The New Rules for Luxury | Paul Graham, Sales & Marketing Director, Cleave & Co.

Moving into a new role can be daunting at the best of times – but how about joining a new company, and category, at the start of a global pandemic? In today’s ‘New Rules’ we meet the erudite Paul Graham who did exactly this – moving from Champagne house Pol Roger to head up marketing at international court jewellers Cleave & Company, whose marketing strategy had been, until March: ‘if you know, you know’. Here, Paul talks us through his first four months at the brand, and how – for the first time – he is communicating Cleave’s story of fine design and craftsmanship; personalised, bespoke service; and luxury collaborations with a new world beyond the ‘palace walls’.

How has your approach to marketing evolved following the Covid-19 outbreak? Or has it remained the same, and if so why?

I was lucky enough to move into a new chapter of my career during one of the most concerning events in the 21st century; I left a category I knew relatively inside out and felt so very comfortable in but I knew luxury marketing was not about staying in your lane: you need breadth, experience and a 360 outlook on what is happening globally beyond your mini-world.

Cleave & Company (International Court Jewellers) wanted a ‘refresh’; a way to tell their story to a wider world beyond ‘state corridors’ or ‘palace walls’, and I was hired to communicate to the world about their talents in crafting one-of-a-kind pieces for exacting clients. The marketing in place at Cleave was largely word-of-mouth and as such ‘those that knew, knew.  Those that didn’t had relatively little or no knowledge of us’, we therefore needed not just a ‘pivot’ but a ‘paradigm shift’. Beyond taking a brand like Cleave into the highly competitive luxury arena I also now needed to negotiate a global pandemic, raising the stakes.

I knew from my days working with a more traditional Champagne house that simply trying to ‘make them fashionable or sexy’ was not an option, the Ultra High Net Worth consumer we are profiling for is mature, experienced and savvy both in tech, craft and trends – they can spot a cheap trick a mile away (interestingly they are also quite young, 30-45 years old). We had to start slow and renovate (in brand architecture terms), the business is well established and its credentials assured so it was more about finding the right avenues to project the right message to.

To use a car analogy, we needed a ‘new paint job, new tyres and maybe a valet’; under the hood the vehicle was in fine-nick, the problem became the more we blipped the engine, the louder the exhaust growled, but we were on an island where no new people could hear our overtures.  It didn’t matter how hard we pressed the throttle. I therefore needed to re-build a full digital landscape (website, social media, google ads/SEO/FB ads and 360 digital health check) and work out the best way to target our clientele, globally.  We are an export business predominately so all our search work had to have knowledge of key countries like the USA, GCC countries, APAC and Hong Kong, Singapore etc.  Strategy was everything. We had to be clever, we had to be brief, and we had to get our story straight; there was no time for ambivalence.

My feeling on luxury marketing is that you do not cut corners if you want success. You flex every skill at your disposal; you use the best photographers, you mix up media use, and understand your client and the shifting landscape – they have little time but expect your pieces to be peerless, high performing and imaginative.  My clients need personal service so I made this a priority (one-to-one consultations are our raison d’etre), I made the fact we produce our pieces in-house, in Petworth, West Sussex our talking point.  You want the best?  You have it here, the very best – but simply getting this information out has been a challenge; digital competition is ruthless and some gatekeepers to prestigious families have been controversially self-serving so we have been a little frustrated, but this is NOT a short-term project. I am confident quality will win-out and we are on the right path. It feels like we are really moving forwards as a company, the support has been brilliant internally and in the face of such a shift, it’s a credit to everyone at Cleave – from the office to the board.

We are relentlessly focused on the brilliance of our designers and craftsmen, and that is what needs to shine through.”

I have always advocated a ‘smart programme’ of using all the world has to offer in terms of a variety of platforms to communicate the values of the brand, I have trimmed back on  the number of social media channels to focus on the more relevant hangouts such as Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook; and I have reduced our website’s sheer size in favour of a more image-focused landing site (purely to drive clients to our website and email). I then pushed our message into key US States and global regions, digitally focussing on data from the internet and sources such as McKinsey and Bain etc.

I am desperate to get out and see our clients but this may not be for a while so we need to work on a new concept which could look closer to ‘virtual’ walk-through’s of items at our town house at Buckingham Place in London, or similar events virtually visiting our workshop in West Sussex. Collaborative efforts are essential to help broaden our reach and improve awareness of the brand in wider luxury communities – we are developing some work closely with (former Walpole Brand of Tomorrow) Sabina Savage, which is super exciting; as is the possibility of working with Smythson, and – longer-term – possibly Winch Design. For now the mission is clear: drive a clear, concise and consistent message to the wider UHNW community using all the latest technology (where appropriate for the brand), and remember that content is your first and last port of call.

What, in your opinion, are the ‘new luxury marketing rules’ for the ‘new normal’?

I am a little ambivalent to the term ‘the new normal’, but I accept the fact we will not go back to the way we were. Digital has often been seen as an accompaniment to what the brand was doing and sometimes even as an minor but essential annoyance (from some quarters) – it has shown itself now as a vital part of any brand’s performance and, certainly in terms of metrics, it can provide very valuable feedback beyond what was previously available.

Creativity is no longer something anyone should take for granted, you need to stand-out more than ever. Marketers have on occasion been ‘wished aside’ because their thought processes didn’t fit with a more-linear, commercially-led strategy, but my belief is that successful luxury business must lead with a dual strategy (commercial and marketing together) or die. How on earth can you sell a beautiful dress, a majestic emerald pendant, or a vintage bottle of white Burgundy if you don’t sell the experience along with the basic economics? Shortcuts will be seen by a mature market: you don’t need to spend tens of thousands but you do need a vision and a team behind the process who believes ‘all the way’.

My advice is make sure commercial and marketing teams are all on the same page as much as possible: share the struggles and share the successes.”

UHNW clients don’t have time; they expect you as a brand to make that time up for them, to have fashioned something from hundreds of hours of intensity and craftsmanship, so expect more of your product: get to know it inside out and make NPD in the top 5 priorities of the company; work out what you stand for and live it, take your team with you and be an enthusiast. The human side to it all is illustrating that you understand you client, do your homework, focus on the detail and discard the generic – let the other part of the consumer goods industry have that. How can you enjoy a proper glass of Champagne or 21-year-old whisky by ‘throwing it down your neck’?

Help your client to desire your product with your content and your vision, get that right and growth will come. Try to go for quick sales and cheaper ‘showboating’, and it is my belief that the type of client you want will see through it. Focus on the metrics; what does success look like to you and what does it look like to your boss/board? Never lose sight of that in everything. And finally: never commit to digital what you would not commit to print or in person – and always be prepared to listen and find ways to merge the new with the old, a lot of good can be found in each.

cleave.com
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If you are responsible for the marketing and communications function of a Walpole member brand and would like to share your thoughts, please contact Jenni Rayner.

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