A common misunderstanding about luxury is that it is part and parcel of certain products or services. This is the wrong approach! Luxury is, in reality, a specific approach to marketing a good or service so that it touches the deeper needs of a customer. For example, in my article “Why diamonds stink more than fertilzers?” the term used to describe the success of ICI– Fertilizers was “segmentation.” Nevertheless, a close examination revealed that fertilizers were marketed as a luxury. Yes, even that stinky substance could successfully become a luxury item by following the rules. How about your business?
There are a handful of factors which characterize luxury. One prominent factor is price. A luxury item is expensive and is never sold at discount. ICI-Fertilizers managed to sell fertilizer as a luxury at higher prices while their competitors sold fertilizer as a commodity at prices that barely covered their costs. Many times almost an entire industry lowers their profit margins to a dangerous level while one company maintains high prices, Apple, under the guidance of Steve Jobs, is a good example. Many companies left the market because they couldn’t compete any longer, but Apple kept selling PC’s at high margins, becoming the largest and the most profitable company in the industry. This was possible because they followed the rules of luxury.
Let’s examine the PC, they are bulky, ugly and tend to have a narrow range of colors and designs, and the software is not great. On the other hand, Apple asked themselves what were the customers’ needs. They realized that nobody needed a PC, and a PC was just a means to a goal. By understanding the deeper needs of the customers Apple designed its computers to deliver those inner needs creating its legendary interface. The end result was a machine whose role was to satisfy the user’s needs. Apple doesn’t charge for its PC’s, it charges for satisfying deep needs, something that no other company had managed to do. This approach brought in more money, higher margins, and loyal customers.
On the other side of the coin we have diamonds. What should be considered the pinnacle of luxury has turned into commodity. Instead of understanding why the customer wants a diamond and satisfying that particular need, the entire industry is focused on offering a product that actually doesn’t have much use. Consequently, diamonds became commodities and people slashed prices to a point that brought the industry to a state of bankruptcy.
To turn something into a luxury is not easy. On the one hand, if one follows a limited number of rules it is possible. Following those rules calls for commitment, changing our mindset, high moral values, and ultimate responsibility for what we are doing. In my workshops I stress the importance of personal values and caring for the customers. Do it right and commit to it and your offering will become a luxury, providing you with tremendous satisfaction. Do you have the courage to jump into the water and start swimming?
In the next few articles I will explore other aspects of luxury. Stay tuned.