Glamour is just one part of it. The luxury industry has many finer nuances that executives need to understand when trying to make a career in this field. We give out some guidance.
By: Abhay Gupta, Founder & CEO, Luxury Connect & Luxury Connect Business School
Posted on: December 8, 2022
In the words of the famous Coco Channel, ‘Luxury is the necessity that begins where necessity ends’. However, she further clarifies that ‘Luxury is not the opposite of poverty but that of vulgarity’.
How & why is luxury interrelated to affluence?
Luxury & Money have a strange relationship. Luxury converts the raw material i.e. money into a culturally sophisticated product, namely social stratification. Beyond the classic forms of ‘functional’ and ‘exchange’ value, Luxury actually introduces a new form, that of ‘symbolic value.’
Is Luxury then a form of art?
The two concepts of Luxury & Art are very closely interlinked and is impossible to completely separate them. Since the dawn of humanity, objects found in early tombs were both objects d’art and luxury.
Is Fashion a form of Luxury too?
Until the turn of the 19th century, fashion belonged to the luxury world, simply because only a handful of the socially rich could afford to discard their clothes even before they were worn out or could buy new ones even when they did not have the necessity. In the 20th century, fashion and luxury started to diverge.
Today, the overlap between fashion and luxury is very small. Fashion would like to think of itself as belonging to the world of luxury in order to improve its status.
Fashion is cyclical and frivolous, luxury is timeless and classic. It is ‘fashionable’ to be ‘luxurious’, but fashion is (affordable) luxury.
Luxury today is a lifestyle. A life style that most of us want to live or rise into. Luxury aims at elevating people, making them go beyond mere functionality and needs, but seek intangible values which could even be transcendental. Luxury educates taste at its best.
Once a restricted purview of the elites and then the aristocrats, luxury today is for all those who can afford it. There is no more a single elite but multiple ones. Luxury creates a feeling of ‘us’.
From aristocracy to meritocracy, luxury has come a long way.
Luxury Brand Management – A new age career
Most European luxury brands originated in the end 1800s to early 1900s, and were usually controlled by the designer and his or her family after him.
As more and more people around the world are becoming interested and financially able to own branded luxury goods, new luxury brands are employing innovative marketing and promotional methods to acquire new customers that is challenging the position of the established brands.
However, by the end of the 20th century, most luxury brands were majorly controlled by conglomerates. In their bid to expand their commercial outreach, vertical, horizontal as well as geographic expansion was undertaken. New markets like Asia were tapped into. New demographics were sought to be serviced by virtue of democratisation. New product categories were categorized as ‘luxury’. The width, depth and variety on offer increased drastically. New markets brought in new cultural challenges with themselves.
Managing a luxury brand outside of its home country in Europe was not as simple as was perceived. A new stream of ‘Luxury Brand Management’ was curated and developed as a holistic management practice that can help new managers maintain the aura, the philosophy and the decorum of the luxury brand outside of its home country.
Developed in Europe in the 1990s, Luxury brand Management is a specialized stream of management that creates skilled managers to act as brand custodians and ensure that the painfully crafted brand values and vision of the creator is not lost or diluted in cultural translations across continents and boundaries.
Additionally, luxury brands have long been admired for their product quality and how they treat their customers. They serve a demographic that expects nothing but the best, and these brands constantly strive to raise the bar. At any single moment of time, a luxury service provider may have to deal with a luxury connoisseur as well as a luxury initiator. The complexities of their behaviour, response and expectation of ‘luxury’ will be completely and diametrically opposed to each other.
Luxury brand management is the blending of the right marketing campaigns to create and reinforce and retain the brand identity. An effective luxury brand management is one that develops a promise with a consumer, convey the message of the promise, and lives up to it. Luxury brand management requires an understanding of how to market a luxury brand to attract a specific clientele.
What role does a luxury brand manager play?
Luxury brand management is all about analysis and planning of how to increase the perceived value of a luxury product. A luxury brand manager is the one who puts this plan into action.
A luxury brand manager is responsible for conducting market research for luxury products, overseeing and organising marketing campaigns, product and distribution planning, managing brand budgeting and resources, collaborating with luxury designers, and supervising marketing assignments.
Luxury brand managers promote luxury branded goods and services across existing and emerging markets. As more and more people around the world are becoming interested and financially able to own branded luxury goods, new luxury brands are employing innovative marketing and promotional methods to acquire new customers that is challenging the position of the established brands. In turn, the bigger and more established brands are exploring new markets. To further their businesses, luxury brands are employing experts (luxury brand managers) who can customize approaches to maintain brand loyalty of existing customers through exclusive offers and experiences, and also build customer base in new territories.
