Book Review – The Luxury Strategy: Break the Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands by J. N. Kapferer and V. Bastien
Neuromarketing and luxury brands go together. After all, to a large measure luxury is a psychological construct – is a $600 purse ten times better than one that costs $60. Indeed, without brand labels, could the average person even distinguish them? It’s not surprising that early adopters of neuromarketing include luxury brands like BMW.
What makes a luxury brand? In The Luxury Strategy, Jean-Noel Kapferer and Vincent Bastien tell us in great detail what distinguishes “luxury” from “premium” and the merely expensive. And, as one might expect, our emotions play a huge role in the way we perceive luxury.
One of the best chapters in The Luxury Strategy is titled “Anti-laws of marketing.” In it, the authors draw a sharp contrast between traditional marketing wisdom and the way luxury product marketers must work. They propose 18 counter-intuitive “laws” for luxury marketing. These laws include “Don’t pander to your customer’s wishes,” a statement that flies in the face of what marketers of high-end products strive for. Kapferer and Bastien note that true luxury products tend to be driven by a creative vision. They describe how BMW has steadfastly ignored customer complaints of poor rear-seat leg room in their 5-series cars in order to maintain their primary focus on performance and driving pleasure.
There are two ways to go bankrupt: not listening to the client, but also listening to them too much.
Want to launch a luxury brand, or polish up the image of an existing ones? In another chapter, “Facets of luxury today,” The authors go into depth on some of the characteristics of brands and products that suggest luxury to consumers. Usually these are grounded in fact, but they can also be created. “History” is one such facet. Many luxury brands have long histories of association with events, royalty, and so on.
Note that what is important is not simply the history, but the myth that can be created around it, the source of the brand’s social idealization. Writing ‘Established 1884’ does not make you luxury; it makes you old.
History can sometimes be invented. The authors note that Ralph Lauren shops are filled with vintage 1950s black-and-white photos that show exclusive, WASPy environments and sports like polo. In fact, the firm’s founder, Ralph Lifschitz, was a teenager at the time those photos were taken.
The Luxury Strategy has comprehensive advice for the development of luxury brands, including chapters titled, “Financial and HR management of a luxury company” and “Luxury business models.” Another chapter, “Pricing luxury,” goes into detail on pricing strategies. Luxury products have unique pricing issues, including (at times) negative price elasticity.
If I have any criticism of this book, it is that the authors occasionally lapse into pedantic, academic-style text. Indeed, I nearly put down the book as I slogged through the first chapter, a historical analysis of luxury. Looking at section headings like “Luxury and money as purely sociocultural phenomena,” I feared the worst lay ahead. In fact, as I pushed forward into the book I found much more actionable information and advice.
If you market luxury products, or want to, The Luxury Strategy should be on your bookshelf. You may not need to read every chapter, but you will gain key insights into how to build the brand and, equally important, how to avoid missteps (comparative advertising, for example) that will tarnish rather than enhance the impression of luxury.