Category Archives: what is luxury

Genuine Luxury vs Accessible Luxury: Two Distinct Yet Opposing Categories

By James D. Roumeliotis

Mass - Masstige - Prestige

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“Masstige” (a combination of two words: “mass” and “prestige” – aka mass with class) is a contemporary marketing term which denotes prestige for products perceived as luxurious and targeted to a wide range of customers known as the “mass affluent.” As per Wikipedia, the mass affluent are the high end of the mass market, or individuals with US$100,000 to US$1,000,000 of liquid financial assets, or consumers with an annual household income over US$75,000. These upper middle class individuals can afford to splurge on some of the finer (and affordable) things in life which include fashion merchandise, sporting goods, cosmetics, various accessories (silk ties, scarfs, small leather goods, perfumes etc.), high-end consumer electronics/gadgets, as well as culinary food and spirits. Brands in those categories depend on the “masstige” crowd for a majority of their sales, despite a few which also happen to be purveyors of inaccessibly priced products catered to the HNWI/UHNWI (aka the very wealthy or the 1% respectively).

This is purely an oxymoron and paradoxical since in the authentic luxury domain, “mass prestige” is an artificial term for “luxury” as it is not generally geared for the mass but rather the well heeled. Sadly, the true meaning of “luxury” has been bastardized by many brands who are falsely in the “luxury” business (in the true sense of the word and definition). ​However, there are luxury brands which have chosen to offer lowered priced products in a bid to join the “accessible luxury.” Think Coach with its leather bags and accessories or Chanel with its perfumes and cosmetics.

Defining the true meaning of the term “luxury”

Definitions of “luxury” vary significantly and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “luxury” is not the easiest to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated:

A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test as follows:

  • Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
  • Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
  • Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle? (i.e. the product or service will enhance one’s experience through an exceptional appeal)
  • Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals (HNWI/UHNWI) can purchase without question?
  • Does the brand offer authenticity?

Genuine luxury purveyors remain relatively small and select in their category. Ultra wealthy (UHNWI) consumers purchase rare luxury products because they seek to distance themselves from the mass through the emotional value of acquiring flawless and rare objects of desire.

“Aspirational” luxury, on the other hand, is another fancy marketing parlance which is generally defined as a brand that most want but only a fraction of them can actually afford it. Most cannot afford a $2000 bottle of vintage wine but may be able to occasionally splurge on a $200 bottle of one of the finest single malt Whiskey.

Identifying luxury sectors

Genuine Luxury is classically defined in three key segments:

1) Luxury Goods: Fashion & Accessories, Watches & Jewelry, Well-being & Beauty products.

2) Lifestyle Purchases: Automotive, Experiential Travel, Home & Interiors, Exclusive Alcoholic beverages (exceptional wines, champagne & spirits)

3) Private/Executive Jets and Yachts: An absolute category in their own right.

Brands which fittingly claim authentic luxury status

Few brands can really claim the trademark of luxury. It is those which combine allure with pedigree and quality attributes. Discounting is not part of their strategy and their entire raison d’être is geared to the UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth). Many of their products actually increase in value over time since they are either discontinued or necessitate a long waiting list/time.

Most notable authentic luxury brands are in the haute merchandise category:

Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Rolex and Cartier.

Other players to this core list include: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Gucci, E. Goyard, Charvet, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Bulgari.

Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni, Orient-Express and Cunard Line.

Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include credit cards with no limits, jet ownership, private plan charters, global concierge services and the like. Think NetJets and Amex.

“Accessible” luxury is a marketing notion, not a merchandise category

The concept of making luxury available to the masses goes against what true luxury is as
there is no such thing as accessible luxury ─ it is either luxury or it is not as “accessible” luxury is a marketing notion and not any product category. Think Michael Kors, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Godiva and Apple among others. Top luxury brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have accessible luxury with perfumes and cosmetics, sunglasses, as well as accessories (leather, silk scarfs etc.).