In a nut shell, Luxury Brand Management is an interdisciplinary subject that applies management best practices to luxury service providing businesses in a manner of extreme value creation.
What does it take to become a Luxury Brand Manager?
To be a competent Luxury manager, the following play a very important role:
1. Attitude – attitude & attitude
Working for a luxury brand requires a certain attitude. One has to be well educated, well behaved, always look good and have a passion for excellence. One needs to know and like the products one sells. Promoting them has to be something one enjoys. Advising someone on what to wear requires creativity and imagination. Besides, one needs to develop good inter-relational skills. An ideal way to do that is to spend your days interacting with people so one better inspire confidence. Being a good listener and having a customer service awareness is the most important. Having a strong personality is also mandatory as one will be working for customers with strong personalities.
a. In the luxury business, one generally deals with a ‘cash rich but time poor’ consumer. Hence learning to respect other people’s time is the first key to success.
b. Besides, this consumer is far more knowledgeable, successful, well placed and charismatic than you can ever dream of. Engaging him with respect, patience, charm and knowledge will help develop a bond.
c. Remember, it is your attitude and not your aptitude that can define your altitude.
d. Be as authentic as your brand. Trust and integrity play a major role in showcasing your positive attitude.
Your LQ (luxury quotient) is the critical factor. Be informed of the latest trends, innovations, technologies and controversies that can impact your business.
2. The Luxury Quotient
Luxury is a fine blend of ‘exclusivity’ and ‘extravagance’. Hence, the service a brand offers at retail is of great importance for the success of the brand. This means the professionals working with the brand must become ’brand ambassadors’ who must speak the brand’s language. They must also act as the brand’s experts with intricate knowledge of the products. Nothing works better than a professional who knows the products in detail and is able to help customers with the minute details that highlight the workmanship, perfection and the labour that goes in creating a pièce de résistance.
a. In this fast evolving world, knowledge is the only differentiator. Heaps of information is available on the Internet – it is knowledge which differentiate you from any one else. From knowing your brand to knowing your customer, ensure you have the upper hand.
b. Passion is the key to success. Working for a luxury brand goes beyond the realms of IQ and EQ. Your LQ is the critical factor. Be informed of the latest trends, innovations, technologies and controversies that can impact your business.
c. Be a lifelong learner. The definition of luxury is ever evolving as times, economies and generations change. No longer does the classic definition of luxury hold true. What was luxury to the baby boomers is a necessity to the Gen Z. Constant learning and up skilling is the key to remain relevant.
d. Attain a professional qualification. Equip yourself with basic management, marketing, and business skills that will help you to effectively manage a brand. A professional master degree in luxury brand management is preferable as it will help you understand how the luxury market works and employ strategies accordingly.
3. Substance with style
Luxury houses possess zero tolerance for anything that is below average or of low quality. A brand wants people with ambition, determination and are career driven, besides loving their job. People with strong academic background are always preferred so do not neglect studies. Mastering two languages including English will always give you an edge. Most famous fashion brands are international and one may need to interact with people in other countries. Since Luxury brand management involves a high level of customer interaction, those with a natural flair for networking especially with the corporate class and the ability to build up a rapport with key decision makers will do well for themselves in this industry. Thus it is essential for an individual working in this field to set a high standard of maintaining good quality customer relations and efficient time management skills.
a. It is essential for luxury brand managers to be in love with their product and believe that the company offers a value addition in terms of status and elegance to its client.
b. A luxury brand manager who assumes the role of a mentor can spearhead the transformation of an emerging luxury brand into a dominant market player.
c. As an individual, a luxury brand manager needs to develop a style of communication which is in line with the brand.
d. Whilst substance can be acquired via qualification and continued learning, do not ignore the style quotient. An ideal combination that works is that of 60% substance coupled with 40% style. Just substance or just style will not take you anywhere.
