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definition of luxury

The Elusive Definition of Luxury

 

“Luxury is multi-faceted and cannot be contained by easy one-sentence definitions”

 

Unpopular as it might seem these days, I prefer to know what I am talking about before I start talking about it. When discussing the topic of luxury, the challenge is to come up with a definition for it that satisfies it in the most comprehensive way possible.

I have read many definitions and seen their contradictions. According to HEC professor and author Bernard Dubois: “No systematic study has been undertaken to provide an in-depth, consumer-based, empirical definition of the domain of this complex construct.”

And yet here we are, trying to do just that.

For me, Luxury is an objective category of goods and brands intended for a privileged class of consumer. Luxury is exclusive, rare, and difficult of access. Luxury exudes craftsmanship, artisanal, aesthetic, and artistic design, and a rich cultural heritage. It is generally extremely expensive, and thus beyond the reach of the vast majority of consumers.

Luxury is something of which many are aware and aspire to possessing, yet remains elusive. Luxury is of the highest quality but does not strive for perfection. The aim of luxury can be to provide hedonistic pleasure or to confer high social status.

The reason I say “for me” here is due to wide disagreement on the definition of luxury. The word is flexible and is sometimes used to enhance more ordinary goods and brands. But it would seem evident that true luxury is a class apart and is not a relative value.

Sliding Scale

Because there are no exact criteria with which to measure or quantify luxury, it is often considered a subjective or relative descriptor of high-end expensive goods. For some people, luxury exists at the very top of the socio-economic reach of a consumer, regardless of the extent of that reach.

If the consumer is a blue-collar laborer, his or her definition of luxury will be set much more modestly than a Wall Street pentamillionaire and again different from that of an established and wealthy family whose social status may be considered aristocratic, noble, or hereditary.

According to many scholars of luxury – Jean-Noël Kapferer, Bernard Dubois, Michel Chevalier, Danielle Allérès – luxury is not defined by its high price tag alone. This would tend to create a super-stratum wherein luxury exists beyond comparison with otherdefinition - luxury product from a luxury housepremium goods.

American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen first identified conspicuous consumption as a mode of status-seeking, showing a tendency for the demand for luxury to grow as the price increases. This strictly economic indicator necessarily implies,however, that the underlying value of the luxury good increases as well – prestige, craftsmanship, aesthetic, quality, and an ongoing tradition of excellence from the luxury house that produces it.

In other words, a single product such as a suit, a dress, a watch, or a pen, could not be considered luxury in isolation. If it is a watch by Patek Philippe, however, it is classified as a luxury watch as belonging to a traditional luxury house. Luxury is therefore not a product description. Luxury is conferred by its maker. We attribute all of qualities mentioned here first to the creators (i.e., Patek Philippe, Chanel, Montblanc, etc.), and then by extension to the products or objects they make.

 

Globalized Luxury

Dubois and Kapferer, among others, speak of the dream factor or the dream equilibrium of luxury. That is to say that luxury is something that people dream about owning or experiencing because it is often very difficult if not impossible for the majority of consumers to purchase due to its high price. But in order for the dream factor to play a role, the luxury designer or house must be known almost universally.

Luxury lectures, Jean-Noël Kapferer, HEC, 2017, Definition of luxury

Jean-Noël Kapferer, HEC, 2017

Despite the fact that luxury is marked by prohibitive prices, communication must be ubiquitous – ensuring that everyone possible knows the names of luxury brands. The more a luxury brand achieves this level of awareness, the more people can dream about owning it, and the higher the prestige rises for those who do.

Awareness of luxury around the world is therefore a key part of the luxury definition. A consumer must feel and perceive the brand’s consistency anywhere the brand is seen, be it in Paris, New York, or Shanghai. A Maserati parked in Belgrade or in Belgravia conveys the same messages of quality, craftsmanship, prestige, and tradition and must evoke the same allure and reveries in both places.

 

An Ineffable Definition

If there is no universally accepted definition of luxury, there is a preponderance of evidence to suggest that luxury is, at the very least, multi-faceted and cannot be contained by easy one-sentence definitions. In my view, trying to define luxury is very much like trying to assess art – analyzing brushstrokes and media do not do the whole job. We must take into account many other factors, not least of which is an emotional response that can never be quantified.

