Luxury Industry

This is luxury, too!

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

dining-table-1348717_960_720 Permit me to acquaint you with the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish society. While by most measures – morally, intellectually and educationally – this might be considered elite.  However, many choose to live in poverty seeking high social standards. Their budgets are tight, but properly feeding their family is important, seeking out cheap solutions. Suppliers to this sector know that money talks –selling food staples with low margins, benefiting instead from economy of scale. The average household is 8-10 heads.

Furniture needs to be durable and long lasting. IKEA is well designed but won’t survive years of active children.  Carpenters serving this sector learned how to manufacture what is best for this society. Most apartments are tiny with no extra space. The measurements need to be concise, or the carpenter will need to start again.

A recent debate in Hamodia, the only one newspaper that the Ultra-Orthodox utilize, discussed complaints about dishonest furniture stores. These stores asked for payment in full when ordering, but didn’t properly deliver. The examples were many. Delivery time was not respected, the furniture didn’t fit, or the color wasn’t right. One of the recommendations people gave was to always buy at a store that has a sign above it. Many stores keep costs down in this community by not having a sign.

Next, the store owners came with their stories. Payments canceled and custom-made furniture refused and could no longer be sold. This at the cost to the store owner. Two sides of the story, the customers and the suppliers.

The newspaper brought one best-practice example. The story is about a woman with a shop without a sign or a name. She has run a successful business for over thirty years. She insists her relationship with the customer is purely business, friendship is not part of the deal. She asks for a down payment upon ordering and for a moderate payment plan allowing for prefixed instalments. Over the years she has had a bad experience or two, but nothing dramatic. Mistakes happen and she offers customer service to make it right. Above all, she delivers on time. Her secret is paying her suppliers in full and in advance, motivating them to deliver as quickly as possible. The last principle that she shared was that trust is paramount. She believes in what she offers and trusts the customer.

Many lessons can be learned from this story. Instead of competing on price she competes on insecurity, a common theme. The customer delays payment and the supplier wants full payment up front both trying to reduce their risk. After all, nobody can really guarantee the furniture will arrive as ordered and on time. This woman does exactly that – she does whatever is needed to reduce the insecurity factor. Delivery is on time and if it’s not right, she makes it right. Her margins are high because she has removed the risks, keeping her customers and suppliers happy. That’s how she is successful in this competitive business for over thirty years.

The final point is interesting. She is a supplier not the customer’s friend. No birthday cards or occasions celebrated with her clients, no fancy store and not even a sign. She focuses on what she offers –her customer’s peace of mind.  She knows what they need –remove the uncertainty – and that’s what she successfully delivers in this highly competitive market.  This is luxury.

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Turn your business into a luxury one

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

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.

 

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Why diamonds stink more than fertilizers?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Let’s talk about fertilizers which are probably the most unglamorous stinky product exist. The reason for it is my mentor, Professor Malcolm McDonald, one of the world’s leading marketing experts. Prof McDonald was engaged in 1988 by the International Fertilizers Association. Before starting, the president of the association told Prof McDonald that “we have declared officially fertilizer as a commodity”. Prof McDonald responded that this explains why, when going on the internet, he discovered that there was not one single manufacturer of fertilizers in the world making one dollar of profit.

A member of the association was ICI Fertilizer, part of the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), the largest manufacturer in Britain throughout its existence.  ICI Fertilizer was on a brink of collapse and they reached Prof McDonald for help after trying everything else. When asked who buys from the merchants the answer was that “they all buy on price” and “that’s what our sales force tells us”. Prof McDonald made a point that in all research he’s done on every continent in the world and for all of big companies in the world he couldn’t find any market anywhere in the world where the price segment was greater than ten percent. Actually, fertilizer companies were ignorant of what the true needs of the farmers were.

Ninety percent of the consumers had totally different needs that weren’t addressed by ICI Fertilizer who was focused on price. Prof McDonald segmented that ninety percent into six segments, each following a different marketing approach.

Within six months ICI Fertilizer became the most profitable subsidiary of ICI and the only profitable fertilizer company in the world.

All one needs is to replace “fertilizers” with “diamonds”. Commoditization is the main problem of the diamond market today. We know that we are right because we did it. Even nowadays we manage to successfully service our customers and we don’t suffer from any of the current market malaise. I am sure that Malcolm McDonald is proud of me, his student.

