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11 Lessons You Can Learn From Luxury Brands

by Sam Tomlinson
April 1, 2024

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for nearly a year – and was finally inspired to write when I was sitting in a cafe in Paris: luxury marketing. 

Every company exists somewhere on a continuum from pure commodity (raw material suppliers, etc.) to pure luxury (Bugatti, Sunseeker, etc.) – with most brands drifting slowly, but steadily, closer to commodity. 

Part of that is the DTC-ification of commerce – we can research, compare and buy anything online, so more companies feel compelled to compete online. Part of it is a result of our (collective) marketing, which has sacrificed the principles of luxury on the altar of efficiency. And part of that is larger-scale commoditization – most people believe that every product can be replicated and replaced. 

Whether you’re new to this newsletter (welcome!) or a long time reader (thanks for sticking with me!), you’re probably aware that I’m a proponent of zigging when everyone else zags. And over the past decade, our industry, as a whole, has been on an inexorable march toward commoditization. 

I think it’s time to zig. In this particular context, that means digging up & piecing back together the luxury marketing playbook we tore to shreds when we all fell head over heels in love with attribution, scale and efficiency. It’s time to go back to doing things that don’t scale. 

After wandering through the Champs Elysees, doing some (window) shopping in the Golden Triangle, and taking in the sights (and the lights) throughout the city, there are two things in which I am supremely confident: (1) Paris is the City of true, old-world elegance, and (2) more brands would do to adopt some of the philosophies that have given rise to it.  

There’s an allure about luxury brands that’s near-impossible to precisely quantify, but is undeniably present in every interaction. The challenge for many brands is creating it in the first place – especially in a broader marketing ecosystem that increasingly pushes commoditization, efficiency and return. 

Over the next two weeks (since no one wants a 5,000+ word email), I’ll share the 11 lessons I’ve learned – and how you can apply them to your organization as well. 

Before we dive in, I’m not suggesting that every principle is right for every brand, or that the correct solution is to make a 180-degree about-face and sprint toward luxury. Rather, I think that every brand would do well to think about how these principles and approaches could be included within your existing organization – whether it’s something small (shifting your approach to email; placing more emphasis on aspirational vs. relatable creative, restricting inventory), or something larger (investing more in brand marketing, speaking in the singular, resisting the urge to compare your brand to competitors). 

So, take from this what is valuable to you – not every principle is applicable to every brand. But every brand can learn something from these principles: 

Lesson #1: Play The Long Game

Short-term-ism is a plague on long-term viability. I’m continually reminded of this slide, shared by JD Prater at HeroConf half a decade ago (that’s still as true today as it was back then): 

Short-term-ism – and  paid media – is overwhelmingly concentrated within that red box. 

Meanwhile, 94% of the decision is taking place somewhere else. Brand marketing is not the opposite of performance marketing; it’s the enabler for it. 

Luxury Brands understand this. These brands invest millions over years – some, billions over decades – in building their brand. While not all organizations have the resources and good fortune to make that level of investment, all would do well to think a little bigger, a little broader, and more critically at how well we’re investing for the long-term. 

I’m certainly not suggesting to eschew performance marketing entirely; but rather, I think we must look critically at the entire marketing mix. Many brands are surprised at the incrementality + impact of “brand” initiatives, especially when those initiatives are deployed using brilliant, emotive, brand-centric assets. 

Perhaps the single-greatest harm done to marketing (and by extension, brands) by the attribution obsession was the evisceration of brand marketing in favor of performance. Over the past year, I’ve seen and heard the pendulum swing back, with progressively more brands recognizing that marketing a brand should not operate by the same principles as day trading on Robinhood. 

Lesson #2: When It’s Ready, It’s Ready

For as long as I’ve worked in technology and marketing, there’s been an ethos that done is better than perfect. Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the roadmap to go to market (we’ll leave aside that everyone seems to have forgotten the importance of the “v” with the hot, broken garbage most companies ship these days) in virtually every industry, from DTC to tech to consumer products.  

The exception is luxury.

To illustrate this, on Thursday evening, I stopped into a Bistro for dinner, about 90 minutes before a call. After ordering, and waiting…and waiting – I asked if my food would be out shortly, or, if not, I could take a call outside. The waiter retorted (with a predictable amount of disdain), “It’s ready when it’s ready. Not before.” 

