Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Luxury brands - sanity or vanity?

Luxury brands – sanity or vanity?
In response to being asked several questions regarding the marketing of luxury brands I decided to include my comments in an article. The questions were –
·         What do I think of the tactics luxury fashion brands employ to encourage consumers to trust in them
·         Why we are so trusting of the 'double C' of Chanel or the red soles of a Louboutin shoe?
·         Why branding is so successful and how advertisements stimulate a desire for the product/brand in question
·         Why do we find it difficult to spend money on an expensive item if we are not aware of the brand name? Surely it is the quality we want to invest in, not simply a label?
·         Where has this 'label-desire' emerged from and how has it evolved?

Let’s begin with your apparent frustration at what makes consumers more likely to buy into a label above quality. I did smile at your comment “simply a label” and imagined luxury brand designers doing a ‘Meryl Streep’ from the Devil Wears Prada. This is my take on your questions ….

Luxury brands started as unknown, quality but new; what they have been able to cultivate is desirability, (I imagine in early days through their network of contacts fostered from birth, educational establishments, parental contacts, privileged lifestyles, sheer talent, right place/right time ….or any combination of these!)
Hold in the mind the mentality of people who occupy a world where £500 for a blouse or £200 for a scarf is seen as a small treat (the equivalent of lipstick or chocolate bar in ‘ordinary’ life). And they buy it because they can. The slavish trust of the 'double C' of Chanel or the red soles of a Louboutin shoe you mention is an external badge of wealth, the trust being that others will recognise this wealth and exclusivity and acknowledge it with appropriate deference.
The people I believe you are occupied by are those who are driven entirely by vacuous ideals of ‘association’ equalling self-worth and respect.  Being seen wearing the right label, eating in the right restaurant, driving the right car etc. is their imperative.
Parallel to this is the egotistical thought that they are the trailblazers, the people who lead the way, who others aspire to be, those who can influence their ‘tribe’ (however ridiculous this appears, especially with fashion and beauty treatments. Think puff-ball skirts, Ugg boots, injecting lamb placenta, drinking grass etc!)
Couple this with the association of price being directly equated with quality. Luxury brands simply wouldn’t be seen as genuine unless they have an associated price tag. And this constitutes part of the pleasure, being able to announce in a cool and aloof style how much something cost. Otherwise what’s the point?
So, either through privilege or talent, a brand is associated with its dominant or early adopters, (often the wealthiest or more eccentric), and so the momentum builds. Years ago this took time to build and cultivate, however, a brand becoming global and aspirational is now increasingly hijacked by a prevailing culture and obsession with celebrity (or royalty, aka Princess Diana & Duchess of Cambridge) in particular what brands they wear and love (with often dubious associations, especially in skincare).
The impact of being showcased in the media is immediate, with demand reaching unprecedented levels as a direct result of being worn by the people the media suggest ‘we all want to be like’. 
Luxury brands are successful for many reasons (consistency, innovation, design, quality etc) but in answer to the central question you are asking, (luxury brands and the obsession people have with owing the label), it comes down to a simple yet highly seductive suggestion …….’this could be you’ ……. and few are impervious to this message. 
Rationality does not apply, nor does intellect. It boils down to our accepting message that youth, beauty, desirability, sophistication and style can all be yours when you wear this brand. Perception versus reality.
Desirability, despite a recession or economic austerity will always exist. It is, and always will be, a part of the human psyche …..delusional perhaps, yet an inevitable consequence of externalised measures of self-worth and respect. No matter how bad life becomes luxury brands are like a salve for bruised egos, their desirability growing exponentially when times are hard.
Society is made up of various ‘tribes’, ‘worlds’, or ‘herds’ dominated by the wealthiest, who almost always hold the power, and who everyone else aspires to be. An element of this aspiration is what the top tribes are wearing. Aspiring tribes can ape the object of their desire simply by reproducing the ‘look’. They may not have the contacts, the opportunities or the wealth but they can feel just like them (and so project success) by copying their style. (This can also work in reverse as with the negative chav association with Burberry, or the Adidas wearing hooligan rioting for their Xbox in 2012)
What we wear, what we drive, how we look, etc is short-hand for the respect we command, how we’re valued, and so ultimately, how we’re judged by others and ourselves. Yes, it’s an entirely specious, shallow and flawed measure to the accuracy of a person’s value or moral principles, however, it exists and is becoming increasingly prevalent, so rejecting it as part of a marketing or advertising campaign for a brand would be insanity.
You appear especially confounded by the inability or reluctance of people to recognise quality, be prepared to pay a premium for this, and ignore the fact it has no label/brand association.

