Marketing Quiet Luxury: Exploring the fashion trend that expands the rules of luxury branding

If you’re anywhere near the fashion world, you’re well aware of the ongoing buzz around “quiet luxury.”

This high-value trend that eschews extremes of gaudiness and overt branding in favor of classic design and subtle identity cues is seemingly everywhere these days. 

According to The Drum in a July piece on the subject, Google searches for the term “quiet luxury” grew by 614% over the past year. And brands are paying attention, with not only new, smaller boutique brands getting in on the trend, but also some of the luxury powerhouses entering the fray.

Knowing all this, we took a look at the traffic and keyword searches for a wide range of luxury brand sites in both the quiet luxury and traditional luxury sectors. What we found were some interesting insights into the differences in consumer behavior between the two, and how these differences may be impacting marketing needs within their separate arenas.

Traditional Luxury Still Dominates Mass Awareness

If you take the numbers for brand-name searches at face value, it would seem that traditional luxury remains completely dominant. 

We analyzed the top 20 luxury brand houses, from Armani to Versace, and then compared consumer interest against some of the top quiet luxury brands, like The Row and Brunello Cucinelli. What we discovered is that the higher profile traditional luxury brands far outpaced the typical quiet luxury brands in volume of brand-name searches — sometimes by as much as 20 to 1. This would seemingly indicate that traditional luxury still captures the lion’s share of consumer attention when it comes to brand recognition and awareness.

Quiet Luxury Attracts a More Knowledgeable Customer

But what we must understand is that quiet luxury, by its very nature, plays by a different set of rules. It’s primarily driven by insider knowledge rather than mass awareness, so it’s not surprising that the category underperforms in searches for specific brands. The focus is more on product knowledge and visual design cues that the savvy buyer can easily identify. Consequently, resulting search traffic is often more associated with a specific product in mind, rather than simply seeking the brand name itself or a general category of products from the brand.

Given this lens, we see that brand-name search volume is actually surprisingly solid for many of the top quiet luxury brands. The difference is less a matter of simple brand scale and more a matter of brand expression. And we can further infer that the quiet luxury brand buyer is more nuanced and sophisticated in their brand affinity, valuing details over sensationalism.

The Quiet Luxury Marketer’s Dilemma

The challenges for marketers trying to reach into this space are probably becoming clear to you by now. Building a luxury brand name is hard enough on its own. But then add in the fear that as soon as the brand becomes too well known you’ve lost the whole “quiet” part of the equation, and you have a real marketing dilemma.

At first blush, the impulse might be to go all-in on influence efforts or to focus exclusively on events and word-of-mouth marketing to get the word out. After all, if the object is to create a cult following for the brand, what better way to achieve this than by creating a cult of loyal influencers around it? However, while we agree that these tactics are important, the search data tells a bit of a different story.

What the Keywords Reveal 

Looking again at the top keyword searches among quiet luxury brands, we find that even though searches for specific products are more likely to occur here, the searches typically include the specific brand’s name. 

This would seemingly indicate that brand affinity among quiet luxury buyers is actually quite similar to brand affinity among traditional luxury buyers. They are all driven by a mix of general brand awareness messaging, brand experience, and peer influence. 

In fact, the only significant difference between these two segments of the luxury market is the increased educational burden on the quiet luxury marketer to educate their customers about the subtle design and lifestyle cues that distinguish the brand and make it recognizable in the wild.

If we had to summarize, we’d say that quiet luxury is more an expression of the wearer than of the brand itself. The quiet part comes from a desire to fly a bit under the radar and not become a billboard for the brand, rather than a need to keep the brand a secret. If marketers can capitalize on this nuance, it’s our belief they can achieve more effective branding efforts.

My Suggestions for Marketers in Quiet Luxury

So, how do you begin putting this information into action?

It’s our belief that it all comes down to a mix of getting back to luxury marketing basics, while creating valuable educational moments about your brand’s design aesthetics along the way.

Consider these parting thoughts…

  • Keep awareness and knowledge-building, joined at the hip: Don’t eschew traditional luxury tactics for generating mass appeal. Just do it with a focus on deeper product explanations rather than simply lifestyle branding.
  • Create inclusive exclusivity: Don’t limit the potential scale of your brand by being too quiet or unapproachable. It’s possible to remain an exclusive club while simultaneously generating greater awareness just by creating a quiet luxury mindset among your clientele.
  • Don’t underestimate the buyer’s desire to be seen: Remember, a quiet luxury buyer is making a taste statement, rather than expressing an absence of vanity. It’s not that they don’t want to be seen — it’s more that they want to be seen by the right people.  Thus the importance of nurturing a closely-knit community around your brand, where members actively communicate and share their experiences, allowing them to collectively bask in the spotlight.
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