In marketing parlance, being coined as an “accessible” luxury good can be deceiving when the quality of materials is not quite at par as one would normally find in a “genuine” luxury product. For such companies, becoming too commonplace is a risk for such brands as they lose their cache due to a lesser price line, as well as risk their reputation for the sake of increasing their revenues. Then there are some non-luxury brands which use the codes of luxury strategy to grow their sales. Needless to say, many consumers will eventually catch-on that such products are merely a gimmick thus on their way to lose their luster.

Masstige - My other bag is a Birkin

“Premium” and “prestige” categories defined

If luxury brands are related to scarcity, quality and storytelling then premium goods, on the other hand, are expensive variants of commodities in general: i.e. pay more, get more.

These brands are less ostentatious, more rational, accessible, modern, best in class, sleek design, and manufactured with precision. Beats headphones and TAG Heuer watches are a case in point and so is Audi and Lexus in automobiles.

“Luxury” and “prestige” brands respectively both have a similar status. Although some may disagree, in some cases, brands such as Mercedes-Benz automobiles, are considered to be both “luxury” and “prestige.” There are also brands which are either labelled one or the other. It depends how they are identified in the eyes of consumers.

Prestige brands offer a high level of innovation, craftsmanship ─ and with some categories, the finest ingredients or raw materials. Due to their well-established names, status and pedigree, they boast quite a loyal following. As a result, they can command premium prices which their clients do not mind paying for since they are made to feel special. Examples of some prestige brands include Breitling watches, Lancome cosmetics and Aston Martin automobiles.

The distinction between a prestige brand and premium brand is simply one of perception. In automobiles it is Cadillac and Lexus vs their German counterpart of BMW and Audi. In watches, it is perhaps a Rolex versus a Breguet and a Cartier.

On a final note

When it comes to lower priced supposed “luxury” products for the affluent masses, they are essentially “premium” products ─ otherwise known as “masstige.” The brands succeed at creating fancy designs and utilize expensive looking material to make their products appear very expensive which are then sold at a fraction of the price compared to genuine luxury brands in the same product category. Add clever window dressing and marketing and the result is that those products become affordable objects of desire. Unlike authentic luxury brands which are manufactured at their country of origin (mainly Italy, France or the U.K.), they are outsourced to low labour cost factories in Asia or Turkey. Despite this, they are given a premium markup which is intentionally done to create an aura of high value.

As long as there is a big demand for massitige products that its target market can afford and make them part of their social status and lifestyle, the category will be around indefinitely.

As a final point worth mentioning, at this day and age, there are luxury branding experts who claim that there are actually four categories of luxury: Old, New, Eco and Indie as exhibited in the following table (credit: David Sherwin). This translates into additional choices ─ categories to satisfy most desires.

Four Types of Luxury Chart

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The Top 10 Most Read Articles in this Blog for 2015

by James D. Roumeliotis

Top 10 Articles for 2015

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As in every year, I have once again rounded up the ten most read/popular articles — this time for  2015. The following ten captured the most attention by numbers and from 154 countries in all. See them all below in descending order.  Your views are always encouraged including subject matter you think I should be covering more of.

THANK YOU for your readership and I look forward to feeding your mind with much more business practical food for thought this year which can be applied for timely results.

1 Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

2 Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible

3 The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

4 Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

5 Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

6 Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions

7 The Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the richest 1 percent

8 Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

9 Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic

10 Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation

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Exploring the “Super Luxury” British Automotive Total Customer Experience: Part 1 ‒ The Aston Martin

Aston Martin Prestige Image

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis and Petrona J. Joseph

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When we encounter the word “luxury”, images of: seamlessness, awe, the rarity factor, cache, opulence, aristocracy, supreme workmanship, stellar service and reverence come to mind, amongst others

Now, close your eyes for a moment. What images come to mind when you consider mention of the following vehicles: Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley and Range Rover? That’s what we will be analyzing in this four part series of the luxury British automotive icons and the above average expectations of consumers seeking such extravagant motor vehicles.