The label is the imperative!

Increasingly people are unable to discern or recognise quality simply because the need to be perceived as wealthy and successful surpasses everything else, and luxury brands/labels now fulfil this need by providing an effortless façade.

Luxury brands are more than “simply a label”; they are without exception the innovators, the bastions of quality and the pioneers of attention to detail.
All of which comes at a cost.
The fact that the brand gets seized upon and adopted by an apparently indiscriminate herd electing to use it as compensation or evidence of their wealth is viewed as collateral damage by most of the brands in their pursuit of quality, design and innovation.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Never underestimate floor play

How good is your floor play?

There are so many retailers wasting their money and resources on glossy marketing simply because the in-store experience fails to match customer experiences. Rather like being attracted to a woman's 'dangerous curves' only to discover its all padding and fillers! (I can say this, I'm a woman). And, it seems, the problem is getting worse because of the proliferation of online channels raising shoppers’ expectations.

If the objective of the retailers glossy marketing is to seduce us into their stores, and clicking through their sites, then surely it makes sense to ensure the end experience is just as glossy? This is, after all, where our ultimate buying decisions are made. If your floor play is poor customers get left feeling frustrated and resentful - certainly not an experience they'd like to repeat!

The face-to-face experience remains the purest form of brand experience and yet is consistently overlooked in preference for the easier, sexier and instantly gratifying world of marketing and advertisments

Exclusive research among 3,000 consumers to Marketing Week reveals that it is crucial consumers’ actual shopping experience matches what a brand has promised in its communications. Half of those polled by agency Live & Breathe say they look forward to visiting a high street store because of the image they have of a brand, only to be disappointed by poor product availability when they arrive.

The 'red thread' theory must be adopted by businesses if they want to avoid consumer cynicism, destroyed confidence and mistrust - this involves an equal focus and investment in the store experience as in glossy brand communication. Consistency is critical in the battle for loyal customers and 'forgive-ability' - saying one thing and doing another may be tempting but the impact is fatal for the success and relevance of the retailer.

Women are far more likely to notice, and subsequently become irritated however, men are just as likely to vote with their wallets and look elsewhere for the same thing.

Some things to avoid (and so invest in putting right) include -

  • Tatty shop fits with poor lighting and grubby fitting rooms
  • Visual pollution that confuses and overwhelms
  • Uninterested and bored sales teams who know nothing about your 'stuff'
  • Long queues - however great the product having to wait means perception plummets
  • No-one to ask for assistance because they're all busy with tasks
Glossy marketing counts for little if you're unable to deliver where it counts - in reality disappointing customers in the store does more damage than if you'd just kept quiet and they didn't know you existed. Consumers measures of competency are rarely, if ever, the same as our own. Assume nothing. Be honest with yourself. Remain consistent. Invest where it counts most. Quit posing - start performing.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Do we need to get more like the French?

Do we need to get more like the French?

Recent research shows Brits get exactly what we deserve with service in the UK. Respondents were asked a series of questions to establish if they had ever boycotted a store or brand because of consistently poor service and if not, what would motivate them to do so.

It seems we’re largely apathetic when it comes to taking action, preferring to content ourselves with droning on about it instead. Staggeringly, less than 1% of respondents would actually complain or boycott the business.

