Unlocking the DNA of Luxury

01 Aug 2005|Added Value

A major research study across three continents into what drives consumers towards luxury brands reveals it to be the most primal of triggers: the need to feel more desirable.

Commissioned by Walpole and undertaken by Added Value, the research cracks ‘the DNA Code’ of luxury brands, categorises luxury consumers and compares their motivations in different markets.

“One hundred years ago luxury businesses knew their customers, often by sight.  Today, too often, luxury brands don’t really understand the fast-changing, varied and complex set of attitudes of the people who buy their products”, says Guy Salter, deputy chairman of Walpole.  “This is partly because there is surprisingly little good data compared to other consumer sectors.  We commissioned this unique research to help to change that.  We were particularly interested in comparing motivations of customers from different markets – and understanding what resonates with them and what doesn’t.”

The research identifies the DNA of luxury brands – a formula of six essential ingredients: Heroic Myth, Exquisite Product, Iconic Communication, Engineered Celebrity, Ultra Selective Distribution and the power of ‘Cultural Cool’.  Added together, they ignite desire for luxury brands.

Even within this formula some ingredients are more potent than others.

“The power of myth, cool and celebrity are greater than many luxury brands wish to acknowledge,” says Paul McGowan at Added Value. “While for luxury consumers, it is essential that they feel they are buying into the luxury label of the moment.”

The research identifies two key elements which, in various combinations, make luxury consumers tick.  They are “show” and “know”.  That is, their degree of outer and inner motivation and the extent to which consumers perceive luxury to enhance them, or to maintain them in the desirable position which they already consider themselves to be in.

The research took place in two of the fastest-growing emerging markets – Russia and China – and the world’s three most established markets for luxury brands: Japan, the USA and the UK.  Defining “show” and “know” attitudes by country inevitably results in some generalizations, however there are clear centres of gravity for luxury consumers in each market.

Says Abigail Bray, head of Luxury Practice at Added Value London: “In the UK, consumers like to think they know their luxury and many of them enjoy showing it. US consumers are pretty well versed and they definitely like to show it.

“Japanese consumers come in many shapes and sizes, but can be amongst the most knowledgeable and, in the main they wear their knowledge with discretion.

“In China, with some obvious exceptions, status and show are the principal drivers.  Whereas Russian consumers were similar to this in the 1990s, they are moving rapidly towards Western attitudes.”

The “Kang Xi” watch

To test out its insights, the authors created a hypothetical luxury watch brand, which they named Kang Xi. Made in China, it ticked most of the boxes for success in the luxury market – a hero product, significantly expensive by timepiece standards ($10k), iconic PR (Johnny Depp), and a unique place of distribution (four holistic Spas deep in the Middle Kingdom).

The consumer response was fascinating and different in each market, but with a common trait: it was greeted with complete indifference.  The new brand was just another unknown brand in the segment, with no particular fame or kudos, missing the essential element in luxury:  reputation.

The research study concludes with practical tools that luxury brands can use to improve their business. Currently, only ten of the world’s top 70 luxury brands produce 80 per cent of the profit.  This means that many other brands are simply shooting in the dark, according to the authors.

Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, who writes in the foreword of the research study, sums up the challenge and the opportunity: “The demand for the West’s luxury brands is best symbolised by the twin poles of Moscow and Shanghai. Although at slightly different stages of market development, they represent the opportunity for mature Western businesses to experience an extraordinary learning curve.

“This study is an essential reference work for those whose job it is to create, define and develop great luxury brands.”

The DNA of Luxury – Cracking the Luxury Code – is available in a 48pp book designed by Added Value from 1st August 2005.  For a copy of this seminal work, email the Prestige Brands Team


Note to Editors

The Luxury Code reveals:
• What is the DNA of Luxury?
• Who are the Luxury consumers?
• How do they discriminate between brands   in a fragmented market?
• The role of Celebrity in the marketing of Luxury goods
• The similarities and differences in attitudes to Luxury in each of these markets and the impact they have upon positioning, marketing and communications
• Luxury in Emerging Markets – why do Russians have such an affinity with the English and Chinese want to flaunt Luxury?

About Walpole
Walpole furthers the interests of the British Luxury Industry. Its membership, 100 of Britain’s most prestigious companies, provides a community for the exchange of best practice ideas and to drive business development in the UK and in Export markets. Walpole is extending this network to incorporate ‘Tomorrow’s World’, aspiring luxury brands that demonstrate the necessary capacity and ambition. Walpole also represents its members in Brussels and Westminster.

Outside the UK, they have formed a European alliance with Altagamma and Comité Colbert to tackle the business of counterfeiting. Further afield, they showcase their members in New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and plan to take them to Brazil, India and Dubai in 2006.

The Luxury Code research is the latest in a series of research projects commissioned by Walpole. Prior to this, Walpole produced the insightful ‘Brands & Nationality’ research, which looked into the relationship between brands and where they were perceived to come from

More information is available at www.thewalpole.co.uk

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