What qualifies the authors to give such commentary? Having worked and served — most notably with prestigious brands such as Gucci, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley and Range Rover, as well as with mega yachts and coupled with extensive research and consultations in this domain –, both can accurately define the exceptional treatment tendered to a HNWI (High Net Worth Individual) luxury seeking discerning consumer. Brands which qualify to serve this exclusive market provide attention to detail, a plethora of product knowledge/competence, and discretion along with an implementation of an anticipated flawless post-sale/follow-up policy.

Price aside, a luxury car brand should embody cache, exclusivity, pedigree, craftsmanship and limited production. R.L. Polk and Company, a global automotive information and marketing firm that provides solutions to automotive and related industries, has re-defined the term with the appellation, “super luxury”, ‒ i.e. cars that cost over $100K. This category includes brands such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Maserati as well as the Aston Martin being featured here.

Aston Martin Showroom

Aston Martin: License to thrill

We begin with the initial luxury automotive brand in this four part series: Aston Martin. This high valued motor car producer brings images of James Bond, a ladies gent, British heritage, sophisticated technology, sex appeal, speed, agility and soul.

Considering the above persona, the makeup of a typical Aston Martin customer.is a male (no gender discrimination intended), in his late 30’s early 40’s, handsome, successful, possibly with an attractive spouse (or if single, a striking companion), possesses a deep knowledge of refined luxury, knows what he wants virtually at any price level, and enjoys adventure, as well as thrives at constant new challenges.

Initial impressions and consultative sales process

When a prospective owner, or existing customer of an Aston Martin walks into any impressive looking Aston Martin showroom, the total experience should normally result as follows:

– To be greeted initially by the attractive receptionist/hostess (brand ambassadors) by the owner or General Manager of the dealership;

– Introduce the prospective client to an Aston Martin specialist;

– Offer a hot or cold fine beverage;

– Be given a tour of the impressive premises;

– Exhibit the various models and a test drive initiated during which time rapport is being built;

– Offer of an overnight test drive to create the feel and experience of the automobile and its performance characteristics;

– Thank and greet the prospect by the dealership owner or GM upon returning the vehicle followed by the sales specialist;

– Customer’s contact information should be entered into the dealer database (CRM);

– If a sale is initiated – the sales process should ensue. However, if a sale does not occur, effort should be exerted in a discreet and pragmatic manner (consider “consultative” selling) to close the sale. Statistics show that 60% of car purchases have been consummated on the spot when they received what they considered was an excellent presentation and demonstration. Either way, a follow-up is imperative within 24 hours.

Sale & delivery

– An appointment should be set for delivery;

– Upon arrival to pick-up the vehicle, customer should be congratulated by owner and/or GM;

– Explanation of vehicle model should be thorough along with a post-sale follow-up the following day;

– Customer should be offered a token appreciation for his/her business. This can be in the form of champagne from a strategic partnership for example, Moët & Chandon and/or an additional gift in good taste.

Aston Martin Showroom Lounge

Exceeding customer expectations for the discerning client-driver

To succeed in gratifying the seemingly sophisticated client, a high-end organization should develop a comprehensive strategy along with efficient implementation tactics. These include:
– Having a clear and unique value proposition that hooks them;
– Consider exploiting the five senses to attract and retain them – categorized as “ambiance”/”sensorial” marketing and branding;
– Staff must be customer centric, patient, empathetic, and good listeners – remaining calm under duress during client interactions;
– Employee retention – hiring for attitude and training for skills;
– Utilizing a hands-on approach;
– Probing clients’ specific needs/requirements – recognizing their motivations – reading their body language;;
– Earning their trust and respect by exuding confidence, empathy and transparency;
– Offering a personal touch – individualized attention with customized solutions – It’s all about the customer;
– Being frank and transparent with pricing, offers, proposals and promotions;
– Proposing an expansive product selection and service options;
– Outstanding and consistent levels of customer service throughout the organization;
– Reducing or eliminating waiting times – whether on the phone (reservations, customer service etc.), as well as for service or an appointment at the physical location;
– Offering customer loyalty programs through joint collaborations with other luxury purveyors – a great way to make them feel special by receiving something extra;
– Asking for feedback with regards to service and product experiences for ways to improve those experiences. Discerning clientele are typically strongly opinionated and relish giving their views.
– Implementing the latest technology with all touch points.

