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Greig Holbrook
Greig Holbrook 9 May 2017

Being British: The Luxury International Opportunity For Brands

British luxury brands are much sought after globally, with British culture and the products associated with it often viewed extremely favourably by consumers around the world. Opportunities to expand into new markets are extensive, but there are hurdles to overcome.

Global management firm McKinsey recently found that 57% of British luxury brands are not investing enough in e-commerce. That’s a worrying statistic, as e-commerce -  and particularly international e-commerce - offer an important growth opportunity for British luxury brands.

More than translation

Traditionally, marketing to new countries online largely focused on little more than simple translation. Today, brands recognise that much more than this is required -  it requires cultural localisation - and nowhere more so than in the luxury sector. The investment required to purchase luxury goods means that consumers have higher expectations of luxury brands to deliver slick brand messaging wherever they are. Success in a new market requires an effective digital marketing strategy, which must be shaped by genuine, informed and far reaching understanding of that individual market. Everything from perceptions of non-local brands, nuances of local culture and device preference for researching and purchasing products, must be considered.

What does it mean to be British?

Working with our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) network we looked at attitudes towards shopping for luxury goods from the UK. Focusing on selected countries where e-commerce opportunities for luxury brands are strongest, we examined the options for British luxury brands and the value of promoting Britishness as part of marketing to different international markets.

While a brand’s Britishness is commonly viewed as an asset, this value isn’t universal, and shouldn’t be taken for granted, or overly relied upon. Lei, a LIME in China, stated, “Most Chinese people don’t know the origin of luxury brands.” There is a significant market for luxury products in China with a growing aspirational middle class. Local insight on areas like product preferences, seasonal trends, payment and delivery expectations should drive any strategy ahead of national origin.

In other markets, such as South Korea, the ‘Made in Britain’ label is a particularly strong asset for traditional brands. Sun, a LIME in South Korea, said: “In general, ‘British’ means high quality and prestige as people in South Korea associate the label with heritage and authenticity.” That said, similar problems apply as “Many British brands are not recognised as ‘British’ in South Korea.” So, emphasising the Britishness of your brand in this market will help differentiate it from other international and local brands.

By contrast, in Russia it is product quality, rather than origin, that should be emphasised to drive r brand growth. Anton, a LIME in Russia, commented, “I’m afraid the UK is not connected to luxury in the minds of average Russians.” A focus on other brand attributes and delivering a consistently premium brand experience across all retail channels will be important for luxury brand awareness and development.

Poland is a different story.  One of our LIMEs, Alicja, said, “In Poland, consumers perceive British clothes and shoes to be of very high quality.” So in Poland emphasising Britishness is a shorthand way of proving product quality for clothing brands. 

Looking at the countries we reviewed, it is the countries with emerging luxury markets, such as South Korea and Poland, that express a more favourable attitude towards Britishness, while in the more established more competitive luxury markets, like Russia and China, the emphasis is more on demonstrating product quality.

Localised marketing for luxury success

The feedback from our LIME network clearly demonstrates the variation in perceptions of Britishness from market to market. The insights, both positive and negative, need to be taken into account to deliver more successful digital marketing campaigns internationally. ‘Britishness’ is just one example of the how perceptions can differ for the same brand depending on location and local culture. Understanding how your consumers behave online – how they search online, what products they are looking for and how they prefer to purchase, for example – will contribute to a successful culturally localised marketing strategy, which builds brand awareness and drives e-commerce growth.

Read Oban International’s luxury ecommerce report here.

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