Pull up a seat and throw out your book on traditional laws of marketing. Because, if you’re about the luxury game, there’s a new rulebook you need to play by. Thanks to the anthropological, sociological and historical bases of luxury, traditional marketing principles just don’t work for luxury. In fact, Professor Jean-Noel Kapferer and Vincent Bastien, authors of The Luxury Strategy, assert that ‘luxury is above all social dynamic’. Speaking of Bastien, he helped develop the strategy luxury brands live by today.
In the mid-1970s, a group of European luxury brands came together to develop a strategy that would see them grow well beyond their existing customer base without compromising on the luxury aspect. Bastien crafted a ‘luxury strategy’ that would allow large-scale expansion of small businesses to a global giant status, without adulterating the aspects that made them great in the first place. For example, maintaining the one-on-one client relationships they enjoy because their stores are directly operated by the brand itself. It would also help create products that were long-selling as opposed to best sellers or fashion-focused products with a short shelf life.
Bastien crafted a ‘luxury strategy’ that would allow large-scale expansion of small businesses to a global giant status, without adulterating the aspects that made them great in the first place.
In this strategy lies 24 marketing laws that go against standard marketing principles; hence the title anti-laws. Relying on tangible and intangible dimension of value, they have been able to bolster these luxury brands to the point where they can demand price points and we’re more than happy to hand over the cash; no questions asked. Whether you’re reading this to help define your luxury brand, or as a luxury enthusiast – trying to understand why luxury marketing is so effective on you and your wallet – we understand that 24 anti-laws may be a lot to take in just one sitting. Thus, we’ll split this discussion into three parts over the course of the next three days. Let’s jump right into the first eight, shall we?
- Forget about positioning; luxury is not comparative.
In previous posts, we’ve highlighted just how important it is in fashion to develop your ‘unique selling position’ (USP). By clearly positioning a fashion brand, such as through price points, services or communication, it can help convince customers to prefer your brand over your competitor. Whereas this relies on competitor comparison to win over a client, luxury thrives off their unique identity. Being superlative means having and maintaining a strong identify that reveals a bold expression of taste that’s authentic and timeless. Luxury should never be seen to be comparing itself to other brands (aka competitors). It’s the ‘take me as I am or leave it’ mentality that draws you to the brand.
- Does your product have enough flaws to give it soul?
Product excellence is basically luxury’s middle name. We know luxury to be exquisitely made from the finest materials and by the best hands in the industry. However, we also highlighted in the hallmarks of luxury that these brands will often add a few ‘flaws’ to their perfect products. Mainly to give them a little character, as well as, enhance their rarity quality. While traditional marketing would heavily advise against putting your flaw out there for the world to see, luxury flaunts them as their guarantee of authenticity. Referred to as the ‘madness’ touch in the Luxury Strategy, luxury craftsmen will constantly pursue new complications to add to their masterpiece for the sake of this art. A move that leads luxury consumers to collecting these rarities. Take for example the Faubourg watch by Hermès, which is a diamond-set white gold watch, with a diamond-set lacquered dial and white gold bracelet. Its flaw is that they intentionally only used four indicators where the numbers 12, 3, 6 and 9 sit to force the user to estimate the time. Could you use your phone instead and get accurate time in an instance? Sure. But doesn’t time from a $17,575 sound so much more appealing?
- Don’t pander to your customers’ wishes.
While companies are handing out questionnaires and online-surveys to find out what the customer wants, and then turning that into their national if not global strategy, luxury doesn’t want to know. You will never hear the phrase ‘customer is king’ amongst these brands. Their clients most likely were drawn to them because they had a clear brand identity, a solid family history, as well as exemplary production quality. The moment they decide to open itself up to customer’s opinions and requests, all that hedonism and elitism goes out the door; carrying their pricing power in hand. This is because a small request made today, could affect the course of a luxury brand for years to come. At all times, luxury brands are protecting the very elements that made them desirable in the first place – such as stature, ingenuity, shock-value and astronomical prices – thus their willingness to resist client demands.
- Keep non-enthusiasts out.
If you don’t like a luxury brand that’s fine by them. They aren’t going to adjust themselves to accommodate any non-enthusiasts because the relevance of their brand isn’t dictated by the sales growth. Unlike in traditional marketing, where poaching clients from their competitors is a marker of success. Consequently, they are willing to create new products that will help them secure various customer segments. If luxury operated on the same principle, it would dilute its value. Luxury goods are intentionally scarce and unique, which is why they have no problem excluding a clear majority of the public and focusing on customers who share their values instead. So, when a luxury brand is looking to grow it’ll look as penetrating new countries that have a growing appreciation for luxury (and the purses to afford it).
- Don’t respond to rising demand.
Product managers in most companies are judged by how much they increase the annual growth volumes by. Let’s use a H&M top to illustrate this point. As product manager, their responsibility would be to ensure broad visibility and wide distribution of this top within a certain time-frame. Through marketing, their aim is to increase the consumption frequency per store thus increasing the demand for the top as well. Increased demand will result in increased supplies to match it and money to be made. So, if the product manager started out pushing 1,000 units of this top but managed to triple that in a certain window, that’s a good thing. Luxury, alternatively, values rarity. They’ll set a specific number of units they’re willing to produce and stick to it. Then they’ll release information that justifies why the product is so rare and convinces the customer’s that they should wait for said product.
- Dominate the client.
Mass marketing is like the participation ribbon all the children get for taking part in a sports tournament. It’s everyone’s best friend and shows that we’re all equal. However, as a society we are always looking for means to show our gradual elevation. Someone who’ll play this role of advisor, educator and sociological guide to get us to the next level. So instead of taking the best friends approach, luxury takes the role of a parent. One that respects the child but keeps a certain distance to ensure that the child understands that they are the point of authority. Not to mention, the distance maintains an aura of mystery.
- Make it difficult for clients to buy.
Traditional marketing doesn’t like to keep the customer waiting. Thus, it does everything in its power to get the product to the customer in the shortest time possible. This includes, but isn’t limited to, self-checkout systems, the internet, call centres and self-service stores. Luxury, makes you wait for it. Whether you’re stalking out the physical store or refreshing the website tab, it’s the inaccessibility that drives up the customer’s desire for a product. Even after you get it, just knowing that there are other’s who are still searching and longing for it gives it that extra value. Consequently, these brands have set up strategic obstacles such as financial, logistical, or cultural to increase the strain in desire. However, time will always be a significant facet to luxury and is probably why anything that’s sought-after has an awaiting list.
8. Protect clients from non-clients, the big from the small.
luxury cant’ be too open to the public as it would much ‘open’ is harmful to the brand’s social function. It can’t be too closed off either as this is confining and leads to financial suffocation. So, luxury brands turn to subtle segregation to strike the balance. As Kapferer and Bastien further explain in the Luxury Strategy, ‘In stores, for example, it is necessary subtly to introduce a measure of social segregation: ground floor for some, first floor for others. Armani set up specialist stores for each of his product lines. Advertising and promotion is for all, but public relations are ultra-carefully targeted, like the CRM for the privileged (personal invitations to meet the designer, the brand perfume nose, or the head wine buyer).’
Still with us? Excellent! We’ll continue with the next eight anti-laws in tomorrow’s post. But until then, share with us which anti-law intrigued you the most and why. Even better, how would you utilise it in your own brand?