There’s more than a nugget of truth in that comment. It’s true that perfection is the antithesis of the good. But it is equally true that perfection is the ethos of the exceptional. 

Luxury brands don’t release half-baked ideas or half-finished products; if it isn’t perfect, it isn’t ready. And if it isn’t ready, it isn’t worthy of being presented to their customers. 

There is no minimum viable product for a luxury brands; there is only the product. And that product is either perfect or it isn’t ready. 

Far too many companies, in their (investor-driven) zeal to get to market, forget that offering a materially-deficient product to loyal customers is as short-termist as it gets. 

Yes, the MVP route boosts sales in the short-term. It certainly provides valuable data points for subsequent iteration. But all of that comes at a staggeringly high price: over the long term, it erodes brand relationships that have been built over years or decades. It reduces a brand to a commodity – and commodities can be replaced. 

My grandfather always said, “You always pay to learn. Sometimes they just don’t tell you the price.” Luxury brands pay a hefty price to learn – but at least they know the price. 

Lesson #3: Communicate When You Have Something Worth Saying

I’ve subscribed to over a dozen luxury brands over the past year – everything from Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent, to Cartier and Balenciaga. The differences in their communication style from typical eCommerce/DTC brands is staggering. 

Many of us in eCommerce have long pushed the maxi-min philosophy of email communication, where we maximize the number and expected value of communications sent while minimizing unsubscribes/drop-offs. Mathematically, this is a rational, economically-defensible strategy, because it attempts to maximize revenue from “owned” channels. The tradeoff inherent in this strategy is that each email performs suboptimally, so that the entire portfolio can perform optimally. Put another way, when a brand adopts an email/SMS maxi-min strategy, there’s a tacit admission that each customer will ignore or disregard a certain percentage of your communications.  

Luxury goes the other way: I only receive emails from those brands when they have something worth saying. Luxury brands scoff at the notion that it is acceptable for their advocates to ignore a single word they write, ever. 

When an email from Louis Vuitton appears in my inbox, it is opened. It demands attention. There are no follow-up emails sent. You’ll never find a luxury brand sending a desperate, “in case you missed our last email” blast to subscribers who failed to open their previous one. Instead, those people are swiftly removed from the list entirely. 

Is that for every brand? No. But more brands should consider taking a page from this book. It is better to have 1,000 white-hot, stark-raving-mad-about-your-brand loyalists than 100,000 wet noodle subscribers.

Is it the most economically efficient strategy? No. But in a world where mass delete is a default practice to get to inbox zero, there is real, tangible value in being the one email that is spared from control+a & delete. 

Some brands go further, foregoing email altogether in favor of direct communications. I’ve received premium mailers – hand-addressed, with delightful paper – from multiple luxury brands. There is no doubt in my mind those were staggeringly expensive to send – but every single one was opened. Every single one was read. And even now, weeks later, I remember it. It still sits on my desk. Meanwhile, the email I received from Allbirds a mere hour ago is in the trash and a mere wisp of a memory. 

The lesson: It is OK to be more intentional with your communications. Don’t send for the sake of sending; send when you have something to say. And when you have something worth saying, ensure that the medium by which you communicate is worthy of the message it carries. 

Lesson #4: Singular Position

One oft-discussed pillar of luxury is the concept of singularity. No luxury brand believes they have competition. There is no comparison. There is no alternative. There is no other. It is them, or it is nothing. 

Technically, do luxury brands have competitors? Of course. Each one is angling for a segment of an already-narrow market: but you’d never know it. Luxury brands don’t position nor do they compare – everything is in the singular. 

You’ll never find a SaaS comparison chart, a “We’re the Airbnb of Y industry” analogy or a “Compare us to X” page on a luxury website. Every one of these enables commoditization. They reduce an experience to a checklist, which is the antithesis of luxury. 

More brands would do well to think singularly. Any time you reduce a brand to a set of features or functionalities, you enter the commoditization arena. No brand leaves that arena unscathed, and, if you walk into the arena often enough, even the greatest combatant won’t walk out. 

