Does Your Product Have Enough Flaws?
The better the product, one expects, the fewer the flaws one will find. That’s why Lexus is at the top of the quality surveys, and why Yugo went out of business. That’s perfect logic, until you get to true luxury products. One of the counter-intuitive marketing characteristics of real luxury products, according to J. N. Kapferer and V. Bastien, authors of The Luxury Strategy, is that they may be less than perfect. To some degree, these flaws actually increase the luxury appeal of the product.
Take Ferrari automobiles, for example. They are far from perfect, at least as most would define automotive perfection. They are amazing performance machines, and, as such, sacrifice such elements of perfection as a smooth ride, a quiet passenger compartment, and overall ease of driving. Yet, they are undeniably a luxury product.
Even more telling are luxury watches. Most very high-end watches have mechanical “automatic” movements, which are somewhat less precise than the quartz movements common in most watches. These watches are also demanding of their owners. You can toss your quartz watch in the drawer and forget about it for a few months. Automatic watches, by comparison, need to be used to maintain their proper function. (Serious collectors buy gizmos that simulate being worn on a wrist to prevent their automatic watches from winding down.)
By any standard of perfection, an excellent Seiko quartz watch is as good as a top-of-the-line Rolex. It will keep better time and require less maintenance. It may be quite beautiful, too. Nevertheless, the Rolex is luxury, and Seiko is not.
Kapferer and Bastien make the point several times in The Luxury Strategy that even Lexus isn’t a true luxury product. Rather, it is a high level premium product. They base this assessment not just on the minimal flaws in a Lexus, but in the lack of heritage and myth surrounding the brand. There is no century-old tradition, no personality like an Enzo Ferrari or Ferdinand Porsche, and not much beyond an extremely good car with extremely good service.
So, if you are lucky enough to be playing at the luxury end of your market’s spectrum, worry less about eliminating flaws and more about staying true to what the brand represents. People tolerate a rough ride and demanding handling in a Ferrari because that brand is all about race-caliber speed and performance. People tolerate a Rolex being less accurate than a Timex because it stays true to its image of mechanical sophistication and complexity. Swapping out the guts of a Rolex for a quartz movement might improve its accuracy a bit, but destroy the brand’s luxury image. In short – don’t strive for flaws, but never compromise the major premise of the brand in the name of eliminating a non-fatal flaw.
Nice read. But then how do you explain Rolex models with Quartz movements instead of mechanical movements?
Good point, D. Lam. I’m don’t claim to be a luxury branding expert, but I’d guess that once a brand has established its luxury status, it can offer product or brand extensions that make it accessible to others with either different needs or fewer resources. Ralph Lauren, for example, has created brands sold through high-volume mass merchants while attempting to retain its flagship brand’s high status. Porsche has introduced SUVs.
There are both risks and rewards associated with these strategies. The main risk is clouding or tarnishing the brand image, while obviously the reward is the opportunity to boost sales. (Some luxury brands have managed to do this with great success – actually earning the majority of their income from mass-marketed products, while still maintaining their luxury perception.)
D. Lam: Many automatic watch enthusiasts would argue that the quartz movement is the flaw in a quartz watch. Often flaws are subjective which is why Roger’s point of staying true to your brand and knowing your customer base is so important.
Exactly, Justin. Decades ago, owning a Jaguar was a high maintenance affair – one practically needed a Jaguar mechanic on retainer to keep it in tune. A flaw, to be sure, but the car’s temperamental nature had appeal to some owners.
True enough and harks back to what Roger wrote last post. A luxury item isn’t necessarily any better and it may certainly not do a job as well. But that’s not why we buy them. Seth Godin (I think!) put it succinctly when he said we buy them because of the story they allow us to tell ourselves and others.
Roger, it was a great read as always. I agreed to the idea that flaws might contribute to sense of luxury. However, i think it cannot be generalized across all; esp not over to luxury services. Nobody would like to have a luxury hotel with less than perfect services. Hence, the idea might be limited to products.
Furthermore, i think exclusiveness of an item is the key reason why people would ACCEPT certain flaws. So to say, that had Rolex been producing several thousand copies of a watch, it would not be accepted for such flaws. Do correct me for my assumptions.
Harsh, with services (e.g., hotels, restaurants) flaws can’t be huge ones. A luxury hotel with broken air-conditioning (or a restaurant with overly-salted soup) would fail. A minor flaw, though, like a haughty restaurant maitre d’, might be tolerated. Flaws are most tolerated (and even revered) if they are seen as a product of the luxury characteristics. For example, people will happily wait a year for their Ferrari to be delivered because the delay is caused by the low-volume, high-attention manufacturing process. Your Rolex losing a few seconds is fine because it is due to the complex, intricately-crafted Swiss mechanism. A Rolex with a scratched crystal (a mere defect) wouldn’t be accepted.
Like your blog. Consider changing search box so you can see the box. This will make your site more user friendly!
Good point. Then again, maybe a hard-to-find search box is my own “flaw” strategy, hmmmm? 🙂