Memes and Marketing: Stay Premium, My Friend (Part 2)

Our study on premium positioning elicited some insights on the key emotional drivers that would help brands maintain premium stature even in the worst of times. But it also revealed something very common sense – and yet easy to forget.

In the previous post, I introduced the idea of a dangling meme: a disconnected and non-viable meme, a little vortex of ideas that gets you nowhere, and is therefore to be scrupulously avoided. Well, a dangling meme appeared in our premium mapping that consisted of the following two themes in an endless loop: “Just within my reach” and “Elite, but not elitist”.

Let’s think about this for a moment. Wouldn’t it be a good thing to make my products or services a little more within people’s reach during tough times? Shouldn’t I offer discounts and lower my price points? After all, times are hard and I might lose valuable customers because they can’t afford my premium prices. And isn’t it a good thing not be “elitist”? No one likes a snob, and we need to attract and retain customers.

But when you put the dangling meme together with the viable drivers of Exceptional Quality that Lasts, Endorsed by the Right People, and Masters of the Zeitgiest – a picture emerges that tells a profoundly insightful story… If you’re truly a premium brand, and not just overpriced, then deep down, people want you to commit to your positioning and be utterly confident about your value.

During the economic downturn, when many luxury brands cut prices and created new line extensions and products that were more “accessible”, companies like Hermes not only refused to do so, but in some ways went in the opposite direction. They zealously protected their positioning and pricing, while maintaining pristine standards of craftsmanship. They made it known how long the waiting time was for their famous Birkin bag (waiting lists of 6 to 18 months, costing upwards of $13,500 USD). They understood that in tough times, the desire to rise above that fray and live in a rarefied, beautiful world becomes heightened. You never see the word “sale” at an Apple store. Starbucks, for the most part, didn’t change their formulas, weird lingo, or prices.

The point is: If you’re a premium brand, stay premium. Work on improving your relationships and customer experience with your most influential customers. Work on your PR. Insist on maintaining exceptional craftsmanship, using the best materials. Eliminate waste and inefficiency, for sure – but don’t ever sacrifice quality. And never communicate that you’re nervous about your bottom line and therefore becoming more “accessible”. As human beings, we like premium things – precisely because they are not accessible to all. Because they make us feel special. Because their exceptional qualities remind us of ours. So, stay premium, my friend. No matter what.