Designers: Stop selling and start listening, theme of 15th London Briefing

“Luxury industry to go through a radical renewal” could easily be the headline from the recently convened 15th annual Luxury Briefing in London, produced by the editor’s eponymous newsletter . The day was filled with top-notch speakers including designers Giles Deacon and Martin Brudnizki as well as editors David Rowan of Wired and Tyler Brule of Monocle. While every had some valuable insights and their 5 or 10 points of interests, I think the real value was in the common themes that seemed to consistently rise to the top of the proverbial crème!

“Stop selling and start listening” is a good place to start. You cannot possibly know what your clients need until you ask them. Moreover, it’s impossible to improve your product or service unless you know which areas need improvement. For some reason, while this seems obvious to the casual reader, it was something that was mentioned repeatedly during the day. Is it possible that we are so busy as marketers thinking of clever ways to garner the precious and limited attention of consumers that we forget to ask them for their opinion, what matters most to them? We need to listen before we can be heard.

“Curate experiences for your customers”, don’t just sell them something. I absolutely love the word curate, something that has traditionally been associated with the arts, and as I just learned from, a curator is “one responsible for the care (of souls)”, a term that originated with the Church of England. When we look at luxury sales through this heightened perspective, we realize that we need to address the whole person, to touch people viscerally, in order to be heard by them. There are many reasons why people by expensive products, but they are becoming more elusive and harder to pin down. By taking the approach of a curator and considering the user experience from beginning to end, whether in a store or on the internet, you will find more ways to connect and relate to your customer and ultimately, build a relationship with them (note that I did not say sell them something). We are in the relationship business, like it or not. There is a wonderful example that was provided about a problem that was created at Starbucks. Apparently, during the development of many of the stores, counters and machinery blocked the sightline between the customers and the baristas, therefore unintentionally compromising the user experience and part of the relationship with the customers. This problem is quickly being resolved!

Another challenge is that of maintaining authenticity, especially while building a global brand. There are many adjectives that can be used to describe the final attributes of a product or service, but the one that really counts is authenticity. The haute couture model comes to mind in this case, clothing that is handmade of the finest materials, authentic, exclusive, unique, long-lasting, and of a name that is synonymous with all of these qualities. If you have this, then you will have clients that act as your brand ambassadors all around the world. There is an excellent example of Hermes that is used in conjunction with a second-hand boutique in Hong Kong called Milan Station. Used Hermes bags can sell for 10% over their original, retail price because customers don’t want to wait for the new product to be available in a boutique. This is a phenomenon that can only be associated with an authentic product like Hermes that does not discount its pricing, license its name, and tightly controls its distribution.

Lastly, different marketing techniques appeal to different moments and stages of a customer’s life. In other words, “one size does not fit all” in marketing terms. I think that an excellent example of this is a stipulation that is attributed to social media on the internet: “social media is not a project, it is a practice.” This implies that it takes constant care and nurturing and that it must evolve, daily if necessary, with the viewership. This places a “real-time” constancy to marketing and says that what works for me today, may not work for me tomorrow. What works for me when I’m single, may not work for me when I’m married, and most likely will not when my first child is born. Remember, we are selling to people, not an abstract theory called people, and people like stories, they like to be heard, and they want to feel special. Frankly, it can all be exhausting! By the time the luxury briefing ended, I could not absorb another idea and needed to take a nap! The net-net of the day and what I gleaned is that we will need to figure out how we are going to harness the power of the mass media to appeal to each and every customer you want to keep!


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