Ongoing economic uncertainty has made "aspirational" luxury customers—affluent and middle-income consumers willing to pay more for high-end goods and services—more selective about what they purchase than ever.
Aspirationals are aggressively prioritizing discretionary spending, purchasing a select few emotionally charged luxury items but buying everything else at mass or "masstige" outlets.
Companies that want to continue to profit from aspirational customers must make their brands accessible and relevant to them by taking their lifestyles into consideration and meeting them half way.
Aspirational customers come from all areas and walks of life: the affluent stay-at-home mom who plans five-star vacations and Target shopping trips with equal enthusiasm; the student who gives up daily Frappuccinos to save $200 for a pair of jeans; the bartender who won't settle for less than $300 sunglasses but lives in a spartan studio apartment.
Purchasing brands that the upper crust knows and respects provides aspirationals with feelings of success and status—even if they cannot afford the items they most covet or maintain the long-term spending pattern of the full-fledged luxury customer.
Here are seven tips to draw out aspirationals, just in time for the holidays.
1. Ramp up customer service
Make service seamless—in-store, over the phone and online. Great service—a must-have for this group—reassures aspirationals that they have made a good decision and spent their money well. It is also what compels them to open their wallets again and again.
2. Make the customer comfortable
Offer no-brainer shipping and returns, category-killing product photography, accurate sizing charts, and truly expert advice. These are difficult to get right, but being best-in-class makes the choice between mass vs. prestige easy for your audience. Study online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter.com—they not only get it right, they wrote the book.
3. Let customers come behind the scenes
Let customers try on your brand—through discussion forums, email, and blogs—before shopping in person. For example, luxury timepiece maker Jaeger-LeCoultre maintains a successful blog called "Le Club," where aficionados congregate to discuss all things horological. The blog is moderated by a journalist (instead of a Jaeger-LeCoultre marketing executive), and so participants see it as a unique meeting of minds for true enthusiasts rather than a promotional ploy.
4. Don't cannibalize your brand
If you offer a lower-priced collection, separate it as much as possible from your core product line. Remember to preserve your brand's image at all costs. When moving into less expensive categories, be the most expensive option and maintain a hierarchy. Chanel offers makeup and perfume to give customers a taste of glamour for less than $50, but within cosmetics its pricing keeps in solidly in the prestige realm.
5. Emphasize uniqueness and rarity
Do so via superior quality, limited editions, limited distribution, and appropriate pricing. Use online channels to offer very small amounts of stock via micro-specials—some lasting only a lunch break—to encourage high-volume stampedes. Then (gently) make customers aware that things have sold out due to high demand. This creates the excitement that pushes customers to buy rather than browse.
6. Present your products in the context of everyday life through marketing and merchandising
Advertisements and PR placements should be friendly, open-ended, inviting, and in line with the aspirational lifestyle. Authoritative positioning should be tempered with a human voice: i.e., choose O Magazine, Real Simple, or Lucky rather than Vogue. Train sales people or engage personal shoppers to help customers figure out how to blend high-end pieces with what they already own.
7. Cultivate fans
Fans are the people who tack your ads up in their cubicles and forward your emails to their friends. Show your appreciation by creating content for them that deepens their perspective on your brand—Kate Spade's Behind the Curtain (http://www.katespade.info) is a great example.
Take it even further by connecting on a one-to-one level through events that allow fans to try on your brand and get comfortable with the idea of purchasing. To create an air of "inclusive exclusivity," specifically target the aspirational segment rather than the wealthy in general.
For example, Mercedes' AMG Driving Event allows future purchasers and fans alike to feel what it is like to be an owner while learning high-performance driving skills from top professional racecar drivers, for a fraction of the product price.
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Marketers who understand what the aspirational customer wants—and work hard to provide it—will be rewarded with fiercely loyal, responsive, and profitable repeat purchasers. And that is an aspiration well worth pursuing.
Suzanne Hader is principal of 400twin (http://400twin.com), a New York City-based consulting firm that provides research and strategic direction for luxury brands. She can be reached at email@example.com.