Lesson #5: Our Way or No Way

One of the hallmarks of luxury is – ironically – rigidity. When I sat down for dinner at Hemicycle last evening (I highly recommend it if you’re visiting Paris!) I was not given options; the only choices presented were whether I wanted to enjoy 4, 6 or 8 courses from the chef’s menu of the day. That’s it. After making that singular choice, the rest of the meal is in the hands of the chef. 

Luxury is defined by choosing for the audience, not allowing the audience to choose for themselves. There’s an element of curation and one of prescription – the only items available are those that have met the standard (perfection + excellence), and the luxury brand – as the authority – will prescribe the items best suited to you.  

If you walk into a luxury retailer (I tried) and ask them to customize something, they don’t just say, “No” – they scoff at the very notion. They’re offended. Outraged. It’s the same reaction I’d expect if I commissioned a work from a true artist, then asked him/her to move a tree or adjust the perspective. You don’t hire a maestro, then tell him/her how to conduct. You don’t go to a luxury brand, and ask them to customize. 

Contrast that with how the overwhelming majority of brands today operate: ceding authority to the customer via customized packages and add-ons and modifications and alterations – all in service of putting the customer “in control.” 

This is one of the most expensive – not just financially, but logistically & operationally – choices that a brand can make. Even stocking 5 variations of a product increases inventory requirements by a factor of 2 or 3 (if not more). Offering a handful of customizations exponentially increases the complexity of fulfillment and the points of failure in the experience. 

Adding to all of it is a simple fact: in most cases, the customer does not know best. 

Commodity brands fear an interaction where the customer is not in charge, because they offer no value beyond the price, or scale, or efficiency. There’s no artistic or expert sense, no creativity, no authority, no higher calling. They are fulfillment entities, meeting a need, checking a box, filling a gap. 

Luxury brands embrace their role as authority and creator. 

I wish more brands would do this. Trim your offerings. Be clear, specific and prescriptive. This doesn’t (necessarily) involve higher prices, or apply exclusively to products, either – Recart (for example) is comparably-priced to other SMS SaaS providers. But they are clear and prescriptive in their offerings – and on top of that, they do it for you (and they tell you why: because they’re the experts in SMS and you’re not). 

That’s a luxury mindset. 

Lesson #6: Be Aspirational, Not Approachable

Luxury brands are, by definition, aspirational. Nothing about them is approachable – not the consultants (read: salespeople) in the stores, not the models in their advertising, not the message itself. 

Everything is closed off. Exclusive. Just beyond reach. Something that even their most ardent, most loyal customers must continually strive toward. When you see an advertisement for a luxury brand, the models aren’t approachable. They’re so far beyond ordinary that it’s ridiculous. Even the scripts and settings for those ads are aspirational, exclusive and utterly removed from 99% of people’s reality: parading through Versailles, weekday parties in the Maldives, lunches on private yachts, sunbathing on the Aegean, whatever. It’s aspirational to the extreme: the life most people don’t even know they could dream about having. 

Contrast that to most Meta or TikTok or YouTube ads you’ll see today (go ahead – keep track): virtually all of them are uber-inclusive, approachable, and maddeningly, utterly relatable. The distance between brand and audience has collapsed to such a degree that we’ve created an entire cottage industry around its production (user-generated content), along with sub-types (authentic UGC and grass-tops UGC). UGC is the ultimate expression of commoditization: anyone can do it. Anyone can make it. It is a surrendering of a brand to the will of the consumer. 

And yes, UGC serves a purpose. Approachable advertising serves a purpose. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that approachable is compatible with luxury. It isn’t. When luxury brands create “user” generated content, the user is idealized – a celebrity, a supermodel, a cultural icon. It’s someone who most of us could not be in our wildest, most fever-ridden dream. 

If you are hoping to venture closer to the “luxury” end of the continuum, start with your advertising, imagery and experience – make it less relatable. Fewer common, templated sites. Fewer ordinary people. Use aspirational settings, scripts and models. That’s easier said than done, but the result is advertising and messaging that creates space between your brand and your audience – space your audience can then strive to close. That space is what creates the longing and desire to participate more in your brand – or to reject it. Either one is fine.

