Four Ways to Sell Luxury in a Downturn

Last Updated Apr 28, 2009 7:54 PM EDT

High-end brands face a particularly tough challenge given the current economic climate. When consumers are focused on cutting spending, how can a company convince them to shell out for luxury items? One answer may be focusing marketing efforts around the concept of timelessness.

This was the conclusion reached by Tania Kooros, who is receiving her MBA from Columbia Business School next week, and her colleagues from the Design and Marketing of Luxury Products seminar.

"Show people they're making an investment in the brand. Being timeless is going to appeal to a lot of people now, because people are changing their spending habits in the current economic climate," Kooros said during our recent conversation.

The Luxury Products seminar, which lasts one semester, teams students from Columbia Business School and the Parsons School of Design and gives them the opportunity to work with senior executives from well-known luxury brands such as Cartier, Christian Dior, Louis Vutton and the Hermès Group. Kooros worked on a team with the high-end crystal brand Lalique to help the company target a younger audience while maintaining its core clientele.

The marketing strategy that best addressed this challenge was to promote the timelessness of the brand. Here are a few ways the team did so:

1. Emphasize the brand's history
In Lalique's case, this was easy to do, as the company is 150 years old. But many brands can include in their marketing materials their commitment to excellence for "X" number of years, be it 10 or 100. The message is the same: consistent quality over time.

2. Position brand as part of key life events
The team emphasized Lalique's presence in conjunction with major events such as graduations, weddings and the birth of a child. Even in a bad economy, customers splurge on items to mark such milestones, especially if they believe in the brand's staying power.

3. Equate purchases with investments
Timelessness also means that an item will be suitable to pass down to future generations, so emphasize both the durability of the brand and the product itself.

4. Look for partners to help convey the message
Kooros' team found that collaboration was key in conveying their message of timelessness to new customers. They reached out to members of New York society in their marketing efforts and held a concert with Lalique pieces placed in the venue.

Kooros stressed the importance of partnering with brands that convey similar values. The team decided that collaborating with lower-end brands would risk alienating members of its core clientele.

Kooros emphasized that separate marketing campaigns do not necessarily need to be undertaken to attract younger customers. Rather, a value such as timelessness will appeal to both younger and older generations.

"By sharing the history and heritage of the product, we were able to tie both groups together," Kooros states.

Big Ben image courtesy of Flickr user the trial, CC 2.0

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.