handbag to carry my essentials in, then from a functional standpoint, the $30 bag meets that basic need. But, it doesn’t fulfill my higher-level emotional needs.

Questions for marketers to ask themselves:

  • Is the product a need or a want?
  • What does the product and ultimately the brand represent to the customer?
  • Does the product/brand fulfill the customers high-level needs?

What does it mean for search?

You should first determine if the product is a need or a want. Think about the ways you can communicate this information through organic search, for example, through meta tags, and copy. You should also think about how you can communicate the ways your product or brand can fulfill your customers’ higher-level needs. We’ll explore further strategies and tactics for this in subsequent articles.

  1. Utilitarian vs. hedonic

Our purchase decisions are driven by utilitarian and hedonic considerations. Marketing utilitarian goods and hedonic goods require different approaches.

Utilitarian products are useful, practical, and functional. These products are bought out of necessity and meet our basic needs. Utilitarian products include things like groceries, hygiene products, cars, etc.

Hedonic products satisfy emotional and sensory needs after the basic needs have been met. These products are bought for pleasure and exceed our basic needs. Hedonic products include things like designer watches, expensive vacations, and more.

There’s a significant difference between buying groceries and booking a vacation. Buying groceries addresses a need whereas booking a vacation is a satisfying experience. Several years ago, I bought my first Fendi bag not because I needed it, but because I wanted it and had the means to buy it. It was an incredible experience for me to go into the store and make that purchase.

In marketing utilitarian products, advertisers should highlight the benefits and practical, functional features. In marketing hedonic products, it’s important to emphasize the experience it will provide the consumers. An example of a brand that achieves both is Apple. Apple’s iPhone X commercial does an excellent job with highlighting benefits and features and creating experiences at the same time.

They make you want to go out and buy the new phone immediately, so you can experience something that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Questions for marketers:

  • Is this a utilitarian purchase, a hedonic purchase, or both?
  • If utilitarian what is the product’s functional, practical aspects?
  • If hedonic what experience does the product provide?
  • Is there a way to highlight the product’s function and emphasize the experience it provides at the same time?

What does it mean for search?

You should first determine whether your product is a utilitarian purchase, a hedonic purchase, or a little bit of both.

Remember, luxury consumers are looking for an experience. You should be thinking about ways to communicate the experience through your SEO strategy. More to come about this in subsequent articles!

  1. The role of the brain – Dopamine & the anticipation of pleasure

Our brains have a physiological role in our purchase decisions. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, is best known for its role in the brain’s reward system. It helps regulate emotional responses, learning, attention, and movement.

Robert Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, has conducted extensive research about the role that dopamine plays in a human’s ability to pursue rewards that are months or years away.

Dopamine levels rise significantly when we anticipate rewards that are uncertain and far in the future. A perfect example of an uncertain reward is playing the lottery.

In “Dopamine Jackpot! Sapolsky on the Science of Pleasure” he says that “dopamine is not about the pleasure, but the anticipation of pleasure.”

It is the uncertainty that increases the anticipation. As an example, when we place an order for a product online, we don’t get the product immediately. We have to wait for it, and the anticipation is increased through waiting.

Buying luxury products and/or shopping a sale can trigger a dopamine hit.

Kit Yarrow, San Francisco-based consumer psychologist and author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind, says that during a sale, the body’s autonomic nervous system (the same system that triggers the fight or flight response) takes over and creates a heightened response in the body, like the one early humans had when facing predators.

The fear of missing out can switch us into a competitive mode. This physiological response was designed to protect us from predators, not other shoppers. Yarrow says, “The reason [our response] is so powerful is because people don’t even think about it.”

Questions for marketers:  

  • Is there a way to communicate the product/brands exclusivity?
  • Is there a way to build in anticipation?

What does it mean for search?

You should be thinking about how you can communicate the product/brands’ exclusivity from an organic search perspective. More importantly, you should look for ways to build anticipation of your product or brand. We’ll explore this point further later in the series.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, we buy luxury goods because of how it makes us feel. We crave an experience, exclusivity, and we want to have our higher-level needs met. The Liz Claiborne and Fendi bags, while functional, really met a greater need – the need to belong and the need to fit in.

Dopamine drives our behavior. It’s not about the rewards we get, but the anticipation. The anticipation of going to the store and purchasing the Fendi bag before someone else could was a strong motivator for me to buy the bag immediately.

In the next article in the series we’ll discuss how you can apply these concepts while also integrating search marketing with other channels in the luxury goods industry.

Jennifer Kenyon is a Director of Organic Search at Catalyst (part of GroupM). She can be found on Twitter @JennKCatalyst.

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