Technology meets Luxury

The relationship between luxury and technology has always been a complex one and now it is becoming romantically complicated. “There are no political solutions, only technological ones; the rest is propaganda.” – said the French sociologist Jacques Ellul before the advent of the internet. Looking at the current ‘electro-dollar’ economy we can well observe that we are perhaps indeed looking at the intersection of luxury and technology from the wrong angle. Consequently, this can create a series of inaccurate conclusions about the role of luxury within the technological realm. What are the strategic approaches for dealing with technology in relation to luxury brand management?

Only Fools Rush In

Some analysts imply that the global luxury industry is still late in adapting to technological changes or investing sufficiently in digitalization. Burberry and a few others left aside, this is perhaps true: Luxury brands certainly were and are not the ones leading the pack when it comes to digital progress. The missing point hower is that in the luxury business model decisions about technology are made in very different ways; luxury marketing works differently. In a world where scarcity drives demand, leveraging the democratizing effects of technology is just not natural and hence an ordinary brand management perspective is insufficient. Luxury brands are rightly so taking the time to prepare their strategic steps in relation to technology. As Dr. Jean-Nöel Kapferer, Emeritus Professor at HEC Paris and luxury brand strategist, accurately puts it in his article about the future of luxury: “Contrary to popular belief, the luxury industry is not afraid of digitalization. In fact, they worry about their uncontrollable successes. Putting iconic Chanel handbags up for sale on the net would mean doubling sales, but would that be good for the brand?”

Luxury marketing works differently. In a world where scarcity drives demand, leveraging the democratizing effects of technology is just not natural.

Many marketing and brand management professionals must find it difficult to understand this simple fact. Technology changes and fades away with the next ‘update’. What is the finest today is not the finest tomorrow (Sony’s PS5 is around the corner, and so is iOS14). Temporality is the new norm. Luxury, however, is the extreme opposite of that. What is the finest today will almost always be the finest in the future, creating a dimension of timeless appeal.

Meaningful Magic

Luxury brands need to find new approaches in dealing with the technological and digital paradigm shifts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Unlike conventional marketers, in my humble opinion, luxury brand managers should first try to truly understand what Sir Arthur C. Clarke had to say said about sophisticated technology: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” For some of the global luxury clientele (especially China; but also in the US) advanced technology equals magic. This is a fundamental mathematical (or geometrical) equation in luxury brand management. Consumers in non-luxury markets usually don’t expect magic from technology. However, according to the researcher, Dr. Clotaire Rapaille’s in the US, the unconscious culture code for technology is ‘magic’ and hence approaches luxury status.

For some of the of the global luxury clientele luxury plus advanced technology equals magic.

Today, there is a growing tendency and interest in more expensive high-end tech. For instance, consider brands like Bang & Olufsen in high-end audio or Blackmagic in high-end hardware. In the luxury automobiles category, for example, the Rolls Royce 103X is showing the way. Its design reminds us of futuristic aircraft, a spaceship, or a different type of a Batmobile. At the same time, the luxury brand doesn’t dwell on its past. The alchemical key lies in being able to keep the delicate balance between the past (history, heritage, legacy etc.) and the far future (novelty, advanced science, the beyond etc.). Similarly, Aston Martin’s Lagonda brand is being revived on the very notion that luxury and technology are not opposites, but in fact co-exist in order to ‘create technologically radical, visually spectacular, thoroughly modern and ultra-luxurious vehicles.’

Asking the right questions

When we talk about aspiration and reach, digital technology and especially social media become a very effective channel to build that necessary level of aspiration and desirability for luxury brands in a highly efficient way. Very complementary to what traditional PR has always been good at.

But not too quick … whilst it’s tempting to jump into the ‘doing’ before you go about implementing a digital strategy for a luxury brand, think very carefully why you do it, what it needs to achieve and how you will deliver against these objectives continuously and for the long term. Here are a few key practical questions to ask before pushing on:

• If we project our proposition into the future, will our product/brand remain timelessness?
• Will giving access (technology) to everyone strengthen or weaken our proposition?
• What will adding technology really add beyond efficiency?

Tying Technology to Purpose from within

Using an overarching reason-why (Purpose) as an active filter to evaluate how technology supports (or undermines) your value proposition is a smart idea. Take Thierry Hermès for example, founding his company in 1837 as a harness workshop in Paris. To him, technology was always a means to an end to do what he did. When cars started to replace horses (that’s technology, too), “making the best harnesses” would have unlikely resulted in the innovative and striving company Hermès is today. Instead, Thierry built a company culture anchored on strong values focused on the “pursuit of perfection” – always striving for more. Rather than succumbing to the tempting opportunities technology could have brought to his growing luxury fashion house, engraining timelessness as a driver of forward-motion instead has not only added focus and consistency, but it also paid off handsomely.

 

[1] What does the future hold for luxury? https://www.hec.edu/en/knowledge/thematic-list?themes=1241  

[2] Culture Code for Technology http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2006/0703/044.html

[3] High-end tech manufacturing https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Index_of_production_for_total_industry_and_main_technology_groups_in_manufacturing,_EU27,_2005_2012.png

[4] Experiential Tech – https://www.press.rolls-roycemotorcars.com/rolls-royce-motor-cars-pressclub/article/detail/T0279058EN/rolls-royce-103ex-continues-to-set-the-agenda-for-the-future-of-luxury-mobility-two-years-after-it-arrives?language=en

[5] Unpacking the digital and luxury conundrum http://www.markuskramer.net/unpacking-the-digital-luxury-conundrum/

[6] The Pursuit of Meaning http://www.markuskramer.net/pursuit-meaning/

[7] Aston Martin Lagonda Project https://www.lagonda.com/

Image Credentials:

Robot hand and extract from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

Image Link: https://cont.ws/uploads/pic/2016/6/vidovoj_krizis1.jpg