Although it falls short of becoming the last definitive view of luxury, this is what I am referring to when I use the word. For me, luxury remains an objective standard and we must continuously work to understand it better and its place in the universe. As a category, it is defined as an amalgam of different qualifying factors, none of which in isolation constitutes a prescriptive meaning, but which, in combination, becomes something altogether different and transcendent.

Nothing less will do it justice.

Love. Attraction. Branding.

We all want to be attractive. We all want to be loved.

These two desires however, while not being mutually exclusive, are certainly not the same. In your daily life and personal relationships and in your relationships that you develop with brands, the idea of being attractive is what brings you to the door. The thing that makes you stay is love.

Attraction is primarily a surface level idea. It is sensory and it appeals to us without any foreknowledge on our side. If we see someone who is attractive, we may think they look beautiful or sexy or edgy or comfortable and familiar. We don’t know the first thing about them, but when we see them at the bus stop or in the supermarket or at the gala reception, we are attracted. They have caught our eye and our attention.

Attention Please

Talking with a friend this morning, she was worried about her branding and her business. She is a yoga instructor in New Delhi and holds classes and seminars. She is well respected within her small community but is only one of many that offer her type of classes in her city.

The real problem lies therein: she has to compete with myriad others for the attention of potential students. She has to show her offer to be attractive and worthy of grabbing that attention. Not knowing how to do it, she considered the possibilities.

She could gouge her prices, trying to be the cheapest. She could offer some free service, or benefit, or product for people who sign up. My question to her is why does that make your business more attractive?

The price consideration is only a small part of the branding question. It is a rational argument. It is a justification. We may choose Brand X over Tide for our laundry detergent because Brand X is much cheaper. We rationalize the choice, even if we have never heard of X. Even if we already know and are happy with Tide.

Discounts and slashed prices are attractive in the sense that everyone likes to save money, but we still have not nailed down the question of what we are saving money on. Promoting savings works very well for a marketing campaign. If we see that Dove soap is cheaper this week than Nivea or Palmolive or Fa, then we are motivated to buy it. But we already know Dove and Nivea and Palmolive and Fa.

We know them because they have developed brands, and they mean something to us. We know Dove because of their advertising campaigns, their messages about body image, their values of wholesomeness and simplicity. We know them because we remember their logo and how their name is written – their logotype. For my friend, all this work is ahead of her.

Attractiveness is a universal desire. No matter who we are or what we do we want to be attractive. We want to stand out in a group that matters to us. It does not mean we want to be international fashion models or movies stars. It means we want people to see and appreciate us.

Attractiveness is, to be sure, a superficial consideration. This is because we do not attract from an intimate space but from a longer distance. Once we attain the intimate space, we can deepen the connection with qualities that are not necessarily visible from a billboard. This is where we can get into a brand’s personality, character, and value set. But before arriving there, we have to attract the attention of the consumer. He or she has to stop and say –

Hey, what’s this?

Even older and more recognized brands need to be attractive. This is not only to attract attention but also to maintain the status of an attractive brand, worthy of loyalty. Nike operates this way – we are attracted to the excitement generally produced by their ads. We are further attracted by the fact that many people around us have adopted the brand already. And we are attracted by the fact that its popularity – real or perceived – confers membership in a select group.

We wear Reeboks. We use iPhones. We drink Tropicana orange juice. We drive Mazdas.

Affiliation in this group is important because of the status it implies. People on the outside look at us and ask themselves if they might not want to join too. That is the appeal of branding. We buy brands for others as much as we buy them for ourselves.

As to my friend and her yoga classes, the first questions to ask are the deeper ones. What are these classes really? What do they give us? Strength? Inner peace? A centered Chi? Happiness? We must dig deep into the reasons she had for starting this business. It is not just because she knows yoga, it is because she loves it, is passionate about it, and she truly wants to share it with others.

These qualities say more about her classes than the variety offered – be it Hatha, Vipassana, Bikram, or “Hot Yoga”. Those are just names, not emotions and not feelings. A brand becomes attractive when it appeals to us directly. It must speak our language and touch us where it is most sensitive. Coke sells us love, not soft drinks. AT&T sells us family, not phone services.

Uncovering and revealing the attractiveness of a brand is a voyage of self-discovery, and one that every brand that wants to be loved must take. Your brand is your identity. More than just who you are, it is who you aspire to be.

And knowing that is infinitely more attractive than a bargain basement sale.