The Aston Martin automotive brand with its power, beauty, soul and heritage as its tagline delivers to a specific and limited market segment by giving way to its consumer target to acquire their models they associate with a “luxurious and sporty lifestyle.” The brand is essentially a status symbol.

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. “Total customer experience” is not an option but rather compulsory as part of an alluring brand. It takes savvy planning, execution and perpetual refinements to stand above the crowd. It’s how you get noticed and remain relevant. Luxury brand desirability is driven by standout design, craftsmanship, as well as what is felt.

A typical Aston Martin showroom portrays a super luxury car brand able to offer a “wow” factor to its intended customers with an unconventional retail experience which exploits the five senses. This includes a showroom floor with ideal lighting, the various models well positioned/presented, impeccably dressed/groomed staff, and an upscale lounge ‒ overall, presenting sight, sound, smell, touch sensorial experiences and creating a feeling of lavishness. Some will go as far as offer art exhibitions on the premises, five star dining events and wine tasting to name a few. It’s what its type of clientele crave.

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The Genuine Luxury Domain and Its Country of Origin: Why the Latter Matters

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

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Made in Italy - NO in China Tag

With the proliferation of Italian and French luxury brands bearing the ‘Made in China”, ‘Made in Turkey’ or made elsewhere remote from their land of origin, it makes one ponder whether the brands are diluting their image for the sake of lower prices and higher profits. This begs us to revisit the question of what constitutes an “authentic” luxury product and whether manufacturing in a country unknown and unfamiliar for evoking luxury is a good long term strategy for the brand with heritage.

Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

Definitions of “luxury” vary enormously and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “Luxury” has never been something easy to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.

The proliferation and marketing misuse of the word “luxury” on many products across sectors is quite evident. Brands either do it out of ignorance or to enhance the desire for the consumer to purchase their products.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, affirmed:

A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test:

  • Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
  • Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
  • Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle?
  • Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals can purchase without question?
  • Does the brand offer authenticity?
  • Does it implement an absolutely no discounting policy?
  • Is the product (and at least most of its materials/parts) manufactured only in its country of origin?

Luxury is not premium – and premium is not luxury. They are two dissimilar categories catering to different market segments.

France - Italy Cufflinks

Luxury Product Roots and Perception: Key Factors of Authentic Luxury

A luxury product is rooted in a culture and comes along with a small fragment of its native soil, of its heritage. This proposes that in order for a “luxury” product to remain true to its origins, as one of its main criteria, its production shall remain in the country of origin ‒ whether that is France, Italy or elsewhere (most notably in Europe). Tempting to relocate production elsewhere can cause the brand to lose its lustre and character.

Professor Jean-Noël Kapferer, an author and lecturer at the Kellogg Business School (Northwestern University, USA), as well as at HEC Paris, Europe’s premier academic research center on Luxury, clarified his views on this subject matter by stating that:

Looking at luxury companies’ own attitudes, there is a clear segmentation, based on their brand positioning and business model. A first group (such as Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Chanel) emphasize quality and heritage as the main sources of their incomparability. They are patriots. For them, a country of origin is a homeland, much like the soil in a vineyard – a miracle made of earth, nature, sun, rain, and sophisticated human labor, loaded with culture. For them, ‘made in…’ tells a whole story, tying production to a long heritage.

He further affirmed that:

“To remain a true luxury brand, following the luxury business model, entails sticking to local production. This is not an easy task for many luxury brands. Those that comply must create the conditions that are necessary to sustain this production. This is why they often buy their local sub-contractors in case the latter go bankrupt, to be sure to keep alive a historical know-how that might otherwise disappear.”

France and Italy are considered the leading countries for luxury and trend setters for clothing and accessories. Luxury watches (better known as “timepieces”) are manufactured in Switzerland ‒ the undisputed leader in this category. London, is considered to be the luxury spirit capital of the world with Burberry as the most prominent luxury brand. Whereas, Germany Italy, as well as the UK are for luxury automobiles. However, what they do produce elsewhere in the world are not ‘luxury’ but rather their lower priced “premium” derivatives (think BMW, Mercedes and Audi). Other illustrious automotive names, such as Ferrari and Rolls Royce, continue to manufacture solely in their native country.