Certainly, customer service is discussed as compulsively as the British weather…… so perhaps this is the reason why few are prepared to take a stand? Like the weather, is it that regarding service we believe little can be done to change it?

The survey results would suggest so. With over 47% feeling ‘too embarrassed’ to complain the remainder showed a troubling degree of apathy with comments such as “I simply can’t be bothered to complain because it doesn’t make any difference” or “what’s the point? They never listen to me”. 75% felt reluctant to complain to frontline staff either because of indifference or because they believed the issue remains outside of the assistants’ control “so what’s the point in giving them grief when it starts at HO”.

Rather like global warming, the problem of poor service appears to be too large, too complex and beyond our capacity to correct. And like global warming, the impact of our apparent apathy will take years to become fatal - the eventual outcome will surely be complete service extinction?

This all feels a little counter-intuitive, as very few companies will become sufficiently motivated to care or feel inclined to improve their service position as long as the paying punter, well……. continues to pay!

It seems the bar is now set so low that even small moderations in consumers’ behaviour and attitudes would pay dividends. Surely with this new-found frugality and economic downturn the time has come to sacrifice some short-term inconvenience for the losses to become long-term gains in service? Or is it that we lack the verve to become a little embarrassed, take a stand and demand change like the French do??

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Scrutinised or Seduced?

Retail experiences – scrutinised or seduced?

Unless you've been on planet Zog you’ll have noticed it was Valentines Day this week, and some of the attitudes and behaviours of my friends got me thinking about how subjective ‘attention’ is, in particular with retail brands.

Personally I loathe the idea of a prescribed day of romance so resist the clichéd pressure with a fierce determination, and in much the same way I resent intrusions from retailers who think they can anticipate how I want to spend money.

It would appear retailers are better informed about us than ever before – so how come some give us the creeps while others bliss us out with their attention? In a world where we demand ‘show me don’t tell me’ retailers must now demonstrate they ‘know’ us by making the experience relevant as well as personal.

The question is how to provide us with increasingly personal shopping experiences without falling into the creep out zone?

The answer lies with the critical aspect of consent. Before retailers can reasonably expect us to be delighted with their attention (rather than feeling our privacy is being violated) they must understand that ‘knowing the customer’ now means providing us with tips, advice and offers that help us out. Actions which support our buying habits are the ones which bliss us out, and the creepy behaviour is where the retailer has studied information based on personal demographics and used this to take a punt on what we love.

And that’s the thing – we choose who we want to be close to. Before retailers can ever hope to succeed they must develop a consensual relationship based on respecting our choices rather than the ones they’d prefer we make (or the ones they’re sponsored to persuade us to make). They must embrace the notion that we’re either into them or we’re not, and start to respect this.

So, how wonderful would it be for our favourite store or brand to delight us with random surprises when we least expect it, compared to the Valentine equivalent of prescribed attention that doesn’t really mean that much.

At the supermarket instead of a loyalty card, a coupon or a voucher wouldn’t it be great if the cashier was able to spontaneously announce “we know you’re favourite coffee is blah so as a thank you there’s a free one ready for you when you next visit” or in the coffee shop they said “have that one on us today” – far more memorable and packed with surprise and delight. Yet its all based on the same techie information systems currently employed.

As in the world of relationships, we notice what people don’t do, rather than what they actually do, and the minute we start to feel taken for granted resentment and cynicism sets in. Rather like the world of romance, retailers have to place their attention on subtle seduction rather than an obvious technique. So to avoid the accusation of “bet you say that to all the girls” retailers must be prepared to support, respect and encourage what we love already – and give us more of it!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Romancing in retail ....fashion

Sounds so obvious but wouldn't it be fab if all the people working in fashion retail actually knew a little about, well, fashion! Nothing too fancy, just one or two pieces of advice they could give to numpties like me who don’t really have a clue what really suits them.

