There is a group of people for whom the recession has barely registered. They could be seen last month at the opening of the world’s first private jet dealership in London or expressing interest in private sponsorship for a £60m yacht to be gifted to the Queen this year.
This core audience of cash-rich consumers has helped the luxury brands sector to weather the economic storm and now mainstream brands are looking at how they can take advantage of this seemingly recession-proof market.
Burberry’s pre-tax profit rose 26% to £162m in the six months to 30 September last year, while Louis Vuitton owner LVMH has seen its revenue increase by 15% in the three months to the end of October 2011. Results like this are prompting mainstream brands and entrepreneurs to turn their attention to the lucrative high net worth (HNW) market in a bid to reap the rewards of targeting the super rich.
Among the entrepreneurs is Jim Kerwin, founder and chairman of The Private Journey, who says his magazine is growing as luxury brands seek to reach out to its 97,000 HNW individuals who read the glossy title (see case study, below).
Meanwhile, luxury lifestyle advisory group Quintessentially started out in 2000 as a small concierge business for the HNW market, but now has divisions in just about every industry, from wine, art, travel and property to private aviation and high-end retail.
Co-founder Ben Elliot says he saw a gap in the market for “money can’t buy” services and opportunities (see Q&A, below). He says: “Typically HNW individuals are time-poor, so they rely on us to organise their lives, introduce amazing ways for them to spend time with their loved ones, offer them access to private events and give them the best life has to offer.”
Dinner with the Dalai Lama, a family trip to Antarctica to see the Emperor Penguin colony and arranging a private Sydney Harbour Bridge climb for a marriage proposal with a difference are all experiences that Quintessentially has arranged for its clients.
Elliot believes HNW consumers are no longer just interested in demonstrating their wealth with material possessions but value services that make their lives easier or more exciting.
“The economy has moved away from just the tangible; we now live in a service-led world,” he claims. “HNW individuals ‘outsource’ most aspects of their lives, so I don’t believe the future is all about how much your car is worth any more.”
While luxury brands are spotting opportunities to cater to the mindset of the HNW community, can mainstream brands tap into this lucrative consumer? Many are trying, including Cancer Research, Domino’s, Thomas Cook and even budget brand Costcutter.
Cancer Research UK is escalating its activity with HNW donors through a partnership with Dragons’ Den star James Caan and high value donation programmes The Catalyst Club and Create the Change. Despite 90% of its donors giving around £10 a month, the charity is tapping into a heightened desire for HNW individuals to get involved in meaningful philanthropy, and has developed a dedicated marketing strategy around this.
Create the Change aims to raise £100m over the next four years, which will go towards the construction of the Francis Crick Medical Research Institute in London. The Catalyst Club is a £10m campaign to get 100 philanthropists to commit to giving £100,000 over three years. Cancer Research is also looking to raise £10m for a new research institute within The Christie Hospital at Manchester University.
Russell Delew, director of major giving and appeals at Cancer Research, says: “We haven’t previously explored opportunities to talk to HNW donors, who want to know where their money is going and want to choose specific projects to get behind.
“They want to really understand the impact of the work that we’re doing and be moved by it. They want much more detail, and ask tough questions. They want to know the organisation’s vision and how they can help.”
Cancer Research’s new direction involves more face time with the charity’s chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar, as major donors want to know that they have access to and resonate with this level of seniority within the organisation, explains Delew.
PR will also be more targeted, and high profile relationships leveraged. Delew gives the example of Stephanie Moore, widow of England World Cup winner Bobby Moore. “She set up her own campaign called the Bobby Moore Fund, which is part of Cancer Research UK. Stephanie has helped introduce us to the football community and helped us talk to them about supporting some of our programmes.”
Apart from philanthropy appealing to HNW individuals for either conscientious or publicity reasons, Delew suggests that there is a new motivation to give generously: family education.
“We are seeing that people want to get their families more involved,” he says. “A big motivation is that their children grow up not just being handed everything but having a conscience that moves them to do something good. They are even setting up their own foundations for them so they are committed to giving some of their money away.
“We are trying to offer opportunities that don’t just target a particular person, but get everyone in a family to understand what they’re supporting, and work with them to see the development of a project.”
High street brands are also tailoring their offer to appeal to higher spenders. In the travel sector, Thomas Cook and Lastminute.com have made their names by providing good value to the masses, but are now finding their brands resonating with the wealthy business community.
