Thursday, October 30, 2008

Imagine – a Unicef luxury watch!

Defining luxury goods

While there could be many ways of defining luxury goods, possibly one key element of all the definitions will be that the functional benefit that the consumer gets out of buying luxury, though substantial, normally does not commensurate with the price paid, and the deficit is made up by emotional gratification. While emotional gratification also constitutes an important part of delivery in mass market products, the difference is that for mass market products the balance of delivery is tilted towards functional benefits, whereas for luxury products the balance gets skewed in favour of emotional payoffs.

If this premise is accepted, we need to explore whether it is possible to expand the range of emotional gratification that the consumer may get from spending a large sum of money, which does not offer commensurate functional gratification. The emotions that the luxury goods marketers have traditionally been exploiting have been prestige, class and exclusivity. Luxury advertising often portrays its users as being unique, belonging to an exclusive clique and admired and fawned upon by others.

New emotional gratifications

Human beings are complex animals and have a range of emotional needs. While needs for prestige and admiration are well established, and it is also known that consumer is willing to pay to satisfy these needs, it should be possible to go beyond these into new areas of gratification. I hypothesise that it is possible to go beyond these clich├ęd emotional gratifications and persuade the consumer to pay luxury prices for a range of products and services, offering newer types of emotional gratifications.

These needs include a need to feel responsible, helpful and leading a worthwhile existence. “Giving back” to the society is an often theme heard among those who have made it and feel that they owe something. I present below three new avenues for luxury goods. These avenues, I feel, will not only lead to profits for companies who explore these, but will also contribute to the good of society.

Green luxury

More and more hybrid cars are getting sold in the developed world. Sold at a significant premium, functionally they offer little more (in fact a little less, some will argue) as compared to the conventional gas guzzlers. However, the purchase is fueled by (pun intended) a need to prove (to oneself as well as others) of being a responsible consumer. More extreme is the example of cars run on fuel cells whose only emission is pure water – which in spite of the enormous cost is finding retail customers in the US and is considered by some to be the ultimate environmental status symbol. As environmental awareness increases, consumers are keen to reduce their carbon footprints and are willing to pay more for products and services which are environmentally friendly. Luxury good opportunities exist in areas of personal vehicles, energy solutions and green homes as also for a range of products and services which espouse environmentally friendly production and distribution methods.

Responsible luxury

The 2006 film Blood Diamonds created awareness about conflict diamonds and made one wonder whether the beautiful stones you are sporting are tinted in the blood of innocent people who are exploited and killed for profiteering and diamond money. RugMark is an international nonprofit organization which randomly inspects the looms of companies that agree to employ adults only and provides a child-labor free certification for rugs. With cost pressures and competition, companies have been going out of their way to cut costs. While doing that some have also fallen to the temptation of cutting corners. Luxury goods buyers will pay a premium for the emotional satisfaction that their joy of owning the product which is not produced at the cost of exploitation of others. Luxury good buyers will pay more for consumption for products certified to be made ethically and responsibly.

Charitable luxury

While charity balls is not a new concept, a charity Louis Vuitton handbag is. Unicef attempts to raise money by selling products under its brand but offers little more than New year cards, some trinkets and toys. The challenge for luxury goods manufacturers is to sell more to the buyer and make them indulge in frequent purchases. In doing that they need to find new appeals and draws. While on the face of it, the concept of luxury handbags while the poor are starving may be repellant, but the combination of the two is practical and offers a win-win situation for the buyer, the seller, and the poor. I feel that there is scope for selling luxury goods, with the sales linked to donations for the needy. In doing that, we will enrich the emotional satisfaction of the buyers and also contribute to charity (meeting the emotional needs of the rich and the functional needs of the poor!)

Written by Ashok Sethi TNS China