I was truly, absolutely and utterly delighted when I visited New Look in Solihull last Saturday. I confess I didn't have much of an expectation when it came to receiving service, but rather like a party you’re not looking forward to, I had a great time once I got there. I mooched the store, selected a few items to ‘try on’ (sadly, as a wizened fart, the days when I could buy something and know for sure it would fit/suit me are long gone) and this was when the delight began ……..

The fitting rooms are really rather lovely – none of the usual high street tumbleweed dust balls, dirty mirrors, chewing gum or broken doors. Next came the ‘big mirror’ experience. I don’t know about you but when I try on clothes I want out of the little cubical PDQ to get a proper look at the outfit (latent catwalk yearning perhaps?) The etched quote on the central mirror is in the tone & personality of a mischievous best friend urging you out, then, even better than that, it actually encourages you to be honest with the female next to you – if she looks gorgeous – tell her! Yey

Then the defining moment. A sales assistant who (a) knew her stuff (b) had energy, enthusiasm & charm (c) was helpful, friendly and like a breathe of spearmint fresh air. A total joy. Let’s call her retail Rosie – not more than 17, maybe 18, she knew how to engage me, advise me, share her knowledge and suggest alternatives. I just loved it – she wasn't in the slightest bit pushy, simply loved what she was doing – and it showed by the bucketful!

I took her advice, made my choices and left for home feeling like a million dollars …….all because retail Rosie showed an interest, listened and was confident enough to share her enthusiasm

What she did that was so delightful …….

  • Smiled – simple & so obvious but sadly missing from high street retailing
  • Paid me a genuine compliment (must have been, other customers said naarce stuff too)
  • Made sensible suggestions in a charming, conversational way “tell you what looks great with that” or “I saw a lady this morning try that with a belt and it looked lovely” or “that colour really suits you, bet you’ve already got black trousers you could wear it with” and then finally, “when you’re tall it can be really tough finding the right fit but that shirt looks great” – genuine, honest and thoughtful
  • She made suggestions then she shut up! Never in my face, pestering or badgering – simply available with a smile or eye contact whenever I ventured for the ‘big mirror’
  • She said smiled and said thank you when I left the fitting room
  • Nothing was a pain – I’m so fatigued by sales assistants huffing, rolling their eyes or tutting in exasperation when I seek their advice – they just give me attitude and I don’t need theirs, I got one of my own!!

If fashion retailers made a conscious effort to recruit individuals with the energy, brilliance and enthusiasm shown by retail Rosie then the British economy would see a significant shift upwards – we’d all be seduced into a little but highly pleasurable retail therapy.

Romancing in Retail .......skin care

Hello and a heartfelt welcome to the first addition of romancing in skin care retail, a specialist blog for all skincare therapists and consultants. The aim is to offer inspiration, thought provocation, endorsement, and touches of humour in your world of retailing skin care products.

Surprise & Delight

This has nothing to do with ‘traffic stopping’ although the effect is just as valuable. The difference with the romancing principles is both you and the customer feel fabulous with the greeting – as of now approach everything you do and say with an “every encounter counts” mentality.

Quit using traffic stopping techniques which customers dread, and you’re bored to death with. Instead, engage your charm and imagination and begin to make every encounter count.

Ban the 4 most useless words in retail

Banned from this instant are the words “can I help you?” – it is dull in the extreme and makes you look like a numtie. Replace with a few of these suggestions, mix with several of your own and make it into a bit of a game. Have fun. Laugh a little. Be authentic. Be lovely