Lastminute managing director Mark Maddock says the guarantee of luxury for a discounted price, as well as prime locations, makes its Top Secret offering increasingly attractive to a business audience. “Five-star bookings are the fastest growing category across all of our products,” he reveals.
Thomas Cook is not only the official short breaks provider for the London 2012 Olympics, but is also offering corporate hospitality packages. These cost about £1,000 per person compared with the average £99 consumer package.
Five star accommodation, service staff and prime Olympic seating are a given, says Thomas Cook’s head of London 2012 partnership, Stephen Vaughan, but there is a bespoke element and an extra level of understanding required to sell the corporate packages effectively.
“We have business people coming from, for example, China. They are particularly keen on badminton and tennis, so we are able to develop packages around these interests,” says Vaughan.
“We have totally separate marketing collateral for our corporate proposition and a separate sales head for this part of the business. These customers might want only to stay at the Corinthia Hotel in London, eat at a certain restaurant or do certain activities like play golf. Our call centres couldn’t handle such requests because the people working there deal with people wanting to book three nights while watching the athletics and table tennis.”
Marketing efforts for this proposition began largely through the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games before moving on to targeting FTSE 250 businesses. A bigger corporate campaign will launch this month through business publications and outdoor sites at key commuter points.
Outside sport, could Thomas Cook become a more permanent part of the HNW consumer’s travel plans? Vaughan says: “We do get bookings from HNW customers so I do think this could evolve to be more of what we do. Certain stores in certain areas have a large HNW customer base so this is something we could work with them on.”
While mainstream brands are noticing a need to provide a more specialist offer for wealthier customers, research suggests that both traditional luxury and mainstream brands will have to adjust their offer to HNW individuals to cater for consumers in emerging markets.
According to Ledbury Research, which specialises in providing insights on HNW consumers, wealth is growing faster in emerging markets than in developed markets.
The number of ‘deca-millionaires’ (those worth more than £10m) in the Asia Pacific region has grown from 218,000 in 2007 to 288,000 in 2011. In Europe, numbers have decreased from 349,000 in 2007 to 295,000 in 2011. Numbers for the rest of the world have jumped from 83,000 to 117,000 in the same period.
The case for ‘centa-millionaires’ (those worth more than £100m) is even stronger. While in Europe these numbers are in decline, the number of uber-wealthy people in Asia Pacific has grown from 14,600 in 2007 to 20,000 in 2011.
This shift of wealth towards emerging markets is an opportunity, suggests editor of monthly publication High Net Worth and Ledbury director James Lawson, because the UK, and London in particular, has a key role to play for this consumer.
“Where new wealth is generated, it is looking for safe places [for their money] to be stored. London is one of the most attractive international and safe financial centres and is probably the most pre-eminent in terms of political, financial and legal stability,” says Lawson.
“High-end retailers in London have seen an increasing percentage of sales over the past five years going to foreign buyers - luxury tourists, basically. This is a major export.”
Western businesses catering to such luxury tourists are beginning to take on board insights into how to serve them. Hilton, Starwood, Harrods and Printemps are some of these, according to Trendwatching.com’s 2012 consumer trend report. In certain hotels, Hilton offers a welcome letter in Mandarin and a Chinese-style breakfast, Harrods in London employs 70 Mandarin-speaking staff, while Paris department store Printemps has a special entrance for Chinese tour groups.
Ledbury has identified consumer personality archetypes in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Middle East and Russia based on interviews with luxury industry representatives in those markets. Mainstream brands can also learn lessons from these insights, says Lawson. Costcutter and Domino’s have both launched strategies in the past 12 months to develop premium ends of their business in an attempt to appeal to the more discerning consumer.
Domino’s has launched the Gourmet Range in an attempt to appeal to wealthier customers, while Costcutter has introduced myCostcutter, a more premium convenience store.
But if the wealthy are turning to brands like Domino’s and Costcutter, are they also cutting back in a similar fashion to other consumer groups? Lawson at Ledbury says “selected extravagance” has been common for some time and has applied to all kinds of consumers, including the wealthy. This attitude could also benefit mainstream brands, he adds.
“Now you’re as likely to find a millionaire using easyJet as you are BA’s first class cabin. You are also just as likely to find them driving a Ford as a Ferrari,” he claims.
“But I think there is more of a greater social awareness, with high net worth individuals thinking ‘do I want to be seen parading around in a brand new car when I’ve just had to lay off 10% of the workforce in the company I run?’ There has been a shift in terms of spending but this is less because of financial concerns and more about broader awareness of their place within their communities,” he adds.
