Luxury and the Many Meanings of Beyond Expectation

Dr. Bob Deutsch, a cognitive anthropologist, was invited to open the day at FashionForward for many reasons, one of which is that the immediacy and global nature of the web forces brands to understand their audience on a deeper level than ever before. This article is based fully on the thoughts, ideas and concepts presented by Dr. Bob Deutsch at FashionForward.

Brand marketers are so often tasked with creating an experience that describes product attributes to drives sales, that thinking of the audience as one in the same as “consumers” becomes second nature. Especially with digital, luxury marketers become tasked with creating an experience that upholds the brand legacy while comparing measurable analytics against benchmarks to determine concrete return on investment. However, one of the first things Dr. Deutsch said while on stage was that he didn’t want to talk about luxury or the internet. What he wanted to address was the question, “What is the human experience of luxury?”. One of his core messages was that if luxury marketers are only striving to understand their audience as a consumer, instead of as human beings, then true success will not be achieved. Both search and social have changed the purchase.

The role of a person has shifted from the person as a viewer, to the person as a participant, and recently to the person as a content-creator. From an evolutionary perspective, our behavior has turned from hunting and gathering, to information gathering, to experience gathering. The output of this has transformed what was once products representing the brands, to now be “me” as a brand. While many would argue that luxury items fulfill two basic emotions for people: either display (“look at me”) or comfort (“this feels great”), Dr. Deutsch enlightens us to the notion that luxury isn’t either of these things. Rather, with a luxury product or experience, we as individuals are able to expand our own ideas of ourselves. It is when this happens that a person becomes emotionally attached to a brand and adopts the brand into their own sense of self, an act that is significantly more potent than mere brand or product loyalty, because it involves a person’s feelings about themselves.

He challenges brands not to focus on enhancing the brand experience, but on trying to make their brands a venue for people’s own expanded experience of themselves. This deeper level of attachment happens when three things are at play:

-A person must find in the brand something they perceive to be familiar

-A person must feel the brand “likes” them so there is a level of trust and mutual participation

-There is a recognition of similarity, and that the brand likes them, but also there should be a distinction that the brand is also different from the person. It is this difference that the brand can use to help the person discover or experience something that has been latent in themselves and hasn’t yet manifested. This third point, the “power dimension” is what luxury brands need to improve the most, and is also what transforms the brand from an end-point to a venue.

The ultimate goal is for a person to believe and understand on a deeper level that through this luxury brand, they can become more of themselves. In this way, luxury brands are the “yellow brick road”, the path by which a person takes a journey through the brand and ultimately finds out more about themselves along the way. Mainly, brands have focused on aligning themselves with the interests of their target consumers. However, Dr. Deutsch points out that interests are endless and it becomes difficult for brands to exceed these expectations. So how do luxury brands go beyond expectations? To do this means that people feel that that what is being offered fits them (their temperament, style, mood, personality, values….) and also offers an element of surprise and elusion. Luxury marketers would be better served to focus not on interests, but on people’s identities and stories. Further, people don’t wholly live in the present. Rather, they try to translate their nostalgized past into a hoped-for future, and they look to brands and products to help make this translation in a way that expands their own identities.

What does this mean luxury marketers should actually do? Dr. Deutsch recommends that both online and in-store, luxury brands create product displays designed to do four things:

-Slow the consumer’s perception of time.

-Increase the consumer’s intensity of focus so that they can excite their own self-referring reverie (When time disappears, focus takes over leading to sensuality, imagination and self exploration).

-Conversational abilities that allow a person to build their own narrative -Cultivate a tribal experience, not a social network. Social networks are good for expression, but not good for conversion or action.

“If you want to be a great luxury marketer, forget about marketing. Think about life. Listen for the stories. Then you’ll be a great luxury marketer.” – Dr. Bob Deutsch

Photo Credits: Antonio Mo (above) and Dr. Bob Deutsch photographed by Amy Seder at FashionForward

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