Until now we ran a boutique operation gaining knowledge and experience nobody else has. It is now time to try and to help our colleagues and to revive this beautiful industry. Are you ready to join us in our trip?

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Serving the married couple

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

In my previous article I discussed De Beers’ new initiative that targets the married couple. However, while this approach is new to De Beers, my partner Randy Pearson and I have claimed for years that the married couple is the natural customer for diamonds.

Recently, we created a boutique operation, Kahro Diamonds in Raleigh North Carolina that is exclusively designed for the married couple. I am aware that not everyone can visit us and learn first-hand how to serve the married couple. Therefore, I created a short list of ideas that might help my colleagues serving the married couple better. The most important point to keep in mind in the following is that the married couple has needs that are fundamentally opposed those of the engagement ring customer.

  1. Don’t educate. Listen! Since the introduction of the faulty 4C’s concept the sentence every diamond customer will constantly hear is “you need education”.  My dear colleagues, stop educating your customer and feeding him faulty information. He is already educated. All you need to do is to listen to him. The customer knows what he wants and needs – though most of the time, his language is different. Listen to him and try to understand what he wants.
  2. Find out the job of the diamond! As Professor Clayton M. Christensen puts it, customers want to “hire” a product to do a job. Figure out what job the diamond is being hired for. A customer who looks to propose marriage is looking for a diamond to do a totally different job than the one who hires a diamond to celebrate his mutual bond with his spouse. Do you know what job the married couple is hiring their diamond for? Do you know how to satisfy that precise need?
  3. Don’t confuse the customer! Remember that the customer is looking for one diamond only. Why do you confuse him with an endless list of diamonds that even you don’t really know how to choose from? Why confusing him with the useless letter soup that the 4C’s approach entails? Why depend on diamond “certificates” that don’t certify anything, especially when the paper contains a lot of meaningless information? By the way, do you know what is essential and what is superfluous on the diamond grading report? Spend as much time as necessary to figure out, together with your customer, what diamond you should look for to satisfy his needs.
  4. Don’t run a circus! I am referring here to the visual aspect of any typical jewelry store. Usually, jewelry stores heavily invest in the show. They tend to be large, with a lot of merchandise on display and, the owners hope, crowded. These stores are noisy, both aurally and visually, and make the customers feel as if they are in a jewelry-story version of the three-ring arena of Barnum & Bailey. They don’t know which show to watch and adding to confusion, all three rings seem to offer a similar show. Noise and glitter might appeal to those whose communication style is shouting over the noise of the dancing floor. Married couples look for a relaxed, quiet and warm venue. Can you create this atmosphere in your store?

Kahro Diamonds follows these guidelines and more. After all, it does serve the married couple. My best advice is to visit this boutique operation in Raleigh, North Carolina. Simply contact Kahro Diamonds at Raleigh@kahrodiamonds.com or 919- 649-6528. But, if you cannot pay a visit, at least you should think on how to apply these rules in your store. It took us years to fine-tune our strategy. You should start revisiting your approach now.

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Hope for the diamond industry

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Over the past decade the financial situation of the diamond industry has badly deteriorated. As I said here, this is because the industry lost all contact with its customers. However, there is hope for revival if the industry will leverage recent developments to its own benefit.

Seven years ago, I participated in an emergency meeting organized by the leaders of the diamond industry. The industry had arrived at a standstill and banks refused to bankroll its operations anymore. This did not surprise me. For ten years preceding this, I had been warning my colleagues that this catastrophe was imminent. At this meeting I was challenged to present a plan to put the industry back on track.

Seven years passed and the industry went from bad to worse. The lack of cash flow is so severe that De Beers saw its first-half 2015 sales plummet by 21%. Worse, customers of De Beers have the right to defer 75% of the goods allocated to them for six months following the sale.

Nevertheless, I see a light at the end of this tunnel.  Recently, De Beers has announced a holiday marketing campaign to increase consumer demand for diamond jewelry.  Described as a “call to action” advertising campaign, it will target men purchasing diamond jewelry for their partners and is intended to “create a sense of urgency.” De Beers has finally recognized that the natural customer for diamonds is the married couple. Gone is the image it has cultivated over the past century of the young man on one knee, engagement ring in hand, as the ultimate diamond consumer.

For a long time, my partner Randy Pearson and I were aware of this truth. Over the years we have developed a marketing strategy that would fit the needs and wants of the married couple. Recently, we created a boutiqueoperation – Kahro Diamonds – in Raleigh North Carolina that is exclusively tailored to the married couple. We have created a unique toolbox founded on our extensive experience and supported by my academic research, which turns out to be diametrically opposed to the current best practices which are incompatible with the needs of a married couple.

