The Luxury Marketing Conundrum: From Aspirational To Inspirational

ByForest Midden

May 18, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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EVP of Marketing and Innovation at VistaJet, board advisor and professor at the International University of Monaco.

Luxury marketing is straightforward. It’s flawless pictures in glossy magazines and cinematic-quality ads promoting an aspirational lifestyle meant for the few, right? Wrong. True luxury marketing is service-centered and inspirational, designed to meet and surpass the expectations of an incredibly small pool of people able to want the goods or services they offer.

This is possibly one of the most misunderstood and difficult marketing areas. Many people come to luxury marketing attracted by the luxury products they would love to own. When working with fast-moving consumer goods or fast fashion, it’s not a stretch to imagine buying that drink or T-shirt, while only a very small group of luxury marketers are in the position to consume the exclusive products they promote. Without a personal point of reference, how do you effectively communicate to those elite few? What sounds simple in principle is much harder in practice. The only way is to watch, listen and learn.

Luxury should be selective, not exclusive.

Many marketing practitioners at luxury brands tend to look at their refined products as if they exist in a vacuum. In turn, this makes them imagine that people would stop and stare at their ads because their product is excellent. In reality, the ultrahigh net worth individual, like a lot of people, is looking at the phone, walking down the street, meeting friends or doing business—sometimes all at once.

We often forget that luxury marketing is for the customer. So, here are a few tips:

1. Start your day by remembering that you are not the target market.

2. Never try to impress those whose lifestyles exceed your own.

3. At the same time, never see your product or brand in a subservient status. Its desirability comes from your projected confidence in its superior quality.

Once we accept our audience and our own position in the marketing conversation, we can move from exclusive (leaving people out, protecting our world) to inclusive (welcoming people in, sharing our world).

Luxury is personal and it embodies the ultimate freedom: choice.

Luxury has always thrived in face-to-face environments. It’s about dedicated time, service and personalization. All of this is followed by acquisition, use and after-sales service.

More and more, retailers are focused on in-person experiences and added exclusivity. While ads are aspirational, a fast track for derivative products and brand extensions, personal interaction is service-led, putting the brand ambassador into a listening position where they should be ready to engage and interact with a real customer one-on-one.

Although some might mistakenly label the luxury approach as exclusive, true luxury brands—who have highly niche audiences and specific tools to reach those individuals and those alone—can benefit from this actually rather inclusive approach. After all, you are asking the customer to spend time with you and your product.

Luxury is priceless but comes at a price.

A common marketing goal in recent years is to be known by everyone and to trend. This approach might work to leverage your brand’s licensing opportunities but comes with the danger of reducing the core brand value. Perfume advertising in this industry, for instance, is often derided and parodied, as the popular Twitter account @PerfumeAds shows.

Its counterpart action, when opening up to volumes of people, has often meant becoming more rigid in our protection of the brand. Unfortunately, stronger guidelines often lead to sterile executions. As no single brand exists in isolation, so few consumers today operate with a single-track mind, and you can’t dictate the pace of all interactions. This is why context is key; you need to be present and alive at the right time for the right people, rather than building mausoleums of monolithic branding that stand in a desert.

Marco Bizzarri, president and CEO of Gucci, is a man who understands this intimately. Having worked with him at Bottega Veneta, I know he never loses sight of the audience or context while able to also monetize effectively for the long term. He can always proudly look the customer in the eyes, showing how much effort has been put into each product and interaction. Every day he asks, “What are we, what do we need to be tomorrow?” This approach works particularly well for luxury, where it doesn’t matter what you’ve been but where you are going— a built-in innovation element to keep the next conversation exciting.

Marketers have an obligation to be true to their predicament. At every price point, the people you want to reach are exactly those you should spend your marketing dollars on. As the CMO of a private aviation company, if I were to invest resources to speak to a person who can’t afford to fly on a jet, I’d be losing money. Make no mistake, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to that person, but doing so would waste both their time and my marketing budget. This is why it is hard to find good, publicly quoted examples of marketing to the ultrahigh-end market—few people receive these communiques and fewer still will publicize them.

It’s what you sell over what you say.

As luxury players, we can never forget that not everyone will like what we say. That is true in life as well as in business. So make sure that you have enough people out there that will like you, and don’t be upset if somebody doesn’t. As your brand evolves, change with the people that like you. Talk to those who want to hear you and for whom you can actually make a difference. Choose inspirational marketing over aspirational—celebrate your beautiful reality rather than chasing someone else’s dreams.


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