November 08, 2010
Many businesses strive to position and promote their brands as the luxury brand of choice in their industry or community.
When asked how they currently view the competitive landscape in this quest, most business owners leap directly to thoughts of direct competition – other similar businesses in their community or industry.
While this view is the conventional way to think about competition I believe there’s another significant competitive factor at play for luxury or premium brands that receives almost no strategic consideration.
For the luxury brand the prospective or current client’s expectation is quite often the fiercest competitor.
Playing in the premium brand field or working to clearly position your business as the industry leader can be a fabulous way to create dramatically more profitable businesses, but it comes with a significantly higher expectation bar.
How Luxury Brand Perception is Gauged
If you want to have your brand perceived as a luxury brand, then certain standards of service, experience and prestige must be a part of the deal. You may not, however, be measured by the other brands directly in your space. It’s most likely that you will be measured by a prospect’s experience with other luxury brands.
So you see, businesses that are completely unrelated to your particular industry or product have the ability to set what’s expected of your brand and whether or not you truly are an industry leader.
If you are targeting a luxury buyer then your financial planning service may be competing most directly with the service experience set by the manager at the BMW dealership.
The Luxury Brand Experience
If you’ve ever stayed in a Four Seasons Hotel, then you know that you can expect that when you request a wake-up call, the person on the other end will ask what paper you would like and if they could personally see to it that you have a pot of coffee ready with your paper. You could simply phone and ask for these things, but they think of it for you and you kind of get used to that.
If you’ve ever purchased and then returned an item to a Nordstrom store, then you know that somehow, they actually make you feel good about bringing it back – no matter when you purchased it.
If you’ve ever flown first class then you know that you’re going to board first, sit in a much larger seat and be waited on and served with much more attention than the riff raff behind the curtain. (One could argue whether the experience actually matches the perception, but perception rules in the expectation game.)
So, if you want to be perceived as the leading consulting firm, plumber or financial planner, you’ve got to take the best experience from other leading luxury brands and apply it your brand.
Take note that in the examples listed above the premium elements aren’t really about a great product – they’re about a great experience. That’s the part that you’ve got to go to work on to elevate you’re brand’s status.
The Luxury Brand Laboratory
A remarkable customer experience is something that you can formulate in the boardroom, but its delivery is in the hands of those engaging with your customers. While it’s great to emphasize and train for your premium brand experience one element that may hold your positioning back is that few people (meaning those that work for you and maybe you as well) have ever really experienced incredible service leaving them little to draw from as a basis for what it looks and feels like.
If you’re attempts to rein in your industry as a luxury brand are going to be measured by other, unrelated, premium brands, then why not study, experience and innovate the best elements that make them so, with a view on bringing those elements into your business?
Some of the best training you could give your people would consist of a two-night stay at a Four Seasons. Staying in the hotel with the aim of soaking up every sensory element, procedure and touch point before, during and after your stay could be one of the most profitable branding exercises you could conduct.
Sometimes luxury branding is a great deal about the company you keep in the client’s mind, so how can you come to emulate the best practices of the companies that already occupy that space?
Every industry, every community, offers up examples of businesses that, while perhaps not household names, are considered the best at what they do. What other businesses could offer your business illustrations of premium to draw from?
One of the best exercises you can conduct if your customers have luxury expectations is to sit down with them and understand what premium brands they admire and treasure and just what it is about those brands that they have come to expect.
Image credit: fabbio
John Jantsch is a marketing consultant and author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine.
Time for a brand makeover? Learn more about how your brand can represent – and shape – your business in the Project RE:Brand webisode series by American Express OPEN. Project RE:Brand follows five small businesses as five creative agencies help them re-envision their brands