Rings and necklaces with pearls on marble surface, high angle view

By Holly Ashby

The luxury market can be a rewarding place to be for any start-up or small business. However, it’s also notoriously difficult to break into. Selling a luxury item or service naturally leads to the challenge of convincing potential customers to accept a higher price point – something that takes a great product, strong brand values and clever marketing. Not being able to compete on price means you must compete on quality, and communicating exactly what it is that distinguishes you from the mundane is vital.

There are plenty of small businesses that fall into the luxury bracket. Whether it’s a cafe that serves superior coffee, sustainable fashion retailers who have to charge a little more to cover their costs or watchmakers so expensive they’ll only ever sell to the wealthiest of people, there are marketing principles they all share. So how do you create an air of exclusivity for a luxury brand? Here are the things you’ll need to remember.

Storytelling is Vital

When you position yourself as a luxury product, you have to make it clear to your customers exactly why your business is that little bit more special. While some big names can get away with justifying their luxury status simply by making their otherwise run-of-the-mill products prohibitively expensive, this is very unlikely to work in a startup or small business.

Everything about your branding will have to communicate a story which sets you apart, and lives up to the “luxury” label. As former Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey (who helped oversee its heritage-focused revival with Angela Ahrendts) explained – “people want the soul in things. They want to understand the whys and the whats and the values that surround it.” Without a backstory your product has no context and could be like any other on the market, which makes heritage and authenticity very important.

The Mast Brothers are a good example. They sell a bar of 2.5-ounce chocolate that costs nearly $10 and have done a truly outstanding job at marketing it. When you can get the same amount of chocolate for a dollar, these chocolatiers needed to justify their price. Focusing on their in-house “bean to bar” production, artisanal credentials and the story of how they source their cocoa beans, they made a hugely successful business that tells a compelling story about craft and quality. This is further bolstered by the chocolate’s beautiful, artful wrapping paper, which was perfectly realised by their creative director.

Customer’s Sophistication

Part of this storytelling is subtly letting your customer know that buying a product or service from your business reflects well on them, and is testament to their good taste. Take the word “artisanal” – it implies an extra kind of care, expert knowledge and experiences or products that are tailor-made. These things are deeply evocative, especially if you use superior materials which people can research and become enthusiastic about.

This is particularly evident in the world of coffee, where people will pay a premium for particular beans and brewing processes – both because they believe it makes it better but also because of the insinuation that only someone with superior taste and fine sensibilities can appreciate these things, which is very flattering.

One way to create this feeling is turn your business into a kind of club, inviting loyal customers to share in what’s behind the scenes. For example, if you are a food brand you can put on tasting evenings, or a craftsman may want to do workshops tours. You can also create a business blog that offers tips and insights into your expert knowledge.

Create an Experience

As a small business or startup in the luxury sector, turning your customer’s interaction with your business into an experience has two major benefits. Firstly, it will let you tap into the word of mouth marketing so important to small businesses, as people will be inspired to discuss you, and secondly it will cement your luxury credentials as a brand that goes above and beyond. Depending on the kind of business you are running, there are all kind of touches you can add to make shopping or working with you more experiential, from interesting packaging to generous free samples.

Le Lebo fragrances, for instance, make their perfumes in front of the customer, adding an experiential element that sets them apart and increases their authenticity. Adding an interactive element so part of the experience is self-directed is another way to stand out from the crowd – such as a spa allowing people to mix their own essential oils to get the exact smell they like.

Whether you want to create a luxury brand with mass appeal or something very exclusive, there are many ways to communicate your particularly quality and strengths to the world. By identifying your key strengths and use cues in your branding to communicate your particular pedigree – whether this is exceptional service or incredibly designed retail spaces – your small business can establish itself comfortably in the luxury market.

Holly Ashby is a content creator and social media manager who has worked with various start-ups on their brand and content strategy, like the rapidly growing meditation company Will Will Williams Meditation and slow-fashion start-up Lemuel MC.  She’s also a brand ambassador for the luxury property investment fund The Hideaways Club and fascinated by the luxury market.