  • Compliment the person – love the style or colour of their coat/dress/hair? Then say so! Children do this effortlessly and it is charming, highly infectious and deeply irresistible – think for a minute how fabulous you feel when a complete stranger pays you a genuine compliment – so easy to do, and how much fun is it to make as your mission each day ‘discover something lovely about everyone’
  • Dare to be different – so few skincare consultants smile and say hello, and I have no idea why, we’re surrounded by such loveliness – what’s not to smile about?? Stand out from the glumness and say hello & smile at everyone (yes, even grumpy knickers, they offer the greatest reward when the smile gets returned)
  • Start an epidemic – smiling, enthusiasm and excitement are all totally infectious – so let’s start an epidemic. This has nothing to do with being perennially and psychotically irritating and everything to do with making the decision to communicate with energy and passion what you love about your products ……don’t love them? Leave – you do yourself a huge disservice staying with something you hate
  • Show off more! – when you have knowledge about skincare you owe to me to share this knowledge. Quit assuming I already understand why an eye cream is an essential part of my battle against face migration – I don’t! Quit assuming I want to know about product ingredients and ask me what I want to know about. I must, must, must leave smarter than when I arrived so inspire me with your expertise & insider knowledge
  • Answers create natural conversations – when you ask a question do you truly listen to the answer or are you waiting to speak? Asking questions is definitely the secret to creating great connections and effortless conversations so make it your mission to ask your question and then shut up! Sometimes people need a little time, especially if you’ve asked a fab question they’ve never thought about before, so give people space & time to answer instead of jumping into the silence. It really is the greatest compliment you can pay another – genuine listening is a rare and beautiful thing

The next blog will be about the ways we unwittingly confuse the customers ……until then, keep shining!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The tale of tiresome tyres and hysterical brides

Tyres and brides – not a natural marriage (sorry, should have resisted) however, the moral of the story means they did not live happily ever after.

When will companies wake up to the fact that blaming customers simply doesn’t make for ‘happy ever after’ – never, never, never ….

Take my friend who wanted a new tyre on his car. Web price shows an all-in price of £166 (it’s a very posh car). Delighted he calls his local branch, enquiring about availability. He’s then asked what the car is (uhh oh, that’ll move the decimal point to the right) to be told “that’ll be £220 all in mate” …grrrrr, he’s not your mate …..

Explaining he’d seen it cheaper on the web he then gets offered “£175 all-in mate” – so what stopped them offering this price to begin with???

The customer waiting area was unlit, the coffee machine was filthy (and cost £2.00) and the magazines were ratty …….what was the brand message being experienced?

Confident, competent, honest or sloppy, careless, dodgy – you decide

And so to the bride …..and this just makes my jaw drop

Friend getting married, doing so in major style, decides it has to be a dress to die for (metaphorically we trust) so appoints high profile designer Susan Goodchild (the £ signs are immense at this stage).

Abridged version – went to collect on Saturday, full of excited anticipation & happiness. Sadly not to last - dress has been made for what appears to be friends younger and potentially anorexic sister – it simply ain’t gonna fit in a million years.

Wondering if they’ve got 2 dresses mixed up my friend (the customer paying vast sums of money remember) is told it must be her fault!!! She must have got the size wrong!

Erm, hello, this is a designer, tailor made dress, how on earth could she have got the size wrong??

By now in tears she is told “well, you’ll just have to make do with one of the dresses from stock”.

Far be it from me to suggest the dresses from stock are any less than totally gorgeous, being told “you’ll just have to make do” is not what a bride-to-be wants to hear.

Leaving the store without a solution and spending the weekend in tears, she eventually receives a call from the designer on Monday afternoon and is told “well, you must have put on weight” (this is a lady who’s recovering from liver cancer so I think not) ……there now remains something of an impasse. Friend doesn’t have a dress – designer doesn’t appear to have a solution.

And it’s all her fault!

Obvious points here, however I just wonder how many times common-sense flies out of the window, where employees and business owners lose sight of what they’re all about. I describe it as ‘choose your battles’ ……..some customers really do attempt to take advantage, however it’s rare. Most simply expect common courtesy, understanding and a ‘what can we do to put this right’ attitude – nothing too complicated really. Staff need to understand this attitude is going to win more business, increase loyalty and create a far more pleasant day. Leaders need to give permission. Customers are not the enemy