Indeed, YouGov’s 2011 Luxury Goods report shows Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Debenhams, House of Fraser and Primark at the top of the shopping list for wealthy consumers.
But YouGov research director James McCoy says this is not a result of the wealthy cutting back. “This trend is more indicative of age. From a younger person’s point of view, it might seem surprising because branded clothing has a greater appeal among this age group. The older age group didn’t grow up with that designer culture so they aren’t used to it. I presume in 40 years’ time you will see 80-year-olds wearing Dolce & Gabanna,” he suggests.
McCoy warns that once this older age group phases out, mainstream brands like M&S may find they have less of an affinity with a higher spending audience. They must act now to find new strategies to bridge this gap.
Ledbury’s Lawson says the right product development and marketing strategy will provide mainstream brands plenty of opportunities to attract wealthy consumers.
He advises: “Buying luxury tends to be motivated by self-treating, being one of the first to have something, conspicuous consumption and connoisseurship. But the predominant reason people buy luxury is the quality of the product, and anyone wanting to sell something as luxury must sell on its quality.”
If the opening of a private jet dealership in London’s Knightsbridge last month isn’t enough of an indicator of demand at the very top of the consumer market, Jim Kerwin, founder and chairman of The Private Journey, says his magazine is going from strength to strength in terms of both distribution and paying advertisers.
Aimed at owners of private aircraft, the magazine is distributed in 190 private jet terminals in North America with a readership of about 100,000 HNW individuals worth an average of $89m each. These include business executives, royalty, politicians, entrepreneurs, sportsmen and entertainers.
According to the magazine’s media kit, an average reader spends about $1.7m a year on fine art, $98,000 on experiential travel, $117,000 on fashion and accessories and $29,000 on wine and spirits. The average reader tends to be about 57 years old, with a 70:30 split of men to women.
The quarterly publication launched in October 2010 after Kerwin saw media spend of luxury brands through his advertising agency business was on the up. A partnership with Roaring Thunder Media, which supplies outdoor advertising within private jet terminals, makes for a logical business model.
But Kerwin claims that to maintain the luxury feel of the magazine, he turned several advertisers away for the most recent issue because they were not high end enough. “It’s important to keep the environment right and keep the integrity of the magazine very pure,” he explains.
Ben Elliot (BE): When we founded Quintessentially in 2000, the focus of the business was on delivering a proactive and dedicated service. That has not changed in 11 years. HNW individuals demand the very best, whenever and wherever they are. Since we launched our membership base has transformed and with offices in over 60 cities globally we’re able to cater to their demands across the globe. To ensure we were able to deliver this sort of dedicated service, we spent time hand-picking experts in every luxury division and now we have teams of experts in every industry.
BE: When we receive queries about where a member should invest in the wine market, whether they should buy a certain piece of art, where to book the most romantic holiday, how a member could get hold of a sold-out gift, or where a family moving to the UK should enroll their children in school, we wanted to be able to tell them for certain that we knew the answers. The increasing demand for these services drove us very quickly to know which high-end offerings were the ones to focus on.
BE: The driving force is demand. For example, we’ve been in Asia for some years now where the focus has been on tier one cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. We have recently started to get requests from HNW individuals in tier two cities, so we are looking at opening more offices there. We’ve just opened offices in Angola and the Dominican Republic, again due to demand. While many of the offices are singularly owned by ourselves, the ability to join with local partners and form expert franchises across the globe has also allowed the business to grow at such a pace.
BE: Mainstream brands target a specific consumer, and luxury brands have a different target audience. Some mainstream companies are incredibly successful at providing products demanded by their target audience, but by changing that offering in order to make it more ‘upmarket’ they may be alienating their core consumer.
Many luxury brands have started trying to appeal to a more diverse audience by offering cheaper alternatives, but it has to be looked at on a very individual basis. Certain products appeal to certain individuals and by trying to engage the masses, they risk losing their dedicated few.
BE: Know your market, work with experts, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, never break the trust of your client, and always focus on the service you deliver.
Our members always come first and we’ll certainly do everything in our power to make sure that we continue to deliver a flawless and proactive service across the globe.
Honda marketer Ian Armstrong recently left to join Jaguar, as part of the brand’s move to strengthen its marketing capabilities.
Volvo, meanwhile, took on former adman Richard Monturo in February 2010 to help strengthen the brand’s luxury perception.
Virgin Atlantic’s Paul Dickinson is to begin a new role at auction house Christie’s imminently, with a focus on emerging markets.
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