4. Luxury Manager Like Qualities (LMLQ)
A luxury manager should ideally possess the following fine qualities to succeed in this competitive landscape:
a. Command over the English Language: As a luxury manager, one needs to constantly communicate with his colleagues, superiors, headquarters as well as customers. Precise writing in grammatically immaculate language is a no brainer. One should be able to communicate via a tweet, Whatsapp, an email and or create basic content for a blog, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Written and spoken English are definitely a basic minimum requirement. Any add-on foreign language like French, Italian or even Mandarin can be an added advantage.
b. Command over nonverbal communication: The ability to be able to use your body, eyes, hands and feet to convey a confident stance is another must. When dealing with a wealthy client, deal as equals. Use all your body language, gestures, facial expressions and voice modulation skills to express your joy, passion and energy when servicing.
c. Passion, empathy and emotion: Luxury is an emotional purchase that goes beyond necessity. Matching the enthusiasm of the client with your own display of the same, ensures a bond that is long lasting. Please appreciate the rationale behind the irrational choice of the client. In luxury, you must master the "art of emotion" and the ability to understand how your clients feel and perceive the experience. Sensitivity means to evaluate each interaction and personalize it accordingly using well-refined emotional intelligence, which makes the experience unique and aims to delight the customer.
d. Attention to details: A luxury product goes into details which are otherwise insignificant to most. Likewise, you need to develop an acute sense of observing and appreciating the finer details of luxury. The touch of a gentle hand, the perfectly gift wrapped product, the white gloved service and the gentle good bye, all add to the luxury experience. Luxury experiences are crafted through a multisensorial approach—this five-dimensional approach requires the highest attention detail. Ensuring the highest courtesy and quality in client experience adheres you to identify the precise details influencing the CX, i.e., choice of words, tone of voice, natural use of client name, the anticipation of needs through remembering client preferences, etc.
e. Strong leadership with excellent communications skills: Rising to every occasion and leading from the front with the spirit of multi-tasking is an excellent quality to nurture. A luxury manager is the sole representative of not only the brand but also the creator of the same. It is his dream vision, passion that is being consumed by the client via you. You truly become the face of the brand to the client. Make sure you put up a brave and strong face.
f. Appreciation of craft: Each luxury product is a piece of craft made so painstakingly using the best raw materials, the best manufacturing process with no compromises, by the best artisans who train for several years in the country of origin. Carry the story with passion to the client.
g. Good analytical skills: A luxury manager is expected to have good analytical skills to be able to analyse and react to any kind of customer need and situation. Modern technologies, geo political, environmental issues can all impact the business. A good luxury manager should be prepared for such eventualities.
Working in luxury goods goes beyond selling high-end products; it's about selling a dream.
h. Innovation, strategy & creativity: Successful brand managers are innovative and constantly ask themselves “what else can be done?”and “how can we do better than our competition?”. They do not just follow what others are doing but come up with their own ideas and execution plans. Their innovative strategies always set a trend in the luxury market. A successful brand manager must be creative and analytical at the same time.
i. A pleasing personality: Selling luxury requires one to romance the customer. Desire is an intangible that can be further stimulated by soft and gentle romancing by a well-dressed, pleasing and charming individual. People invest in relations not products. In order to wow customers and colleagues in luxury retail, you need to have a grip on your etiquettes and mannerisms, be confident, proactive and energetic. It’s your job to approach customers and build a rapport with them.
j. Honesty, integrity, authenticity & reliability: As a luxury consultant, you represent the brand that you work with. You need to imbibe the brand values into your personality to become and extension face of the brand. Remember, it takes a life time to build trust but one stupid mistake to destroy it. In the luxury business, reputation precedes apology.
In the business of luxury, excellence is the key. Working in luxury goods goes beyond selling high-end products; it's about selling a dream. Emotions are at the core in creating a luxury experience. This is what makes luxury management jobs so unique. Every small detail is of the highest excellence. Working in luxury goods is like being in an orchestra where various functions work together creating something beautiful and unique that is par excellence. So fluff that jacket, straighten the cuff, slip on the heel, and get ready for a challenging, yet exciting chapter of your life in luxury!
Mr. Abhay Gupta’s previous article on this subject can be accessed here.
Abhay Gupta, a certified Marshall Goldsmith coach, is the founder, promoter and CEO of Luxury Connect (a boutique consulting organization) and Luxury Connect Business School (LCBS). Author of The Incredible Indian Luxury Bazaar, he has helped establish luxury brands like Versace, Versace Home, Versace Collection, Corneliani, Arredo Classic, etc in India. Luxury publication Blackbook recognizes him as one of the ‘Top 100 Indian Luxury’s Most Influential’ for the past 6 years. He is also a recipient of the ‘Luxury Retail Icon 2012’ title by Asia Retail Congress. Having being featured in Forbes Luxury Trend Report 2012 as one of the industry leaders, he has also been widely recognized as a luxury expert by many media organisations. Fondazione Altagama has also recognized his contribution to the growth of Italian luxury industry by his pioneering efforts in India.