 

 

Questions about your brand? Want to launch something new? Contact notapipe brand consulting today and we will assess your situation, give a frank appraisal, and real ideas and usable suggestions about how we could work together to make your brand the best it can be!

Brand Refresh: The Good, the Bad, and the Smelly

Every country in the world is chock-full of smelly brands.

Old brands that have somehow survived the test of time by having no direct competition, by a sense of nostalgia, by price-gauging, or other means, sometimes boggle the imagination at how they have managed not to die. An example of that from the US market is Old Spice. Continue reading

I am Brand

When you get up in the morning and look in the bathroom mirror, what brand do you see?

Bright and fresh (or gloomily pre-coffee) you see someone you know very well. It is the same person that once met a famous movie star in a breadline in Paris. It is the same person who had her first kiss in a darkened movie theatre. It the guy who crashed his old car and traded it in for a better one. Continue reading

BRAND BANTER – How to Say What You Think

 

Novak-DjokovicThere can be no doubt but that Novak Djokovic is a Big Brand.

In the recent firestorm over Nole’s opinion about prize money for men and women tennis players, however, the Big Brand blundered badly. In an interview after Indian Wells, he basically set himself up to be object of revilement by fans of women’s tennis around the world.

This started me thinking about how brands can express unpopular opinions without offending half the world. On the one hand, it would seem to be impossible. Djokovic’s stance on prize money for women players is not illogical – men attract bigger audiences to tennis and therefore should be rewarded more. Should he just shut up about it and not say what he thinks?

A brand has certain values and a certain character. In this way, a brand should be encouraged to express itself according to those values. Novak Djokovic – as a brand, not as a person or tennis player – stands for a certain number of things. His values include excellence, outspokenness, and a (slight) sense of humor.

Each of these values has a dark side and one that should be kept under wraps as much as possible. Excellence can indicate arrogance and a degree of ruthlessness that Djokovic will let out of the bag from time to time. Outspokenness can be a good thing and show sincerity. But it can also quite easily become a liability when the brand’s sincere opinion is politically incorrect. And a sense of humor is always subjective. Sometimes it is just not funny.

So how does a brand like Djokovic make any response to the question of equal prize money without sounding like a misogynist, male chauvinist, and just plain thoughtless?

There are, in my view, three ways to attack the question –

1. Shut Your TrapAustralian Open Tennis

He could have just said he does not want to talk about it. By not saying anything, he takes no position and allows people to think what they want. Detractors will still say that he is guilty by omission, but fans will call him wise and circumspect.

Eventually, however, avoidance will lead a brand to trouble. The most important aspect of a brand is that it can be trusted. Remember the beating Nike took over child labor in Vietnam? They denied. They were found out. And they backpedaled. It was not an easy time for one of the world’s Big Brands.

2. Deflect and Dodge

He could have used the uncomfortable question to redirect attention to the cause of the problem. Should they have equal prizes? Who decides this anyway? Shouldn’t we be asking them what their reasons are? And by creating a media furor, does it actually help? And why is the opinion of one player in the circuit actually make any difference?

Deflection does not reveal his true thoughts, but it is a form of avoidance. At one point, some clever media person will trap him into a Yes/No question on it. As long as the deflection remains smart and on-topic, he will get away with it for longer. It can create distractions that sideline the bigger issues

3. Think it Through

This is, by far, the best way to deal with uncomfortable questions. He needs to be well-versed on the issues and able to discuss them intelligently. He can thereby demonstrate that a) it is an important issue, b) he thinks about it, c) his opinion ultimately is informed by real facts and the reality of the sport. In the midst of this, he could even slip in his real opinion about the prize money, but wrap it in undisputable facts about the subject.

In short, he will have to study. His handlers, if he has any, should prepare him for this. There are not 360 burning issues in professional tennis – there are only a few big ones, and he should have been prepped in his response.

 

As it is, Djokovic chose Number 4 – Blurt it out and backpedal. The next day, Djokovic came back to apologize, blaming adrenalin over a big win. My bad.

By doing this, Djokovic did further damage to his own brand not only by having to apologize for something he actually believes, but by eroding public trust in his brand. People will start to think: who is this guy? They will doubt his statements. They will trust him just a little less.

