A few years ago, during the height of the economic downturn, my colleagues at Scientific Intelligence and I decided to go a category mapping for our own edification, using our proprietary Structural Mapping Process (SMP). The topic on our minds and those of many of our clients was: How do you maintain a premium brand during a decidedly non-premium era?
Well, the findings were quite interesting…
First, the key drivers overall for successfully maintaining a premium positioning were as follows. You didn’t have to do all three, but at least one of the following, in order to stay on the premium path.
1. Provide unrelenting quality that stands the test of time
You’d think this one was self-evident, but many manufacturers will give in to the temptation to cut corners on materials and labour when accountants complain about the balance sheet. If you’re a premium brand, you must resist this temptation and stick to your high standards. Great examples include traditional luxury brands like Hermes, which insisted on staying exceptionally high quality and rather unattainable no matter how crappy the economy got. Or more low-key brands like the men’s shoe maker Alden, who quietly continue to make beautiful hand-crafted men’s shoes through good times and bad.
2. Be endorsed by the right people
Several years ago, when Land Rover wanted to make a splash in Toronto, their marketers did a careful study and found 20 key influencers who are “taste makers” in their respective arenas. One was the owner of one of the most elite event spaces in the city, another was the creative director of a highly regarded design firm. They gave each of these 20 people a tricked out Land Rover to drive for a week, instead of doing any other kind of activation. Smart move.
3. Demonstrate you’re a “Master of the Zeitgeist”
This is not an easy one to accomplish credibly, as it means you have to have both the knowledge and panache to pull it off. Brands like Apple under Steve Jobs, or Audi in the last decade, have managed to stay on the cutting edge of consumer trends and lead the pack. Even Samsung with its Galaxy phones has managed to stay visibly on the crest of the wave.
So, in a nutshell: Authentic quality, cache, and cultural relevance – are the 3 drivers that will keep you premium in a non-premium economy.
In the next post on premium brands, I’ll let you in on the “what not to do” we discovered in the study. Stay tuned.