Lesson #7: Prescribe, Don’t Poll

I’m as big a proponent of collecting + deploying customer feedback as anyone – I’ve written about it here and here. This is a core, non-negotiable component of performance advertising. For many brands, gaining insight into their audience’s decision-making process, challenges and desires is incredibly valuable, from a product, service and marketing perspective; this data is what enables those brands to tailor future offerings to their audiences. 

Now, contrast this to luxury marketing: luxury brands don’t poll. They don’t take customer feedback. They don’t survey customers to determine what to make next. They don’t want to be agreeable or universally-beloved.

As a concrete example of this, when I made a purchase at Hermes (it’s a Christmas present for a friend!), the brand didn’t send me a follow-up email, ask about my experience or request a Google review. In fact, the Google reviews for the Hermes store in Paris are laughable: 

There are hundreds of 1* reviews for this particular location – and that’s pretty representative for all Hermes stores. Peruse these reviews, and you’ll read stories of customers who are made to wait 30, 60, 90+ minutes just to speak with someone, who are refused service, and/or who are borderline insulted. It’s awesome. This is the (very French) definition of protecting the brand to the n-th degree: categorically refusing to compromise standards to the point where potential customers are turned away. 

The people in these reviews are survey people. If Hermes bothered to ask (let alone listen) to them, they’d have a very different product and audience than they do. The vast majority of surveys skew results and misguide marketers/product owners into thinking the survey respondent’s reality and their actual ideal customer’s reality are the same. They are not. 

Instead, luxury brands leverage their expertise to curate and prescribe: luxury doesn’t care about public opinion; their opinion is the only opinion that matters. Every part of a luxury experience is designed to force the customer to opt-in and self-select into the brand’s ideals, aesthetic, worldview, and product. 

For the customer, this creates the feeling of a luxe experience: I’m not being asked to give feedback, or help them understand me or what I want – because the brand already knows. Luxury brands are more than products – they are curators, tastemakers, and experts; they’ll tell me what I need. I don’t have to assemble outfits or select product features or do anything more than say, “Yes” or, “No.”  

More organizations should internalize the lesson implicit in this: if you want to move beyond a commodity perception, then do more than a commodity brand. Don’t ask your customers to tell you what they want, or how to do your job for you (that’s basically what options are); do it for them. Prescribe.

Luxury brands have mastered this through both the product and experience: the product is clear, known and made to a standard; the experience is exceptional, with everything done for you. Whether it’s Apple  (there are a fixed number of models and limited options), to high-end SaaS (you tell them your business, they tell you what you’ll be getting), to prestigious professional service firms (you share the initial details, they give you scope and a number, and you’re on your way), the same truth holds: you know *exactly* what you’re getting, and the brand isn’t asking for your input. 

If you’re there (on the phone, the website, in the store), you’ve already opted in. You’re now in their hands – and you’re willing to pay a premium for that privilege. This isn’t just about ego or status, it’s also brilliant for customer loyalty. 

That last sentence may seem paradoxical (why would removing choices make me love a brand more) – but the reality is that most customers make stupid, ego-driven, utterly moronic decisions (and no, this isn’t just B2C buyers – B2B buyers are equally guilty), which then leads to regret, disappointment and frustration. 

By removing the initial choice(s), the brand creates a better experience, which then leads to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

Put another way: in most cases, the brand actually does know best. And by forcing the customer to acknowledge that up front, luxury brands avoid a lot of pain, frustration and poor market-product fit later. 

Prescribe. Don’t poll. Be an expert, and charge more for it. 

Lesson #8: Scarcity Is Everything

Abundance is the hallmark of modern commerce: the vast majority of brands obsess about how to get their product/service/platform into the hands/hearts/minds of as many people as possible, as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible. 

Over the past 3 decades, we’ve taken this from a concept to an optimized reality – from point-and-click websites, to on-demand purchasing, to near-real-time logistics, to hyperscaling technology + platforms. The culmination of this is modern, on-demand commerce: just about anyone can have virtually anything, delivered to a doorstep anywhere within 24 hours. This doesn’t just apply to products, either – I can get a virtual appointment with a niche attorney or access to paradigm-shifting technologies with the click of a button. Everything, everywhere is connected and accessible. 

