The HAUTeLUXE™ series: Step 11 – I love you!


Philippe Mihailovich | October 18, 2010

By approaching brand building like the stages of a love story, Philippe Mihailovich argues in his yet unpublished book that luxury branding is more about human relationships – passion, desire, love, and trust than the mass market theories often used by companies today. The eleventh in his monthly series covers aspects of nurturing love.

By approaching brand building like the stages of a love story, Philippe Mihailovich argues in his yet unpublished book that luxury branding is more about human relationships – passion, desire, love, and trust than the mass market theories often used by companies today. The eleventh in his monthly series covers aspects of nurturing love.

I’m committed, happy, totally engaged!

To be in love is a divine feeling. Can we really get clients to fall in love with our brands? Perhaps we need look no further than screaming teenage fans at a pop concert or outside the Cannes film festival. People brands are easier to fall in love with. It’s why we need to strive to ensure that our brand is as humanised as possible. The closer we can get to this goal, the closer our brand gets to ‘self-actualising’.

We have discussed how surprise and excitement can create a sort of ‘love at first sight’ effect, such as the “I want everything – it was made for me!” comment that actress Diane Kruger made at Lagerfeld’s ‘Coquille Chanel’ haute couture show. Neuroscientists are now suggesting that since the neurochemical dopamine is involved in addictions to drugs as well as ‘excessive’ brand-name purchasing, it implies some degree of emotional bonding, if not outright addiction occurs. Love too is linked to dopamine but mostly in terms of ‘falling in love’.

The Lore of Love

The HAUTeLUXE Series is not the first to link brands with love. The advertising guys got there first, and although they do not tend to examine luxury brands, the same truths are there, meaning mass brands too are aware of the need to connect through love, and this challenges luxury brands. If mass brands are taking brand love seriously, then luxury brands have to! In his book “Lovemarks”, Kevin Roberts, (1) CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi provides a very concise summary of some of the key points already raised in this series:

• “Human beings need love”
• “Love is about a profound sense of attachment”
• “Love is always two-way”
• “Love is about responding, about delicate, intuitive sensing”
• “Love takes time"
• “Love has history”
• “Love gives us meaning and makes us what we are”
• “Love cannot be commanded or demanded”
• “Like power, you get love by giving it”
• “Love is like oxygen”

….but love built on what?

• “No respect, no love”
• “Respect grows out of performance”
• “Pursue innovation – continuous improvement"
• “Commit to total commitment”
• “Make it easy”
• “Don’t hide”
• “Jealously guard your reputation”
• “Tell the truth”
• “Nurture integrity”
• “Accept responsibility”
• “Never pull back on service’
• “Don’t underestimate (perceptual) value”
• “Deserve trust”
• “Never, ever fail the reliability test”
• “No respect, no Love, Period.”

What gives ‘lovemarks’ their special emotional resonance?

• Mystery
– Great stories
– Past, present, future
– Taps into dreams
– Myths and icons
– Inspiration

• Sensuality
– Sound
– Sight
– Smell
– Touch
– Taste

• Intimacy
– Commitment
– Empathy
– Passion

…which leads to the following attributes:

• “Be passionate – consumers can smell a fake a mile off”
• “Involve customers. Be creative’
• “Celebrate Loyalty”
• “Find, tell, & retell great stories”
• “Great relationships thrive on learning, anticipation, and surprise”
• “Lovemarks know that the people who love them are passionate, emotional, and often irrational human beings”
• “Tapping into dreams is a powerful way of showing people that we understand their desires and can transform them into delight”
• “Lovemarks need Sensuality, but they need it with a human touch”
• “People need Intimacy in their lives’
• “Intimacy has three faces: Empathy, Commitment, Passion”
• “Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them”
• “Committed people are prepared to wait….and wait”
• “Loyalty Beyond Reason = Love in the bank”
• “Lovemarks grow on emotional connections rather than just word-of-mouth”

Unlike mass brands, true luxury tends to build on one-to-one relationships, but with online social networking, even Starbucks is now doing that. At least luxury has the unequal advantage of being able to absorb all of Roger’s Lovemark attributes.

What Roberts does not mention is the word ‘desire’ or ways to build loving relationships. Desire is driven by our need for change, for beauty, for the very best. Desire is a crucial word in luxury and in any loving relationship for that matter -the desire to see someone, to be with or be seen with or to be intimate with someone. We even like to desire what we can’t have. To luxury brands then, all of the lovemark attributes including desire, should be the norm. They serve as a wonderful set of ‘brand relationship health check instruments’ that go straight into the heart of a brand and ultimately touch on its soul and nowadays, a brand without soul is a brand heading for trouble.

The Culture of Love

Virgin may be a huge company but it has harnessed a culture of intimacy. Rising from the humble beginnings of mail-order music distribution to luxury space flights is no mean feat. The bigger Virgin gets, the more it splits the company into smaller companies. “I feel that small, compact companies are, generally, better run. This is because people feel more connected in smaller companies,” says founder, Richard Branson (2). “Customer service and staff satisfaction are pretty much the same issue. You can’t really think about your customers unless you also think about your people. Staff are encouraged to have fun and to see the business as an extension of their personality. At Virgin, it’s ok to be yourself. It’s a great place work and there’s no shortage of people who desire to work for Virgin or with Virgin. Virgin people are empowered. They are allowed to be overly generous with disgruntled customers. If you are able to sort out your customers’ problems better than they expected, then they will be your loyal friend for life. These values do not come cheap. These values must be paid for,“ he adds.

