When marketing and selling luxury products to affluent customers the price of the product or service is relative. On the surface, this statement appears heretical. But a deeper exploration of the premise reveals it to be true. Granting for the moment that the premise is true and the price of the product is relative, to what is it relative?
Feeling. For what is being marketed and sold is not a “thing” or service per se. Rather, what is being offered to the customer is perceived image and the “feeling” it furnishes the buyer.
Marketing guru Seth Godin maintains that when a company sells a product, they are “explicitly” selling a thing, which is undoubtedly a product. But says Godin, what the company is selling “implicitly” is a feeling.
Godin offers the example of Starbucks, which literally is selling coffee to customers. That is a fact. Really, though, what Starbucks is offering is the feeling of associating with other like-minded people. Most people drink coffee. When they feel like they need a cup, Starbucks hopes they will remember the “oooh Starbucks” feeling. That is what Starbucks is selling – a feeling.
Tiffany & Company sells unique jewelry, which is expensive and luxurious. But what Tiffany really sells is little blue boxes. Of course, the boxes contain jewelry. But it is the little blue box that imparts the feeling. That feeling is why affluent people continue to shop at Tiffany & Company. Because the little blue box gives both the buyer and the recipient of the blue box a nice feeling.
Abercrombie & Fitch sell luxury clothing and accessories. It is a well-known, deluxe brand. Lots of people buy it. What Abercrombie & Fitch really sell is a feeling. The feeling of shopping in a store that has a certain smell and loudness. The sounds in the store are bright and intense, the smell carries the pungency of opulence. One’s senses are engaged, which produces a feeling. The feeling is subliminal, which means it carries over to wearing the clothing when walking down the street. So what Abercrombie & Fitch are really selling is a feeling that can be purchased and carried out of the store.
A feeling, and the power it induces, can actually be tied to a product or service. When the product is purchased, so is the feeling.
Ghiardelli Square is in San Francisco. One block away sits the Buena Vista Café, which is famous for its Irish Coffees. The place is always packed with people. Some stand at the bar, others sit at the tables, which are open-seating. Open-seating means customers sit with people they have never met and do not know. Eventually, inevitably, those at the tables converse with each other. They meet someone from Germany or Spain. Soon they are laughing, drinking, and eating. They feel comfortable, friendly, and happy. More Irish coffees are ordered.
The waitresses at the Buena Vista are fast and efficient. Not only are they professional servers, they are also entertainers. Napkins spin through the air, landing on tables in front of diners. One of the bartenders performs elaborate magic tricks. The waitresses chat with the customers, in whom they are genuinely interested. They remember names and what people like to order.
All this human commotion produces a sense of camaraderie, a feeling of hail-fellow-well-met. This feeling is what the Buena Vista really sells. They also just happen to sell the best Irish Coffee in the United States. The combination of the two, the feeling and the Irish Coffee, is why when people go to San Francisco, whether for a day-trip or a long vacation, they always go to the Buena Vista Café.
Interestingly enough, the Buena Vista Café does no advertising. None. But they have the best marketing in the world. A marketing system based on a feeling. The feeling results in viral marketing, which is the very best kind of marketing. All those happy customers tell their friends about the feeling to be found at the Buena Vista Café.