But, as with everything, there’s a tradeoff: in a world of abundance and near-limitless supply, value (real and perceived) collapses. If everyone can have something, the item itself is no longer a differentiator; it’s a commodity. There’s nothing “special” about having something everyone else can get. 

Luxury brands have – unsurprisingly – rejected abundance in favor of scarcity. The entire economic model for luxury relies on demand always exceeding supply, allowing the brand to command a beyond-premium price point. 

This is best illustrated with the Veblen Effect: 

In standard economic theory, the higher the price of an item, the lower the demand for that item. This makes sense – fewer people have the means to purchase a more expensive item, resulting in fewer people desiring said item. But, like all laws, supply & demand has exceptions: in the case of luxury brands, one such exception is the Veblen Effect. For these goods/services, demand increases with price. The more expensive something gets, the more people want it. 

This decision isn’t just economic theory, either – there is considerable research on the Scarcity Principle: the concept that, all things being equal, people will place a disproportionately higher value on things/services that are limited in supply (whether that limitation is real or perceived is largely irrelevant), regardless of the underlying value of the good itself.  

The more you study luxury brands, the more you realize how essential scarcity is as part of their go-to-market strategy. Examples range from Rolex (if you try to order a Daytona, the wait time is about 2 years – longer if you’re not a customer) and Hermes (recently sued because Birkin Bags aren’t offered to walk-in customers), to Bugatti (only manufactures ~80 cars a year, waiting list is ~3-5 years) and even nutritionists/trainers (many high-end ones have wait lists of 2+ years). Every luxury brand incorporates scarcity, in some form, into their go-to-market strategy.

But, you don’t need to be a luxury brand to use some of these principles in your marketing.

How To Integrate Scarcity: 

  1. Limit Supply – many mass-market retailers (like Nike, H&M and Adidas) have begun to limit production of certain products/services, whether older (“vintage”) SKUs, or collaborations with other noteworthy people/brands (i.e. H&M + Rokh, Nike x Selena Gomez, Adidas x Yohji Yamamoto). Service businesses restrict client rosters or only offer certain services to certain levels of clients. Perhaps the most extreme example of this is Gustav Faberge, the famous jeweler and maker of the eponymous Faberge Eggs: during his first few decades as a jeweler, each piece he made was unique. This level of scarcity – each piece being one-of-a-kind – attracted the attention (and the wallets) of nobility, while sending the prices paid for each piece into the stratosphere. 

    Brands need not go to Faberge levels in creating scarcity, but there is value in limiting supply of certain SKUs. Whether real or perceived, such scarcity can increase purchase velocity (people will buy faster if they believe there’s a real chance of missing out), as well as volume (more people will compete to buy) and value (people will pay more). 
  2. Raise Prices for Select Items – in any market where there is no reliable way to determine quality, consumers tend to rely on price as a proxy for quality – with the theory being that Mr. Market has adequately vetted each participant and sorted based on price. Legendary investor Charlie Munger commented on this in a 2003 speech at University of California – Santa Barbara: 

    I have posed at two different business schools the following problem. I say, “You have studied supply and demand curves. You have learned that when you raise the price, ordinarily the volume you can sell goes down, and when you reduce the price, the volume you can sell goes up. Is that right? That’s what you’ve learned?” They all nod yes. And I say, “Now tell me several instances when, if you want the physical volume to go up, the correct answer is to increase the price?” And there’s this long and ghastly pause. And finally, in each of the two business schools in which I’ve tried this, maybe one person in fifty could name one instance. 

    They come up with the idea that occasionally a higher price acts as a rough indicator of quality and thereby increases sales volumes. -10- This happened in the case of my friend Bill Ballhaus. When he was head of Beckman Instruments it produced some complicated product where if it failed it caused enormous damage to the purchaser. It wasn’t a pump at the bottom of an oil well, but that’s a good mental example. And he realized that the reason this thing was selling so poorly, even though it was better than anybody else’s product, was because it was priced lower. It made people think it was a low quality gizmo. So he raised the price by 20% or so and the volume went way up. 

