Inner Culture Par Excellence

“Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.”Coco Chanel

In an ever more connected world it is evident that we are succeeding in boosting the quantity and speed of connections. However, it is not only the quantity of connections but also their quality that, I think, deserves equal - if not more - attention. There are already several initiatives by global technology giants to connect more people to the Internet. Connecting everyone? Making life easier? Making the world a better place? Saving the world? Sure, these are all great, albeit somewhat idealistic, directions to take. But how about complementing these good causes with the direction of building paradise on earth in which relationships are at their qualitative heights? Having many friends on Facebook isn’t a measure for the bond between your brand and the affinity your audience shares. Because raising the quantity of connections doesn’t proportionally raise the quality of connections in everyday life. What is the secret of maximizing the quality of communication and relationships? How can we build stronger bridges within companies, between brands, individuals and for the world in general?

A stimulating answer to these questions may well be found in the inner workings of luxury brands. The near-recession-proof world of luxury can teach us a thing or two about building an internal culture in which meaning, a higher purpose and relationships operate together in a well balanced and mindful mode. Cultivating internal culture par excellence is what the global village can learn from luxury brands. At the core of this culture lies a deeply rooted, meaningful purpose. For instance, Manfredi Ricca and Rebecca Robins from Interbrand explain the various aspects of such culture of excellence with case studies in their book called Meta-Luxury. Today there are many luxury brands that set an example when it comes to cultivating culture par excellence. Dr. Rapaille, a cultural anthropologist and marketing consultant, speaks of Ritz Carlton’s internal culture summarizing it as “ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentlemen.” This principle creates a culture in which the quality of the relationships between employees and customers increases. I call this ‘the high mirror principle’ - it is most definitely much more than just a formula for a luxury hotel brand. In fact, I would argue that this magic, yet simple principle has the potential to improve the global village that we live in.

Cultivating internal culture par excellence is what the global village can learn from luxury brands.

As Ritz Carlton rightly understood: good service costs nothing. You don’t have to be an ambassador for a luxury brand to behave as a gentleman or as a lady. Etiquette, well mannered and, to some extent, theatrical behavior costs nothing except the time spent on training. With the right attitude, anyone could apply the high mirror principle. Indeed, we would all be better off if we applied the high mirror principle of ‘relationships of equals’ for the purpose of improving societal relations on a macro scale. So ‘being a lady or a gentleman’, whether you work in a luxury boutique or in large, retail organization, the underlying principle always implies being on the very opposite of vulgarity; not only in appearance but also in attitude, thought and mindset. If this magic principle were applied in micromanagement of our relations and conversations with others in daily life, it would have an enormous effect on the macro management of global and intercultural affairs, too.

Learning such formulas of enormous potential from the purpose enabled world of luxury is a contribution to improve and smoothen brands and businesses at large, too. Well, perhaps this is a bold thought. But think about a culture within corporations around the world in which ‘ladies and gentlemen serve ladies and gentlemen’ rather than workers serving bosses. I have a dream for that world. Picture a world where in daily life wherever customers go they communicate with ladies and gentlemen. Regardless of function, hierarchy, culture, religion, geography or generation. A world where there are no clashes in dialogues. Think about a global village in which every interaction is a pleasant experience. A world in which gentlemen’s agreements are as legitimate and concrete as official legal contracts. This would be the brand’s equivalent construction of heaven on earth, where integrity shines through from within – and not the other way around. This would be about being a gentleman or a lady not only in appearance but first and foremost in essence, in behavior, in relationships for improving the quality of socio-professional life. This is integrity turned inside out. On the anthropological and macroeconomic level, instead of pulling the higher classes down to the low culture, we need to reveal these codes for everyone to see – the concept of alleviation implies that cultural progress is also based on ‘moving up’. One doesn’t need a title or a high position to behave in the courteous way a stately ambassador would. One doesn’t need to be knighted to act in a noble manner. As Prof. Stefano D’Anna says, it is in fact the other way around: “Be a king first, then kingdom will come.”

Think about your business as a global village in which every interaction is a pleasant experience.

Craftsmen, their skills honed over decades and generations, are at the core of what the luxury story encapsulates: something special made for someone very special. Luxury companies live a purpose activated culture par excellence in which good is just not good enough - but also where it is understood that perfection is the end of innovation. What remains is a deep appreciation for the human component in value creation. If executive leadership together with their boards and shareholders would root its action more strongly in (long term) heritage, deep inner purpose with a view to the future beyond the next quarter, if leadership were there to celebrate a culture of excellence based on integrity, humanity and trust, would we not all be better off?

If we are to help our organizations and our brands to thrive in tomorrows markets, then we need to find the optimum way of communicating a common agreement for intercultural dialogue both for the day-to-day life and the long-term agenda of commerce. We need to identify ways that can smoothen the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Learning from luxury brands how to cultivate internal culture offers a great way to look at a stimulating proxy. Adopting the necessary principles from luxury brands and using the high mirror principle of ‘ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen’, we can all start cultivating a culture par excellence. This is, I believe, a dream worth spreading.



Image Source: Mihaly A. Zichy "The Ball in the Concert Hall of the Winter Palace during the Official Visit of Nasir al-Din Shah in May 1873"

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