“The Virgin brand appeals to an attitude of mind,” he explains. “It is about enjoying life to the full. It is about irreverence and cheek. It values plain speaking. It is not miserly, or mercenary. It has a newcomer’s voice. The attitude is timeless. It’s human. A large part of the Virgin story has been my willingness to be a central character in our publicity. My own high-profile adventures have not just highlighted the brand, they’ve personified it. Everything is personified. We’d much sooner personalise our machinery than mechanise our staff.”

Employees have his email address and phone number. They are encouraged to keep up good communication and to pay attention to detail. To Virgin, brand reputation is everything and staff are encouraged to do whatever it takes to live up to the brand’s promises, for instance, “You will not get bored on our flights.” It’s a brand that embraces change, surprises us, and totally focuses on the customer experience. No wonder we so easily accept the existence of Virgin Galactic. Virgin’s people are its best marketing tool. Yes, Advertising, P.R and design are important but if customers have a positive experience every time they are in contact with your brand, they will feel the empathy and will grow closer to the brand. It’s about living and sharing common positive experiences together but when we lose respect, love flies out of the window.

Creating a Family

“Virgin has created better corporate families than most. We’ve done it by accepting the fact that we have to think beyond the bottom line. Families forgive each other. Families work around problems. Families require effort, and patience. You have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. You have to put up with your troublesome siblings. They’re your family: you can’t just throw them onto the street,” says Branson who feels that “ethics aren’t just important in business, they are the whole point of business.”

Business needs to navigate self-interest towards social interest because governments are less effective at doing so. At least it seems that the boom in luxury brands has been creating jobs for all. Perhaps it could be argued that the luxury moguls have generously sacrificed the image of some of their brands in order to create more employment on this planet. Not one employee that I have ever encountered within the LVMH group has ever expressed unhappiness working there. When staff are happy, the clients feel it, but it is also a question of feeling proud of your brand, not only for its creativity, fame or power but also for its ethics, culture and soul.

Giving love generously

“In Europe and North America, the nature of luxury goods and services themselves are evolving”, stated Newsweek (3). “Rather than flash, luxury consumers are now seeking discretion, special access, surprise, humour, even secrecy. Members-only services for dining, travelling, entertainment and retail are proliferating. Clearly, the rich want to be rich in private, with members of their own tribe. Most of all, they want meaning, emotion and connection – witness the rise of philanthropic travel, where visitors to ultra posh resorts in far-flung places might help build a school or launch a mini-foundation for water-sanitation projects in between beachcombing”.

Philanthropy has emerged as the contemporary symbol of self-actualisation. Forty US billionaires have already signed up to pledge at least half of their fortunes to charity under a philanthropic campaign kicked off by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. For these wealthy individuals, luxury is about generosity. Our times have witnessed the emergence of the social entrepreneur – as highlighted by the Skoll awards and Medinge’s Brands With A Conscience Awards – for those who help achieve social objectives by business means. Jeff Skoll, the first president of ebay, Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel prize-winning micro-finance pioneer and Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are young successful businessmen that represent the zeigeist of the western luxury market. Brands who seek to attract such customers aught to ensure that they share the same value systems or they may find themselves left behind tending to the last of the bling shoppers and living in a different universe.

Where will love take you?

“If two people feel a connection, find they have common values and interests, enjoy one another’s company, why not together embark on a pathway of joining one another in a space of loving and being loved? No falling required,” says Linda Marks, author of Living With Vision (4).

Luxury must aim beyond attracting love at first sight from the product details through to the shop windows and go way beyond pure lust, desire and simplistic dreams. As in any love relationship, the ideal is to be living the dream together. That means experiencing life together. Think of fond memories we retain enjoying another’s company sometimes marked by music, art, fragrance or prose. Louis Vuitton’s “Where will life take you?” film and tv commercials (5) successfully evokes emotional experiences to introduce viewers into the brand’s universe and its passion for travel.

Sharing thoughts, experiences and opening one’s heart to the other, and together, building a special space of mutual love and respect is far more powerful than simple brand storytelling. Find every touch-point to connect. Brands that speak honestly, listen intently, and give memorable experiences, quality time and kindness will flourish.

Perhaps the time has come for luxury brands together with their clients to aim to eradicate poverty and save the planet and prosper together. Through your conviction people will feel your integrity and will trust and respect your brand more. Love comes with respect, trust and soul but beware, its renewable daily.

Philippe Mihailovich

(1) Roberts, K “The future beyond brands: Lovemarks”, (2004) PowerHouse Books
(2) Branson, R,”Business Stripped Bare”, Virgin Books 2008
(3) “Luxury Goes Undercover’ Newsweek 2 Jun 2007
(4) Ezine Articles
(5) Louis Vuitton “Where will life take you?” (short version), (long version)