    This may seem like an odd example (a random widget, sold by an unknown company), but the underlying principle is everywhere: why does a Van Gogh sell for $100M, while paintings from other 19th-century post-impressionists barely crack $100k? What separates a Chateau Margaux ($200 – $1,000+ bottle) from a Château Cazauviel ($30 – $50+ bottle)? Both are made in the Margaux area of Bordeaux; both are highly rated – but one regularly sells for 20x more. Likewise, why are some attorneys priced at $2,000 an hour, while others bill at $200? Are the $2,000/hr lawyers really 10x better than the $200 ones? 

    In each case, price is serving as a substitute for quality – since the consumer (generally) has a limited ability to evaluate quality. Simply raising prices can often lead to better, more enjoyable, and more profitable customers. 
  3. Exclusivity In Distribution: Another tactic used by luxury brands to convey scarcity is exclusivity – you won’t find Hermes in every city, or Ferrari dealerships in every DMA, or Hogan Lovells in every metro. Luxury brands limit where their products/services are offered  – typically via a carefully-curated partner network (Hermes), by diligently restricting where to do business (Ferrari), or by owning the distribution network outright (Tesla). 

    In fact, check out this map from Ferrari’s website: if you want to know where they think their customers are (or if you’re a brand who wants their customers)…these are good areas to target. 

Restricting distribution is a fundamentally different type of supply limitation – one which does not necessarily limit the number of items produced or service units available, but rather creates physical separation between the brand and product, thereby forcing the customer to come to the brand. 

  1. Membership & Invite-Only Communities: Membership/Invite-driven sales are another tactic to limit distribution – but instead of a physical limitation (distance), this is an access difference: only those in the club are able to purchase. A classic example of this is Country Clubs – relatively ordinary experiences (golf, tennis, whatever) that can only be had in a specific context with a membership to the club (or an invitation from an existing member). This level of exclusivity is what drives millions of Americans to pay membership fees to country clubs each year – it isn’t for the golf, it is for the community where they are able to play golf.
  1. Time-Constrained Events: One of the most common ways to leverage scarcity are time-constrained events – product drops, limited releases, event-based sales, etc. This is a proven tactic that virtually any brand can leverage – so if you’re thinking about where to get started on a journey toward increasing scarcity, time-constrained selling events are a fantastic option. 

    The most obvious examples from modern commerce are limited-edition shoe drops or NFT (RIP) announcements: in both cases, there’s a limited supply (Nike often releases 10,000 pairs), made available at once. Sony did something similar (we’ll call it intentionally) with the PS5: getting onto the list by a certain date was the only way to guarantee getting one before the Holidays. Finally, there are entire brands (like MSCHF) that are built around limited-edition drops. 

    This is, in some ways, the ultimate test for brand loyalty: are customers willing to rearrange their schedule to get your products?  

Lesson #9: Ruthlessly Prioritize Your Ideal Customer

Far too many brands today try to be everything to everyone. They market to anyone. There’s an angle for everyone. This is the inevitable result of approachable, inclusive (not in the DEI sense) advertising: everyone gets included. Everyone can be a customer. This is fantastic for commodity brands that are willing to do whatever it takes to drive sales (volume = profit). 

But for luxury brands, everyone is not welcome. Everyone isn’t included. Luxury brands ruthlessly prioritize only their ideal customers, and (borderline) exclude everyone else – to the point where a luxury retailer I visited in Paris turned away a customer who walked into their store, with the consultant exclaiming something to the effect of, “You’re not one of us…this isn’t for you!”)

There’s a lesson in that. 

Too many brands dilute their offering and service quality by trying to cater to too large and diverse an audience. This was a lesson I learned (the hard way) with running the agency: not every customer is a good fit, and I’m better off rejecting those that aren’t outright, vs. trying to find a way to make it work. 

The only group that luxury brands care about are their ideal target audience. Everyone else is excluded. 

This serves two purposes: 

  1. Targeting by exclusion – by intentionally excluding everyone they don’t want, luxury brands are doing the business equivalent of the “No Girls Allowed” sign on the treehouse door: loudly proclaiming who is not welcome here (and, by extension, who is). 
  2. Ensuring Product-Market Fit – the single-greatest point of failure in product/service delivery is audience variability: what might work brilliantly well in a specific context fails miserably when it’s forced into a different context. By loudly + intentionally excluding everyone who doesn’t fit an ideal archetype, luxury brands avoid this issue entirely – the only people welcome are the people who are ideally-suited to the product/service in the first place. 