Private vs. Public Luxury Purveyors

For the good of their distinguished image and cache, top-tier luxury brands should remain small privately held, with no pressure to sell and family run beyond the reach of speculators. These companies are managed, and their equity held, by those families. Consequently, management of brands, people and profits are done with the long term in mind, not necessarily the next quarter, which most investors would not have the patience to deal with if the luxury brand was publicly traded. In essence, the privately held have the luxury of taking risks as they desire and staying the course when they don’t. They have the freedom to invest for 5-10 years without receiving a financial return. In comparison, the publicly traded ones, which are accountable to their shareholders, are constantly under pressure to trim production costs and increase revenues and profits which lead them to cater to a larger audience ‒ the mass affluent. So much for all the elements of ‘genuine’ luxury purveyors which are doing away with scarcity and exclusivity.

The most prominent smaller and privately held ‘authentic’ luxury brands which fulfill every criteria ‘luxury’ truly exudes are as follows:

Soft Luxury Goods (high-end apparel, leather goods and exclusive fragrances) include: Hermès (70% owned/controlled by the Dumas family ‒ the descendants of its founder), Chanel (100% ownership by the Wertheimer family) and the niche perfume house, Creed Fragrance Company founded in 1760 (100% ownership by the Creed family ‒ descendants of its founder).

Hard Luxury Goods (products such as watches, jewellery and pens) include: Rolex, Chopard, Patek Philippe amongst others.

According to the Millward Brown luxury brand survey, which includes the large luxury groups, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Chanel, LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), Rolex, Cartier, Fendi and Tiffany & Co. respectively, are the most successful family owned luxury brands. Moreover, research done by SDA Bocconi, renowned for providing world class luxury education, revealed that unique characteristics of most family-owned or managed business fit almost perfectly with the competitive logic of hard and soft luxury approaches. Needless to say, their management culture, retaining the mystique (crucial in the ultra-luxury domain), and long-term decision approach are all instrumental for cultivating and preserving their brand heritage.

Hermes 2014 Ad Campaign

Hermes 2013 Ad Campaign

In the Final Analysis

There should be no confusion between luxury and premium or even a fashion category. When someone buys a luxury object, he/she purchases craftsmanship, cache, pedigree, made in limited quantities, a special place in the world of lifestyle and exclusivity (made for the few). The premium business model is based on the manufacturing of best-in-class products, with an image of style. Fashion is a general term for a popular style or practice, especially in clothing, foot wear, and accessories. Fashion references to anything that is the current trend in look and dress up of a person. Usually not timeless. A “luxury” and a ‘premium” product can be both – as in a tailored made fine wool suit for example.

Therein lies the major differences between a luxury product and a premium product. It’s legitimate for a premium product to seek out the most suitable and most economical manufacturing location, so long as quality and service levels can be maintained.

Brands such as Nike, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, amongst others, are doing an exceptional job of selling solely an image to the masses. Indeed, far from being a genuine ‘luxury’ brand, most of their products are manufactured in low labor countries such as China.

The ‘made in’ label plays a significant role for luxury aficionados who hold higher expectations including a value added quotient to ‘luxury’ brands who produce their products in their respective country of origin – mainly France, Italy and the U.K. For categories other than apparel and accessories, production should be elsewhere in Western Europe.

In the article “Building a Luxury Brand Image in a Digital World” by David Dubois, INSEAD Assistant Professor of Marketing and Debbie Teo, INSEAD MBA, they quote the following:

Hermès has no desire to become ‘masstige’ (a mass producer of prestige goods) the company’s CEO Patrick Thomas stated in 2009. In essence, he asserted that his brand was not in a position to dilute its image and compromise on quality in the interest of short-term results. This is truly one of very few authentic “luxury” brands befitting the model and criteria in the sense of the word.

