CEO Letter | The Millennialisation of Luxury

One thing I’m always struck by when attending luxury insight events or hearing members’ marketing plans is how millennials appear to cause the greatest excitement. I’m wracking my brains to think of a research paper I’ve read in the last few years that didn’t offer new insights in to those born between 1980 and 2000.

I’ve even found myself a little put-out that my own demographic – Generation X – was interesting to almost no-one other than Douglas Copeland, sandwiched as we are between Babyboomers and their Millennial offspring. The former grew up at a time of unprecedented prosperity, singlehandedly inventing and appropriating youth culture – just look at Mick Jagger, or the late David Bowie and Steve Jobs – whilst evolving into wealthy pensioners with an abundance of leisure time and disposable income.

The latter were born into the seismic disruption of the fourth industrial revolution, a time of globalisation and of enormous technological and economic change. They’re digital natives, socially-savvy individuals who reject the materialism of their parents – the move from ownership to a sharing economy – for emotional as well as economic reasons.  Small wonder we find Millennials fascinating, and Gen X-ers are relegated to a mere footnote in history.

Marketeers look at Millennials as scientists look at lab rats, observing their behaviour as they explore this brave new digital, connected world – and as they’ll make up more than 50% of the workplace by 2020, there are strong economic as well as social reasons for a minute analysis of their intentions and their impact.

Walpole members were privileged to be the first to see a new piece of research from the BBC into affluent millennials and their attitudes to luxury brands last week – and I urge you to take a look at the BBC’s incisive and illuminating report:

BBC Reaching Affluent Millennials – Luxury Brands

When listening to the findings, and then to the Walpole panel’s discussion afterwards, I was struck by how much the behaviour we associate with Millennials is no longer the isolated behaviour of a specific social cohort, but the way all luxury consumers could now be said to behave. The craving for authenticity, for emotion and experience, for the mindful over the material, for ‘being’ rather than owning, signals a fundamental shift across the board to something Anne-Marie Verdin, former Marketing Director of Mulberry, now at Bicester Village, calls “the move from marketing to ‘mattering’. “

When it comes to luxury brands, the classic marketing mix of product, place, price and promotion lacks sufficient nuance to describe the powerful emotional connection with a customer on which those brands depend. If brands want to take advantage of how Millennial behaviour is changing the luxury landscape forever, a new, millennially-driven mantra of personality, playfulness, performance, purpose and participation must be applied to interactions with all customers, regardless of their generation.

Perhaps it’s possible to think of a new ‘Mattering Mix’ of 5 ‘P’s? I ’d be interested to know your thoughts.

  1. Personality – the new luxury consumer responds particularly strongly to brands with distinctive and authentic identities, those they see as reflecting or expressing their own personal values. It’s easiest to spot strong examples of this in founder-led businesses (think Victoria Beckham, or Tom Ford, for instance) or in Maria-Chiuri Grazia’s feminist take on Dior’s love of the feminine, or in Alessandro Michele’s Gucci.
  2. Playfulness – the new luxury customer expects to be able to have fun, to participate, to be understood. Step into any Charlotte Tilbury boutique to see this in action, or look at what Chanel beauty is doing on the fifth floor of Harrods in the middle of sportswear.
  3. Performance – quality materials, design and craftsmanship are not only an expectation, they’re an obsession. Customers want to look under the bonnet alongside the craftsman to learn about how things are made.
  4. Purpose – luxury brands and businesses are expected to behave well, to be mindful about environmental and social impact, to have a conscience. This isn’t a competitive advantage, though it can help contribute to personality, it’s a hygiene factor.
  5. Participation – customers expect to be able to experience a brand, to participate in a conversation, and to make that brand their own in some way. The product is simply a souvenir of a unique experience one has had with a brand one sees as sharing one’s values.

Image courtesy of influencer Shini Park’s collaboration with Mulberry