In branding, trust is hard won and must be guarded carefully. It means sticking by your announced values and living with them every day. No one could ever be overly shocked by Jean-Paul Gautier when he would say outlandish things – that IS his brand, the bad boy. We expect it from him. With a great tennis player, we expect him to be dedicated to fairness and sportsmanship. That is also part of Nole’s brand whether he likes it or not.

Can he say whatever he wants whenever he wants? Clearly he can and he does. And we want our star brands to say what they think. But if he insists on doing so without regard to the fallout, he might not become the beloved figure that he seems to want to be. We want him to speak his mind, of course.

But we want to be able to nod with him too.

Branding: Does a Quality Product Sell Itself?

Ever been to a party where you don’t know anyone?

This is the consumer world in which we all live and struggle for attention. Our products and services suffer the same psychological anguish all the time. Who knows us? Who wants to get to know us? Why will someone pick up your product in Walmart? Why will someone try on your shirt in Saks Fifth Avenue? Is it because your product is just so much better than any other?

Sorry. No.

Continue reading

Is China Ready To Build Global Brands? | Branding Strategy Insider

Brands in China Series

David Aaker thinks that it will be decades before Chinese companies are ready to develop strong brands capable of competing on the global stage. While I do not agree with his blanket assessment, I can personally vouch for one of the reasons he cites for his point of view. Unless senior managers at Chinese companies value the power of branding, then investment in brand and advertising will likely be wasted.

Source: Is China Ready To Build Global Brands? | Branding Strategy Insider

The Made-in-China Syndrome

IT IS THE largest manufacturing base in the world. It is the largest single consumer base on the planet. Yet China’s brand and reputation seems to mean only cheap and mass-produced.

Is this just the way things are?

China has become the world’s largest consumer of luxury goods. This has come about, according to various sources, because of an increase in Chinese wealth in certain strata of society, because of the allure of Western luxury super-brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel or Dior, and to a large extent on the lack of recognized brands coming from the People’s Republic. As a consumer powerhouse, China will keep the luxury sector afloat in years to come.

The question, however, is why are there so few Chinese luxury brands that are known abroad. Such brands are present on the market, including the Red Flag sedan of Chairman Mao, luxury retailer Shanghai Tang, or the luxury fashion label Ne Tiger. And while Shanghai Tang has made it to London (and Bangkok, Honolulu, Miami, New York, Las Vegas, Madrid, Paris, Tokyo, and Macau), there are no significant Made-in-China luxury brands to be found outside the country.

The Experts

Any discussion about luxury in China, moreover, brings the experts out in droves. They want to tell us about socio-economic indicators and drivers. They want to tell us about the rise of the Chinese middle class. They will also have a few slides about the spending power of the new Chinese super-rich and their habits.

This is all very interesting. But where are the brands?

Talking to a group of (mostly European) master’s students in Suzhou today, I asked the question: What does Made-in-China mean? And the answers came back –

“Too Chinese”
“Cheap.”
“Mass produced.”
“Bad quality.”

Bad rap. The argument that they were “too Chinese” meant that the Chinese culture and its associations are too far removed from Western Europe or America to have any impact. This may be true. But the opposite is also true – France and Italy are far from Beijing and yet their traditions are not seen as “too French.”

Brands around the world depend on China for their production. Huge volumes can be handled quickly and reliably at very reasonable prices. And this is probably the biggest stigma-generator of all.

Made-in-China is cheapened by Western brands who DEMAND the cheap, the cut-corners, and light-speed production times. Western brands producing in China count on the low price, and they accept lower quality to get it cheap and fast.

Maotai

Moutai

All of this redounds to the detriment of Made-in-China. None of this has anything to do with the centuries of tradition behind brands like Moutai, the most expensive Chinese liquor or Shui Jing Fang whose spirits are sold for hundreds of euros. But export these to Paris and they will sit quietly on the shelves, undisturbed by consumer desire.

Problematically, Chinese brands suffer from our bad memories. We have lost the memory of the China of the Silk Road and Marco Polo when anything brought back from the mysterious East had intrinsic value based on its provenance. Today, the effect runs the other way.

The answer to the question about Chinese brands and Made-in-China is that there ARE brands but we do not let them in. We choose not to understand them. We do not look beyond the China we know.

And the intrepid brand developer who is able to show the Western world a brand made in China whose value and prestige can outshine our own luxury brands will have a foothold in the future.

Brands in China Series