Kahro Diamonds is a boutique operation, currently operating only in Raleigh, North Carolina. We welcome anyone wishing to learn more about serving married couples. Contact us at Raleigh@kahrodiamonds.com or 919- 649-6528. For those who cannot pay us a visit, I will publish some guidelines here to help you turn your business around.

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Can we mass-market luxury?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

We are irrational. After all, out motivation resides in our subconscious. We have passions and emotions that dictate our behavior and constantly overrule, block and blind our logic. Yes, we are human and that we are ashamed of it is human, too.

In spite of these obvious observations academia keeps on failing by trying to squeeze human behavior into this “logic” box. It tries to explain in logic terms why we behave in one way or another when the real answer is actually illogical and irrational.

I recently read an article by one of my favorite brand experts – Jean Noel Kapferer. Prof. Kapferer in his article addresses the challenge that luxury brands face when growth dilutes their luxury cachet. One key characteristics of luxury is rarity and when it is possible to find a product or brand all over it is not rare any longer, or this should the logic argument be.

kapferer I enjoy Prof. Kapferer because he has the knack for brands and luxury. In this article he actually explains what luxury is. I believe that he understands the term subconsciously and I have my doubt whether he paid attention to what he actually said. Here is the quote: “For centuries, luxury was limited to the happy few. It was the exclusive lifestyle of those in power: pharaohs; kings, queens, and their courts; and later merchants and industrialists. It was meant to express refined taste and impress crowds by the magnificence of the palaces, horse carriages, dresses, jewels, and so on.” It is a bit blurred but luxury is about unattainable dream. You can stay at Buckingham Palace but you’ll never turn into the Queen. All you can do is dreaming of it and that overnight staying allows you to dream more accurately. On the other hand, Ralph Lauren’s “value is created by prestigious retail stores made to resemble a mansion, materializing the American dream.” That’s the difference between prestige brands which allow people to materialize their dreams and true luxury which stay as a dream although it allow “excursionists” to experience how those legends live, sometimes on a regular basis and sometimes only for a short period. Luxury has a promise that you can enjoy the product and the brand but you’d never become the true elite – this will stay a dream.

Here is an example to what unfulfilled dreams are. In another publication of his, Strategic Brand Management, Prof. Kapferer points to that luxury brands, especially those named after the founder, Channel, Nina Ricci, YSL and so gain strength after the founder dies. Well, not always. However, Channel is a good example. Coco Channel did not create fashion – she was a fashion icon herself. She sold what she wore. You can buy a Channel outfit but you’ll never become Coco Channel, especially now when she died. That’s luxury.

Going to challenging issue of the above-mentioned article, it is clear that we need a psychological solution. Louis Vuitton, for example, would do best by promoting the legendary Louis who died long time ago. You cannot get his services for any price but you can dream on it. Louis Vuitton, the company would provide you with the closest-to-dream replica, you cannot get closer but you can have a more meaningful dream. If you hammer this message into people psyche you can mass sell your products. Irrational? Maybe but I believe that it will work.

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Going Live!

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

I am happy to announce that Janus Thinking is now offering its first free webinar. The webinar’s title is, “Are you Really Serious when it Comes to Diamonds?” The webinar is an attempt to put together answers to questions I am constantly asked about. You can have flair of those questions when you visit Janus Thinking’s Facebook page. I was mainly asked to comment on three topics, general knowledge about diamonds, value and prices of diamonds and “blood diamonds”. While I might not cover all the questions I was recently asked I believe that the answers and discussion would be interesting and look at those questions from a novel angle.
The webinar will be of interest to all of you, whether diamonds are your topic or not. We will discuss issues such as marketing, luxury and behavior as well. You can send requests and questions prior to the webinar either by commenting here or to workshop@janusthinking.com.
Here are the details. The free webinar will be held on Tuesday, October 22nd, 20:00-21:00 Paris time, 19:00-20:00 London time, 2 PM- 3 PM New York time. Please register even when you cannot attend so I can send you a link to the webinar’s recording via email.

 

Please, click here for registering to the free webinar. Don’t forget to invite your friends as well.

 

Christopher Columbus estimated the globe to be smaller. However, even when we live nowadays in a global village we still did not succeed to cover over the time gap. I had to find a compromise between Europe and the US knowing that the gap of time is five hours or more.