Privately held luxury brands are prone to view business with long-term vision and remain rigid with quality over quantity. Comparatively, their publicly traded counterparts go out of their way to please their shareholders which may dilute their “luxury” status for the sake of volume and short–term gains.

Good business decisions are not the domain of tactical “bean counters” — exploiting the luxury brands for all their worth. They may also come from strategic planning and overall financial leadership.

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Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

by James D. Roumeliotis

Luxury vs Premium image

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Luxury Brand Management is sometimes like weather forecasting. With the media and fashion industry in full tilt this autumn, there is wave upon wave of adverts, campaigns, and promotions. Within the glitzy magazines and online videos geared to seduce, consumers and even those within the industry have a difficult time distinguishing luxury from premium brands.

Price is not the only determinant. Add the crossover product strategies between the 2 types of brands and there is more confusion still. Luxury enthusiasts are always looking for the “best”. The problem arises on what this term really means if it means anything at all. Most studies indicate that the term “luxury” is highly subjective.

For this reason, I have decided to try to clarify this important topic and booming business sector.

Take for example the terms, “premium”, “luxury” and “fashion”. Is it possible to define and portray these ethereal ideas in concrete terms? Marketing hype blurs the lines, and of course, this is intentional only adding to the misinformation among diverse constituent audiences.

Defining Luxury

Definitions of “luxury” vary enormously and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “Luxury” has never been something easy to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated:

“A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test:

Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities?
(i.e. the rarity factor)

Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)

Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle?

Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals (HNWI/UHNWI) can purchase without question?

Does the brand offer authenticity?

Identifying Luxury Sectors

Luxury is classically defined in two key segments:

1) Luxury Goods: Fashion & Accessories, Watches & Jewelry,
Well-being & Beauty products

2) Lifestyle Purchases: Automotive, Experiential Travel, Home & Interiors, exclusive alcoholic beverages (read exceptional wines, champagne & spirits)

Brands Which Claim Authentic Luxury Status

Few brands can really claim the trademark of luxury. Those that do combine allure, sex appeal with pedigree and quality. Discounting is not part of their strategy and their entire raison d’être is geared to UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth).

Anyone in this business can rattle off the litany of names recognizable to most people:

Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Rolex and Cartier.

Other players to this core list include: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Gucci, E. Goyard, Charvet, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Bulgari.

Contrast the above lists with Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz. This firm has reduced its cachet ever since it introduced the entry levels A, B Classes respectively and the SMART car.

The firm also does not hesitate to harness frequent promotions to boost sales revenues. This type of strategy is pursued when the board is under pressure from stakeholders to tap what is referred to as affluent consumers of the mass market. DPI (Disposable Personal Income) of this segment is over $100,000.

Because of this strategy such brands can no longer be considered as “luxury” in the true meaning of the term.

Genuine luxury purveyors should remain relatively small and select in their industry. Wealthy consumers purchase luxury products because they seek to distance themselves from the mass through the emotional value of acquiring flawless and rare objects of desire.

Luxury service brands follow a similar pattern. On the basis of my expertise and experience I would list Hotel de Crillon, Hotel Plaza Athenée, Ritz Carlton, and Hotel du Cap. All these hotels provide the perfect luxury experience of outstanding service, exclusivity, and pedigree.

Identifying department stores is a bit more tricky considering the makeover of this retail concept in the last 15 years. Despite the changes consider the following 3: Harrods (UK), Le Bon Marche (France), and Saks Fifth Avenue (USA).

Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni, Orient-Express and Cunard Line.

Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include credit cards with no limits, jet ownership, private plan charters, global concierge services and the like. Think NetJets and Amex.

Considering magazines, if I were asked to name one magazine catering to this crowd and speaks its language, I would nominate: Monocle. It has been described in certain circles as “Foreign Policy meets Vanity Fair.”

“Premium” Clarified

If luxury brands are related to scarcity, quality and storytelling then premium goods, on the other hand, are expensive variants of commodities in general: i.e. pay more, get more.

These brands are less ostentatious, more rational, accessible, modern, best in class, sleek design, and manufactured with precision.

For example, take the case of L’Oréal. The firm is a giant in the cosmetics sector. It positions its “premium” products with subtly. Clients get the luxury feel they hanker for and the presentations are done with élan.

