The Luxury Marketing Council is a 20-year old “by-invitation-only” boutique group with 43 chapters worldwide and over 5,000 CEOs and CMOs representing companies targeting High Net Worth/Ultra High Net Worth consumers. The brainchild of former Bergdorf Goodman, NYSE and J. Walter Thompson executive Greg Furman, there are multiple monthly meetings, panels and think-tanks with a variety of those who sell to luxury customers as well as service providers for the sellers.
A mutual friend, Larry Pimentel, current CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, is a legendary travel and cruise executive, who is always in the conversation when people talk about best and brightest in the travel industry. He turned me onto The Luxury Marketing Council when we were launching Elite Traveler in 2001. His simple advice was “listen to Greg and go to meetings.”
Once in awhile Greg asks me to speak on a panel, which is always a privilege, although mainly to hear what others have to say on whatever topic I am supposed to be an expert on.
In this case it was “Courting the One Percent: Inspiring them to Invest and Buy: Best Marketing/Sales Strategies and Tactics.”
Here are my three takeaways I wanted to share with you:
How do you answer your phones?
Ira Newmark started his career as assistant to the doorman at Bonwit Teller and rose to CEO of Bergdorf Goodman (sales during his tenure grew from $30 million to $500 million) and later a Director at Hermes.
One interesting thing I find about Greg’s sessions is while he has the crème de la crème of luxury companies as members, those who show up tend to be more the entrepreneurs looking to learn. Interestingly, Newmark said he had seen a half dozen “big luxury brands” represented on the attendee list (of around 100) and took the time to call each. Each time he was greeted with a maze of phone options. His advice for those selling luxury was to make the first contact personal, with a live body picking up the phone.
It’s something I appreciated it. As a plug, when we launched Elite Traveler, instead of just putting in websites at the end of articles as a call to actually, we took the extra effort to give the name, phone number and email of the General Manager of the hotel we were writing about. When we write about luxury goods, we do the same, giving a name and phone number of somebody who can answer more questions or help readers make a purchase. I think its one reason 90 percent of readers tell us they get information in Elite Traveler they don’t get from other publications.
How do you engage charitable giving?
Philanthropic partnerships have become de rigueur for luxury brands. Typically the charity of choice has some connection to the brand’s DNA or its product mix. Joyce Clear of Clear Yacht Interiors caters to the very top of the pyramid. Her customers are yacht owners, so at the low end we are probably talking about people with a net worth of $30 million and generally a lot higher. She is also the founder of Ports of Cause, a non-profit, whose goal is protection, preservation and cleanup of our world’s oceans. Naturally, ocean preservation is something of interest to some yacht owners, and perhaps not surprisingly it now is a primary way she meets new customers. Their first contact with Joyce is to share a common passion, not a sales presentation.
I often see some of the smartest companies in luxury spending lots of money as sponsors of charitable events I go to. They are generally represented by product promoters or their events team. Rarely do these charming folks have much connection to the cause they are sponsoring. Last week it was a new boutique opening in Palm Beach, the next week they have a different event somewhere else. It’s their job and they do it professionally by every measure.
At the same time, most everyone is passionate about something. In each company I am sure there are people who are passionate about the causes their company is supporting, be it cleaning the oceans, curing cancer or saving the rain forest. They may be working in your mailroom.
Brands might get higher engagement with the causes they are supporting by utilizing employees who are also interested in the cause. It could be a great internal motivation program as well.
How do your present yourself and your company?
The problem with an educated consumer (more prevalent than ever since an answer to everything is a Google, Bing or Yahoo away) is sometimes they know more than your salespeople.
Ken Kamen is President of Mercadien Asset Management. He is also an author on the subject of wealth management with several books and has parlayed his expertise into frequent television appearances on CNBC and Fox Business Channel. As he puts it, “When you Google financial advisor 30 million responses come back.” Positioning himself as an authority on the subject provides separation from the others.
As a member of the media through my role as Editor-in-Chief at Elite Traveler, I get unique access to the people who envision, design, develop and manufacture a wide range of luxury products in multiple categories.
At the same time, these people mainly toil away outside the media spotlight and in places where most consumers never have access. All the research shows people want the story behind what they are buying. Mainly this comes from salespeople who get trained up for dozens of new products and at retail level have a high turnover.
With the tremendous investments luxury brands make in websites and e-technology, bringing the designers and developers or people who work alongside them to the forefront and in contact with customers and prospects would certainly build a bond to the brand and its products. I know some of this is already being done, but I also see lots of untapped opportunities to do more, and also to promote this e-access to the story makers.