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Luxury Exposes Design Myths

By Chris Ramey

Luxury and design are very different business models.  In many ways, luxury exposes design myths.

Designers are not immune to market forces.  The myths that designers are somehow above marketing or that marketing is not effective for designers are two of the most harmful myths imaginable.

The entire luxury category is built on marketing that creates desire for the brand.  Your brand equity and margins increase as more prospects desire to retain you.

Every industry has protective bubbles.  The result is parity; everybody looks about the same, particularly online.  It is a myth that you can compete profitably if prospects think you are no different than other designers.  That parity is why design is considered comparative and often commoditized.

Meanwhile, luxury is superlative; driven by point of view from the person at the top. Designers often tell me they “do whatever the client wants.”  But if so, their client need only hire an intern.

Industry disruptors across all categories almost always emanate from outside industry bubbles, for example, Tesla, and Airbnb.  They see the world differently.

Luxury sees design differently too as our values are centered on classic luxury marketing pillars that are reminiscent to design in the days of Dorothy Draper when retaining a designer was a luxury.  These pillars should be more important than ever to talented highest-level interior designers.  The current bubble that dumbs-down design is an anathema to us.

Regardless of who you are or what you do, it’s human nature to be comfortable inside your own bubble.  You can congratulate each other at events to chat-up your relevance.  You might even begin to believe ‘word of mouth’ is more impressive and effective than real marketing. 

However, your bubble is very different from your best prospect’s bubble.

The most difficult truths exist outside your bubble where you discover that not everyone knows who you are.  Former US Secretary of State Madelaine Albright tells a story about being pulled out of line at London’s Heathrow Airport by British customs. She asked the officials, “Do you know who I am?”  The guard replied, “No, but we have doctors here who can help you to figure that out.”  Mrs. Albright was outside her bubble.  Fortunately, design professionals can advertise beyond their bubble to build brand awareness and revenue.  If Cartier, Patek Philippe, and Chanel must advertise, then you do too.

The most important business pillar of luxury is ‘marketing first.’  The luxury category and luxury margins are driven by marketing that creates a desire for the brand.

It is a myth that you sell to the affluent.  Instead, you fascinate and match values manifesting desire.  Of course, you only have that opportunity if they know you exist.  Anonymity, regardless of whether you consciously plan it or not, is always a bad strategy.   

I often suggest to audiences that they test their own brand awareness next time they visit a restaurant.  Look around the room and count the number of people you know.  It’s likely very few.  This is because you’re outside your bubble; they don’t know you either.           

The consensus in Silicon Valley is that the pandemic accelerated the growth of digital by ten years.  My company, The Home Trust International leverages technology for our members by creating programs to market to high net worth individuals who, for example, collect fine art or drive a Bentley, fly on NetJets, attend the Monaco Boat Show, own a Ritz-Carlton Residence, attend equestrian events and many other hyper-targeted tactics to create awareness and match values.  

Matching values with your prospects is a pillar of luxury.  In luxury, you do not match price; you match values.

The Home Trust’s www.thehometrust.com values are centered around pillars of luxury, including scarcity.  The affluent reject long lists of anything.  They want an editor and concierge to save them time; that is what we do. 

This is why we limit the number of designers we invite to join us.  Our mission is not to have the most design professionals.  Instead, our mission is to serve affluent families and their design professionals with the finest products and services for their homes.  

Preservation of artisanship and craftsmanship is another pillar of luxury that we take very seriously.  It is also closely connected to fascinating your clients with the sophistication and grace they deserve, more pillars of luxury.  Although networks and online companies are dumbing-down design, granular quality remains essential to the affluent.  This is why ‘connoisseurship’ is part of our mission statement and descriptor.

My guidance for designers is to escape the design industry bubble, identify and leverage your point of view and value proposition, find the right groups/platforms that properly position you and reflect your DNA, never be a poseur, don’t fall prey to myths, serve your clients and increase your margins.

And never stop marketing to create desire for your brand.