 

I am looking forward to meeting you in two days.

 

Isaac

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God does not employ accountants

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Last week a friend of mine, Cristina de Azevedo Rosa, shared with me a very interesting presentation of Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen named “How will you measure your Life”.

clay

 

Christensen claims that we all look to succeed in our lives. However, the way we measure this success in life is flawed for three reasons. Firstly, we tend to invest in immediate achievements that in many cases stray from our values as humans. Secondly, this measure is quantitative. Since we cannot grasp data in detail we tend to aggregate it. If we run an organization, for example, we cannot grasp the notion of the individual and we refer to people who work for us as “human resource” – we aggregate the data to render it meaningful and manageable for us. Thirdly, we are comparative creatures. We cannot measure in absolute terms but in relative ones. Having more money than the other or controlling more people are some of the indications for success.

 

However, how useful are these yardsticks for measuring success in life?  Christensen asserts that God does not employ accountants. In other words, when we are going to face God at the end of our lives these measures won’t help us much. Firstly, our short-term achievements will be reviewed for their long-term benefit. Secondly, God does not employ accountants or statisticians for aggregating the data. He is able to address each individual encounter to assess success without losing the overall sight. Last, God measures in the absolute – God is not relative.

 

Consequently, Christensen suggests us to measure our life along measures that can be used when we will encounter God. Is this going to happen? Using Christensen’s arguments I doubt very much. We tend to cede long-term great goals for short-term perks. Secondly, we are human and cannot grasp large data bases – we need to aggregate them to render them sensible and last, as humans we cannot think in absolute terms – we need to compare and contrast.

 

Is there another way to live life worth living? How should we measure it? Allow me to suggest two measures, pointing to the trap Christiansen fell into. The first is the pursuing of achievement. The question is whether what we call achievement can be considered as such by Him. Is our myopic, narrow and relativistic view suitable for clearly defining what true achievement means? Jewish sages posit that we will not be measured for what we achieved but for our efforts to get there, regardless to where we arrived to at the end of our life.

 

The two other flaws that Christiansen point to form my second measure which is a measure of leadership. We tend to measure the degree of leadership using measures of comparing and contrasting. When comparing we check people along their relative hierarchical position. When contrasting, we check people along the type of the issues they deal with. Are they deal with strategies and policies or do they deal with the individual. We tend to see the leader as the one who deal with what we consider important and fundamental issues ceding the mundane ones or delegating them to others. Leadership is grasped as being responsible for other, more important issues.

 

Fortunately, I was educated differently. My masters who were and are grate leaders never closed their doors to anyone. Many of them created fundamental changes that made the world look differently thereafter but at the same time each individual, being a small child or a public figure found his place by them, got their empathy and care. They did not change the issues they dealt with; they just enlarged their scope of responsibility. We do not need to wait for our meeting with God for finding out how to measure our lives. Having these two measures in mind – investing ceaselessly in progressing toward our goal and being truly responsible can turn our life into something worth living for.

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Happy New Year

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Tomorrow evening we will celebrate the Jewish New Year.  This is a moment of reflection at what we achieved in the past and what our plans for the future are. Looking back to where I was last year I am happy to see how plans start to take form, how fuzzy ideas start to get shape and I am looking toward the coming year with enthusiasm and with hope in the coming weeks we will be able to start participating more using various means, deepen our understanding of us and the world around us.

 

I wish you happy New Year. Let’s hope that the coming year would bring to all of us health, wealth, prosperity and enjoyment.

 

Isaac

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Do you really want to see a change?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

This is the second part of my previous blog and proposes a strategic marketing approach for the diamond industry.

 

As in 2008, I was approached with an important question. It is easy to criticize, but are there suggestions you can share with the diamond industry about what steps it should take to pull itself out of its misery? This is an honest question and while I cannot outline a full plan here, I will draw people’s attention to some basic ideas that I think they should follow if they are really concerned with the diamond industry’s future. Actually, these ideas are basic to any marketing strategy in any industry with any offer.

 

  • Know your customer

Sounds simple? You’d be surprised to learn how many companies do not know their customers. Decisions are made high in the supply chain while the customer is at the end. How many executives really bother to go out and meet their customers, to talk to them and learn what’s on their minds? How many know how to ask the right questions? The old marketing adage says that we buy by our emotions, but justify the purchase with logical arguments. How many know what the emotional motives behind a purchase are? How many know how to identify those motives? How can we make a marketing decision when we do not know what motivates the customer and how we can satisfy the customer with our offer? Know your customer, figure out his emotional needs and see how you can answer them with your offer.