Dior on the other hand makes no pretense. It is categorized as a luxury beauty product and is priced accordingly.

What about Fashion?

This is quite a question. Is it luxury, premium or neither? If you were to stroll into Camps de Luca in Paris for a bespoke suit, you will be treated like royalty and the titans of business, who make up the firm’s client base. Afterwards, you can meander over to Place des Victoires and place an order at arguably the best shirtmaker, Charvet and order a dozen shirts cut to your specifications in sea island cotton.

Clearly, these firms are luxury in every meaning of the term.

Designer labels or “fashion houses” are a different kettle of fish. Some can be quite pricey. However the nature of fashion is ephemeral and change. Pick up a copy of September Vogue and judge for yourself.

Do not confuse what you see in Vogue with “haute couture”. This niche is always there and the French keep it this way. Clients are limited by definition of the cost involved, not to mention the intense hand labor, fabric selection, and attention to the tiniest details.

These luxury fashion statements convey ostentation, glamor, lavishness, and elegance. They are one-of-a-kind garment.

The following fashion houses measure their creative worth with the designer talent, which marks the brand: Chanel, Hermes, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Brioni, Prada, Gucci, Dior, LV, Valentino, YSL, and D&G.

Needless to say, quality control is fundamental and is offered in lifestyle controlled environments at the above brands flagship stores worldwide.

Luxury Time Waits for No One

If you need a watch to tell time, a Timex vintage piece made simply for that purpose will do the job. If you want to make a statement that you have arrived, you will undoubtedly look to see which watch best suits your personality and budget. Think James Bond and the flagrant exposure of Rolex and later Omega.

Luxury timepieces exist in many categories and can accommodate a wide variety of budgets. A good example of an entry level timepiece is a Movado at $500. At the other end of the spectrum, you could chose a Chopard at $70k. Watches are often sold via adverts of sports heroes or movie stars. The reasons are clear. Personification and self-identity play a large role in watch acquisition and social status.

Chronocentric categories watch brands in the following groups:

Basic Luxury Watches
Description: Attractive and functional
Brands include those of fashion designers such as Michael Kors, Fortis, and Movado.

Retail prices: > $1,000 stainless steel; ( >$2,000 for gold)
Strategy: Moderate to heavy discounts available among specialized dealers.

Pseudo Luxury Watches
Description: elegant and stylish
Brands: Baume & Mercier, Raymond Weil, Tag Heuer

Retail prices: $500-$2,000 (steel); $750-$4,000 (gold)
Strategy: discounting via accredited dealerships

Luxury
Description: accent is on prestige. Quality and durability are stressed. Elegance and value underpin the watch.

Brands: Breitling, Cartier, Ebel, Omega, Rolex

Retail prices: $1,000-$4,000 (steel); $2,500-$8,000 (gold with leather strap); $5,000-$20k (gold with gold bracelet)

Strategy: modest discounts sometimes available via brand-authorized dealers. (The unauthorized “gray market” can give bigger price breaks)

High-End Luxury
Highly crafted timepieces made by experts. These watches are highly “refined” and easily recognized by collectors and people “in the know.” Sold with a strong emphasis on exclusivity, design, and craftsmanship. Produced in small numbers, available via specialized dealers. In short, these are the Rolls Royce class of timepieces.

Brands: Alain Silberstein, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet, Franck Muller, JLC, Parmigiani, Patek Phillipe, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin.

Retail prices: starting at $5000 (steel); starting at $20k (gold). Some watches can exceed $2m.

Selection

Watch selection is highly personal. This is true no matter what the person’s budget. Even if you are shopping in a budget category, there are many to chose from. Think Swatch or Nixon.

However, once a person seeks to make a watch statement then choice will be determined by social class, DPI, sports inclinations, sense of self-esteem, pedigree, craftsmanship and of course function. Your average person does not need a chrono watch with its multiple dials and buttons. Yet, the 25-35 year old segment see these pieces as a station in life.

