Friday, December 27, 2013

Luxury consumers decoded


It is not easy to classify the Great Indian luxury consumers. Though several attempts have been made over the years, somewhere we Indian have been able to confuse these classifiers. A classic example was when I saw a gentleman driving a Mercedes E- Class towards the CNG counter of the petrol pump. Although we need to show off or flaunt our status with luxury we can’t help save every penny that we possibly can. Another classic example was when I saw a friend strapping a limited edition Omega with a Titan because “the Omega strap is very expensive”. This gentleman is a high-flying executive with an MNC.

In a recent CII-IMRB study on the changing face of luxury in India they have classified the luxury consumers in an interesting manner into experientialist, connoisseur, flaunter and aesthete.

However, you must remember that no matter how much you try to classify us Indians, we are a heady mix of all the above and much more than any study could possibly gauge.  

First, the experientialists: 
This consumer typically values new and exciting experiences more than buying products or brands. They spend on the experiences. In their structured lives they seek a getaway and so their spends primarily include five-star hotel stays, fine dining or adventurous/thrilling experiences. Luxury to them brings up images of being suspended in time and space, not having the press of daily life and work responsibilities thrusting into their minds as they enjoy the time away.
An exquisite piece of art or a handcrafted timepiece may also give a similar experience when you are just in a space where you are appreciating the beauty of it. It is a time warp, every time you look at it, you become so mesmerised by the beauty that you forget your meetings and deadlines. The experience is the luxury, the experience is the dazzle or luxe (Read: The Quest for Luxury).
Personalisation of experiences takes luxury to a new level. Personalisation of menus at fine diners is no longer reserved for the elite. Even sometimes the name of the customer is printed on the menu. So yes, this is value for the buck for an experientialist.
For these consumers, going forward the trend will be to stay in specialty boutique hotels or resorts, luxury spas or private apartments and villas when on a holiday.

Now let’s meet the connoisseurs: 
This segment is passionate in certain areas of interest and makes it a point to be well informed and knowledgeable about it. These categories could be art, scotch, wine, watches, writing instruments, cigars, horses, and the likes. These connoisseurs get together and appreciate the finer aspects of their passion. They form clubs and get together for a quiet appreciate of luxury of the creation. It may be a horology society or a wine club or a scotch club or a cigar group. 

This segment just revels in enjoying what they appreciate the most.  Like in Kolkata there is The Calcutta Malt and Spirits Club and in the capital there is Delhi Single Malt Club where members come together, discuss, study, debate and share their appreciation and experience in high spirits (no pun intended). Similarly, there are elitist clubs of connoisseurs for appreciation of Cuban cigars and timepieces across the country.

They will spend their time and money in pursuit of the collection of personal passion points. They make the pursuit of their area of passion a mission and pursue it with zest. When it comes to limited editions, or handcrafted editions or spirit of the bygone era, these connoisseurs will not bat an eyelid for spending a fortune.

They are unlikely to place value on brands unless it stands for exquisite exclusivity. They tend to prize themselves on the knowledge of esoteric brands that are not widely known.

Luxury to them is purely a matter of the level of craftsmanship, the number of man hours spent, and thus the quality of the products or services that they buy. Niche, but specialised brands across categories will make their mark with these consumers. Their willingness to pay is high. Curated services that brings such products to them will be a great getaway to tap into their need for excellence.

The next segment, I believe is the life force that drives luxury in India. Meet the flaunters: 
A socialite friend who used to swear by a clutch that she used to take to every party had secretly told me that she isn’t that fond of it but only carries it for the LV monogram tag. That's the power of a brand of this genre.

Welcome to the world of flaunters. They tend to value brand name over all other factors. Purchase of a brand is a signal of their status in their society and so visibility of the brand name is important. It is also important for the brand to be aspirational, otherwise, what's the big deal? Badge seekers at the stage where the brand name itself is the biggest status indicator is seen mostly with the newly rich or new money class, especially among their young members. There is a strong desire to prove to the society that they have entered the elitist luxury brand-wagon.

In a survey more such consumers were seen in cities like Ludhiana, where they justify the ownership of brands by stating that they are now in a status or position which makes it de rigueur. The most interesting thing about this class is that brands are on a continuum. They can show off Zara as a daily wear to Prada on special occasions with √©lan.

As flaunters move up the societal ladder, the badge value is conferred not only by the brand but also by the level of difficulty in obtaining the product or service. Dinner reservation at hard-to-get restaurants, Birkin or Kelly bags for which the wait list is over four years, monogrammed and hot stamped Louis Vuitton bags with their initials, accessories made from exotic leather like of crocodile or snake – the ability to acquire these with relative ease is a reflection of their status.

Well known but exclusive services and products are the way forward for tapping this segment of consumers.

And last but not the least, I present to you the aesthetes:
To this genre, the brand is much less important than the design. Aesthetes are luxury consumers purely because they have arrived at a state of income due to which they can indulge in their love for design among luxury brands or products.     

They will shell out a bomb because the object of desire is hand stitched and not because of the label. They pride themselves for having an eye that picks out the unique and bold in design.

The difference between them and the connoisseur is that the latter has certain passions which they follow with zeal and the quality and craftsmanship are very important. However, for the former category, it is the aesthetic appeal, the look, the intricacies of the design that appeal to their senses. They are also likely to pursue this aesthetic across categories unlike a connoisseur.

It is the creativity and the uniqueness of an item that denotes the value to the aesthetes, and they are willing to shell out if that object catches the eye. It is not about the intrinsic value or brand value, it is about just aesthetics. To tap them, luxury brands need to showcase more distinctive and unique designs.


The most intriguing part is that the experientialist consumer may well be an aesthete when it comes to apparel and accessories, while a connoisseur in art may be a flaunter when it comes to automobiles or his home. Indian luxury consumers are still evolving and many of them are not at a stage where their lives are only dominated by luxury brands.

Built in rationality and conservatism still dominates our minds so one toe may be dipped in luxury, the other may be in a pool of “value for money”.
Yes, it happens only in India.