 

  •  Map your offer

This is the other side of the marketing coin. In 1938 De Beers understood that it had to create demand for its diamonds and invented the market for diamond engagement rings.  The diamonds used were relatively large and were suitable for solitaire rings. However, with the discovery of the small Russian diamonds which did not fit the engagement offer, De Beers developed the idea of the anniversary ring which used those tiny diamonds. The anniversary ring was a derivative of the original offer of the diamond engagement ring and those tiny diamonds were found to satisfy the needs typical for a couple a few years into marriage.

 

However, when Indians proved that they could polish diamonds that were previously considered unpolishable, nobody came up with a suitable marketing offer. The diamond customer today has a variety of emotional needs that need to be mapped. Next, the diamond stock needs to be mapped as well. Different diamonds are suitable for different emotional needs. We know about two types: the relatively larger diamonds, mainly solitaires for diamond engagement rings, and the smaller ones suitable for anniversary rings. However, we need to map the diamond stock more carefully and in detail so as to get a clear picture of what diamond is suitable for satisfying which particular emotional need. Are we sure that any polished diamond is actually a diamond that can be offered as one, once we take into account the emotional needs of the customer? Can any polished crystalized carbon be used in jewellery?

 

I should point out that in general, marketing offers like I’m describing are not common in the diamond industry. A marketing offer reflects the answer in the market found to the emotional needs of the customer. Answering these needs creates a “pull” effect, or true demand. By comparison, when the diamond market became totally unaware of the emotional needs of its customers and was concerned merely with disposing its wares, it created a “push” effect. The reason behind this practice is financial – pleasing the bankers and competing on supply. The sad result is that nobody pays attention to whether the customer really wants the product in the first place.

 

  • Know yourself

Do we have a loyal diamond customer? Most customers are excursionists who go to the jeweller for their engagement rings and disappear from the horizon for the rest of their lives.  Even when we bring them to purchase again, it takes a few years. Most jewellers act as supermarkets as opposed to carving out a niche for themselves. They sell an engagement ring today, tomorrow another piece of cheap fancy jewellery and will even replace a watch battery. However, in acting as supermarkets, they become supermarkets – providing no personal attention, no brand identity or affinity, with shelves packed with indistinguishable offers and cashiers at the end waiting only for the customer’s money.

 

Has anyone asked himself what he really wants to do? What market he wants to concentrate on? Many years ago I was sitting at a panel with the London jeweller Theo Fennell. Theo argued that he does not want to cater to the engagement ring market since the emotional, social and financial burden that lies on the man’s shoulder is so enormous. A representative of De Beers stood up and claimed that this approach is insane since statistics show that the market for engagement rings is the most important by far. To this Theo very gallantly offered that this woman shove her statistics up somewhere, since he was dealing with real people and not with numbers.  Theo had a clear idea of who he is and who he would like to meet. Occasionally he would sell a diamond engagement ring but this was clearly not his market. He does not replace watch batteries either.

 

 

To sum up, if we are really concerned with the future of the diamond market, we have to take three strategic steps, by answering these very fundamental questions.

 

Firstly, we need to ask whether there is a market out there for our product or if we can we create one. Are there any emotional needs that are worth pursuing and providing an answer to? De Beers realized in 1932 that there was no diamond market and went about creating one.

 

Secondly, can we satisfy these emotional needs with our products and how? Is it a single need that we need to satisfy, an entire range of needs or maybe a single need that keeps on changing its face according to socio-demographic concerns? Which of our products are appropriate for which emotional needs? What products do we still need to search for the need that it will be the answer to?

 

Finally, are we looking to satisfy the entire range of desires or are we interested in carving our own niche? What would this niche look alike? What do we have to know? What supply channels do we need to secure? Most importantly, how can we communicate our existence to our customer of choice?

 

If the diamond industry or any other industry would follow these guidelines, I think they would succeed. One of the people who inspired me most was Steve Jobs who had a clear vision and could answer these three elements of proper marketing fully. Unfortunately, it seems that Steve Jobs took his vision with him and did not leave his legacy in Apple. This does not mean that we cannot turn the diamond industry or any other industry around. After all, what I describe here is what I call luxury marketing.

 

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