In its most simplistic view a Luxury Brand is characterised by 3 things: premium craftsmanship, an equally premium price-point, and exclusive access. While the idea of premium craftsmanship has remained largely unaltered, notions of affordability and exclusive access have undergone significant change. For one, purchasing power has boomed—wallets are fatter, credit limits higher, as is the willingness to serve the heart’s desires. Secondly, new windows of access have enabled wider reach—the enthusiastic entry of luxury brands into emerging markets, online shopping avenues, and the prolific global traveler who is a happy shopper. Both these boundaries of luxury have evolved to become more agile, and luxury brands that continue to be relevant to our time have arrived at their unique balance of inclusive exclusivity.
A shift, and new triggers
There is another shift, that I think is of interest and impact for luxury brands today—the Luxury of ‘me’. From announcing one’s arrival into a higher rank or simply stating one’s existing claim to rank, luxury brands were traditionally a symbol of the self imposed on to the world. Ownership was a statement to others, a symbol for admiration & envy of others. Therefore brand desire and consumption was driven to a great extent by others’ perception of ‘you’. In the balance between me and the world, the weight was visibly heavier in favour of the latter. And hence the proliferation of brand communication in the luxury segment that played on symbolic assertions of privileged social acknowledgement.
The brand of luxury today has shifted its gaze from a social viewpoint to one that stems from and around the individual. It is perhaps telling of an growing mindset that places more value on quality of experience which is introspective, rather than the thrill of possession which is extrospective. The conversation has shifted to the the meaning of the experience to the individual. The luxury brand as a statement or symbol, increasingly addresses the self, rather than the projection of self to others.
The manner in which luxury brands express individual-centric values or ideas, can be varied. What is common amongst them is a move beyond traditional demographic slices, towards unearthing newer brand triggers. These are a few triggers that I find interesting.
Given the barrage of bad news about the world that dominates our news feeds round-the-clock, it is impossible to remain unaffected or apathetic. Responsibility and action, have spilled over from an ‘activists-only’ purview, to a much more shared responsibility, and one that in many cases influences consumption choices. In this new world, no one is spared and unethical practices are simply not acceptable, regardless of a brand’s hallowed position. Better still are brands & products which consciously adopt practices that are responsible and responsive. The individual consumer today is compelled to reflect upon their choice, and the impact of their consumption on a larger reality. Given a choice and the resources, many will act upon their conscience and the willingness to contribute to a better future.
For many, the monetary value of ownership has lost its sheen. High Networth Individuals (HNIs) are dime a dozen, therefore money and access to the luxury segment are no longer the privilege of a few. This loss of exclusivity by virtue of price, has favoured a new trigger—of intellect, the ability to make a superior choice based on superior knowledge. Knowledge, indeed is power. Intellectually driven choices in the luxury segment are likely to eschew traditional symbols of status, investing effort instead into keener inquiry, and research to discover ‘smarter’ luxury. Armed with a thorough understanding of product value, and the confidence in their choice-making ability, this is the most prolific consumer-evangelist that brands can hope to enlist. From stately minimalist communication where less was more, many luxury brands now choose to delve into the sophisticated intelligence of their products—there is talk of the future, technology, health, culture, ecology and more.
If there’s one thing money cannot buy, it is time. Finite and fleeting, time has become dearer and slow is a luxury that only a few can afford. While the mass and mass-premium segments are running full throttle to quicken our access and gratification through products & services at a click, several luxury brands build desirability with extended time. In some cases time is characteristic of the product itself, manifesting in an extended process of making. Given the higher value we now afford time, it multiplies the perceived value of the product. Then there are luxury brands that demand that we give considerable time to partake in their experiences—through extended interactions both online and offline. Also interesting is the rise of premium brands in the leisure segments like athleisure gear. ‘Me-time’ has become prime-time for brands and the pleasure quotient of whatever little leisure time is available is serious business.
While most brands respond to and evolve with time, luxury brands have moved at a comparatively conservative pace. But with a shift from ownership to experience, and social projection to self value, the consumer’s expectations from the ‘label’ have increased manifold and rapidly. While social shifts always create room for new brands, it will be interesting to see how traditional brands evolve or respond to the luxury of ‘me’.