Five Reasons Why Luxury Brands Must Adapt To Survive

The world of luxury is changing beyond recognition.

New markets are opening up, new communication channels are evolving and a whole new generation of luxury consumers is emerging who think, act and connect in ways that could not have been predicted even a few years ago. Brand meaning expert Dr. Martina Olbertova, founder and chief executive at Meaning.Global and design experts Lewis Moberly have joined forces to explore the impact this is having on brands.

In her new insightful study The Luxury Report 2019: Redefining The Future Meaning Of Luxury, Martina identifies five key cultural shifts and actionable steps for brands to regain meaning and cultural relevance. Lewis Moberly explores how these shifts affect the role of design and how brands can adapt their creative assets and messaging to stay relevant.

By observing these five shifts and the steps to combat them, luxury brands can seize new opportunities and avoid serious new threats.


Shift 1. Empowering New Identities

Driven by the digital-native millennial generation focused on expressing individuality rather than ownership, consumer habits are undergoing a rapid change.

Increasingly, the role of luxury is tied to enabling consumers to creatively express their own identities. In this sense, the consumption of luxury brands becomes less and less about the luxury brands themselves and more about empowering people to become more of themselves and create their own lifestyles.

This pushes luxury brands to be the active agents in their customers’ identity creation, going beyond the traditional limits of luxury branding. To achieve this, brands must own who they are – their beliefs and values, and how these are expressed – and understand the role they play in empowering their customers’ own identities and personal lifestyles.

In design terms brands must be true to their colours, iconography, tone of voice and visual identity. Tiffany is a perfect example. In 2016, under the direction of former Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, it featured four highly individual female celebrities who made the brand their own. But there was no mistaking the underlying identity of the brand.


Shift 2. Personalised Experiences

 Today, globalisation and mass production mean that more people can afford to own more things than ever before. But the more we can buy, the less it means to us. The new generation is engaged in a search for meaning. These savvy consumers came to adulthood in the ‘sharing economy’ world of Uber and AirBnB, where direct access of utility overtakes the idea of aspirational ownership.

At the same time, the unaffordability of the traditional big milestones of adult life (such as home ownership) shifts focus towards experiencing the here and now. We are moving away from personal luxury to unique and personalised experiences that have a potential to better our lives.

Here lies a strong opportunity for luxury brands to empower their consumers by using fluid design and sensory assets that come alive beyond traditional media. Think beyond the visual to sound, taste, smell and touch. For Selfridges this resulted in their Fragrance Lab a one-of-a-kind profiling experience where you leave with your own signature scent that represents your character.


Shift 3. The Luxury Essentialism

 Luxury used to be reserved for ‘best.’ Rare and special things, treated with awe and kept carefully aside for special occasions. But a rising tide of affluence, combined with the rise of ‘always-on’ social media and 24-hour internet shopping, means our access to luxury has become more democratised.

The result is that more of us desire luxury to be a part of our daily lives, especially as the essence of luxury diversifies. In the age of market oversaturation, the new savvy consumers are becoming more of shopping connoisseurs as they look for premium quality to meet and satisfy their own essential needs.

So where does this leave luxury brands? Being essential to customers is about discovering new ways to create meaningful value in people’s lives. Here, design is about helping luxury brands meet our essential needs and everyday items being more luxurious. It’s about raising the bar on appetite appeal and food photography, which has seen even discounters like Aldi compete head on with more premium grocers.


Shift 4: From Heritage to New Relevance

 Around the world, people are less and less willing to respect brands and institutions just because they’ve been around for a long time. In today’s world, no brand has an eternal right to claim its luxury status, which is why no brand can afford to rest on its laurels.

To be relevant today, every luxury brand, however distinguished, must constantly look for new and refreshing ways to contextualise the old within the new. Luxury brands need to bring the story of their heritage, craft and legacy into the cultural context of today to appeal to the new generation of customers.

Brand values, brand heritage and brand design are often best appreciated through contrasts. By takingestablished properties and values and bringing them to life in new ways in fresh cultural contexts –  and by linking them to a core design palette – this not only creates impact but also ensures a brand remains relevant to new and diverse audiences. This was expertly done by Gucci in the 2019 Year of the Pig campaign, where the traditional Gucci colours, monogram and band were overlaid with Disney’s cartoon Three Little Pigs.


Shift 5. Catalysts of Culture Change

 We live in a world where we create who we are. We use our choice of brands as the markers and signifiers of the identities we create for ourselves. The balance of power in the luxury game is shifting from brands towards consumers, and those consumers increasingly look to brands to be vocal on social and political issues.

Some of the most successful luxury brands have come to realise that by giving a voice to and advocating the social and cultural values they share with their customers, they can grow their business.

Dior understood and tapped into the attitudes of its consumers in its lobbying for gender equality, and became Insta-famous through its ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ T-shirt campaign with Jennifer Lawrence. But in an age of polarisation and ‘culture wars’ it’s not as simple as simply jumping onto the latest ‘woke’ bandwagon and hoping all will be well. It takes a trained perspective to translate cultural strategies into genuine brand relevance and business value.

Here design is more than an aesthetic look – it has the power to express beliefs and change attitudes through copy and powerful messaging. Get it right and purpose and copy become important components of a brand and design toolkit.

So, whatever area of luxury a brand operates in – apparel and accessories, jewellery and timepieces, travel and hospitability or high-end food and drink – these are core principles they simply can’t afford not to be aware of.

To find out more or to arrange a combined meeting with Dr. Martina Olbertova and Lewis Moberly to discuss your challenges please contact

You can download the full Luxury Report 2019 on Redefining The Future Meaning Of Luxury written by Dr. Martina Olbertova by clicking on this link.