A youngish successful profile will not usually be drawn to a Patek Phillipe. But someone over 40 will. Most Westerners will not go gold unless it is old gold meaning a vintage high end timepiece, which is thin and elegant.

You will also notice that in certain milieus that watch brands count. People weigh there status, revenue generation, prestige in tandem to the watch or even watches that they own and collect. Lastly, even though there are many successful business women who own and wear high-end watches, men seem to be the more obsessed. This can be attributed to the fact that it is one of the few pieces of jewelry a man can wear and not draw too much attention to himself.

Baby You Can Drive My Car

In my other two columns, I tried to clarify the differences between “luxury” and “premium” in the fashion industry and in the horology markets. Similar problems also exist when assessing the automobiles.

It is quite clear to most professionals that luxury cars carry high price tags many of us normal mortals would consider exorbitant. Price aside a luxury car should embody a cache selling prices. Read here: exclusivity, pedigree, craftsmanship and limited production.

R.L. Polk and Company, a global automotive information and marketing firm that provides solutions to automotive and related industries, has re-defined the term with the appellation, “super luxury”, i.e. cars that cost +$100k. This category includes brands such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Maserati, and until 2013, Maybach, by parent Daimler AG.

Premium cars are defined as those, which offer clients cutting edge design and technology. Their target market are individuals in the upper middle class. Some label these vehicles as such because they have creature comforts with all the bells and whistles.

Cars in this category normally range from an entry level BMW 1 or 3 series (depending on the country) from ~ $30k- +$95k.

Competition for market share in the profitable premium category is fierce amongst rivals BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi, along with their Japanese counterparts Lexus and Infiniti.

Acura and Volvo are not regarded as strong contenders. Instead, they are viewed as part of the compact executive car segment. This category is a combination of the standard class vehicles from the top name brands and top models from automakers not necessarily known as being premium category brands.

Impeccable service is also another important measure for premium automobile brands with a strong emphasis on the total customer experience.

At the same time, we are witnessing aspiring premium brands from deep rooted economy class automobile manufacturers such as Hyundai with their Genesis (including the coupe version) and Equus models. However, compared to their established counterparts, they’re lacking “brand cachet”, thus in their clever marketing, Hyundai is pitching “Smart Luxury & Engineering” as its differentiator.

There had been internal discussions within Hyundai about creating a separate brand to feature the Genesis sedan as well as the imminent Equus sedan in North America, but due to prohibitive costs and potential delays, those models will still remain labeled with the Hyundai brand.

For exotic sports cars such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti and others, Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo, explained at a recent FT Business of Luxury Summit:

“I tell my employees listen, be careful, we are not selling a car, we are selling a dream. Because we sell something that is not a typical car, in this rests the emotion of driving.”

Ordering any one of those cars can quote an average wait of 24 months before delivery.

As with the ultra luxury cars, the exotic sports car (limited) producers are now offering their own customization program. Ferrari, for example, offers no limit on imagination to potential buyers who want something different or want to make their Ferrari unique to them.

The Takeaway

The proliferation and marketing misuse of the word “luxury” on many products across sectors is quite evident. Brands either do it out of ignorance or to enhance the desire for the consumer to purchase their products.

Some “premium” products are labeled as “luxury” and promoted that way vigorously. This is where mass brands imitate luxury and its characteristics. As a result, it has caused confusion amongst consumers along with plenty of fancy jargon adding to the perplexity.

Luxury is not premium – and premium is not luxury. They are two dissimilar categories catering to different market segments.

A luxury brand is more about prestige and appearance – it’s about pedigree and social stratification. As objects of desire, they stand out as aspirational to all but a few souls. These crucial elements keep these products exclusive on purpose. Premium, on the other hand, stands for performance, value added, state-of-the-art, craftsmanship, and timeless design.

Certain brands deliberately generate this confusion, while others can’t figure out the messages they want to send to potential clients themselves. Obviously, the wealthy know the difference. Perhaps now, so will you.

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Filed under Branding, Business, discerning clients, discriminating clients, Luxury, luxury storytelling, Marketing, selling luxury, what is fashion, what is luxury, what is premium