This is something every brand can (and should) do: relentlessly obsess about your ideal customers. Stop trying to shoehorn in others who don’t fit that ICP. Not only will you be happier and more profitable, but your customers will be, too.

Lesson #10: The Details Are The Only Thing That Matters

Aristotle wrote that “quality is not an act but a habit practiced daily.” What he meant was that quality isn’t merely the act of using premium materials or practicing quality craftsmanship or delivering exceptional service; those are the outputs. The habit is the inputs: the attitude, ethos, dedication and commitment made every single day. 

Luxury brands understand that the details are the concrete manifestation of those inputs, and that every detail matters. 

Take Apple – every aspect of their product experience is meticulously designed, from the bags you receive at the store, to the boxes containing the product (seriously – those boxes are INCREDIBLE), to the welcome experience, to the welcome screen on the product itself. Every detail is thoughtfully, intentionally designed with the intention of delivering a simple, remarkable experience. 

The same is true for luxury experiences. 

I recently stayed at the Park Hyatt in San Diego (I have a thing for nice hotels). Every detail was perfect – from the valet experience (everything was done without me having to say a thing), to check-in (friendly, personal greeting, had a room ready while ours was being cleaned), to the details in the room itself (cleanliness, attention to detail everywhere, the quality of the soaps provided – even the stationary was fantastic). Every detail I noticed – and hundreds more I missed – was thoughtfully executed. 

That’s the entire point – details should be so flawlessly executed they’re never noticed. Excellence is the result of a thousand seemingly insignificant details executed to perfection. A premium experience is less about the thing itself, and more about the dozens, hundreds or even thousands of tiny details that allow it to shine. 

Luxury brands understand and embrace this. Their commitment to nailing every single detail is what elevates the experience for their customers and what makes a remarkable result inevitable for their clients/customers. Excellence is the expectation, and details are the mechanism by which they manifest that expectation into reality. 

Lesson #11: Art, Culture & Relevance

There’s an incredible line from the film The Devil Wears Prada, delivered impeccably by Stanley Tucci’s Nigel: “…and what they did, what they created, was greater than art because you live your life in it…” 

Luxury brands embrace the role of art and culture. They don’t shy away from it. Whether it’s Cristal’s pseudo-affiliation with rap / hip-hop culture, or Alexander McQueen’s legendary collaboration with Damien Hirst, or the Foundation Louis Vuitton’s sponsorship of the Morozov Collection of French modern art, there’s always been a symbiosis between luxury and art: Artification. 

Artification is the process of transforming luxury (whether product or service) into art: this goes beyond products to food (plates at Michelin-starred restaurants are more beautiful than anything I could ever hope to paint), experiences and services. The fusion of art + culture with a luxury brand changes the status of the brand itself: elevating it above a mere product/service, and making it a work of art. This, in turn, justifies the premium price point and limited supply. 

Not only is artification culturally savvy, it’s good business and good marketing: by aligning their brand with the appropriate cultural icons, luxury brands implicitly reinforce each of the preceding 10 principles – curating their audience, elevating their status and slowly, inexorably moving away from commoditization. 

Luxury imitates art – and art creates luxury. It’s a wonderful, self-perpetuating cycle. 

Bonus: Lesson #12: Discounts

My final point on luxury is perhaps the most important one: luxury brands (generally) don’t discount. There are no BOGO off sales, or 10% off for an email. 

Luxury brands understand that any compromise – whether it’s on price, quality, or service – moves them toward commoditization. Luxury detests commoditization.  

The same is true for service providers – if you compromise on price, you’ll always be asked to compromise on price. If one standard is compromised, all subsequent standards can be compromised. From personal experience, this is a lesson every business would do well to learn: don’t compromise. Set a standard and stick to the standard. The price is the price. If a customer is unwilling to pay that price, then your brand is not for them – and that’s OK. 

What’s not OK is compromising your relationship with those for whom your brand exists (your ICPs) to appeal to others. 

Luxury brands – as you’ve seen from this series – do not compromise. 



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