Ever since the inception of this blog, I’ve gotten a lot of questions regarding what exactly this blog is about and what I mean by ‘experiential luxury’. This piece is an attempt to define the term, alongside setting your expectations for the content you can explore on this blog.
But first, a short story.
On 3rd August 2016, my family and I were flying to Dubai with Emirates. After a short layover at Dubai International, we would board an Emirates A380 that would fly us halfway across the world to John F Kennedy International Airport, New York. Our first plane never landed in Dubai.
Another Emirates plane crash landed at Dubai International half an hour before we were scheduled to. As expected, chaos broke out and the airport was closed temporarily. We were diverted to Al-Maktoum International Airport, situated somewhere on the outskirts of Dubai.
Although we had to sit on the runway for more than seven hours (if my memory serves right), we were eventually taken to the Dubai International Airport via bus, and made it just in time to board our A380 to JFK (which too was delayed substantially). While we were thankful to not be on the plane that crashed, we were also concerned about losing one day in the USA. It wasn’t exactly a good experience.
The vacation went well and we had no further hiccups. A few months later, my Dad received the entire amount he paid for the tickets (both to and fro) from Emirates as compensation for the delay we faced during our onward journey. The not so good experience was now an amazing memory.
This incident from my teens is among my favourite ever stories to narrate on customer-brand relationships. Here are my key takeaways from this episode.
- Customer retention is key. Emirates demonstrated this explicably well and gained multiple lifelong customers. My parents (who already always flew Emirates) and their kids (future customers).
- The moment is not the end of the experience. It can be built upon, put into a different perspective or even invalidated. An experience is a memory, but we all alter our memories consciously or subconsciously.
- Everything is an experience. How I felt that day sitting in the plane was an experience all by itself. How I felt landing in JFK for the first time every was another isolated experience. How I toured NYC and ascribed it as a city I want to live in someday is another great experience.
- Bad experiences can almost always be changed into good experiences. Either by changing the memory associated with the experience, overwriting it or effectively leveraging a second chance when the opportunity rises.
I’m a huge advocate of how the market is moving towards experiences across every step of the customer purchase cycle. As interaction times decrease, experiences are becoming the most effective way to leave lasting impressions on both prospects and customers.
I’m also a connoisseur of luxury. Now, luxury is experiential. It always has been. Everything about preserving that bottle of Dom Perignon for a special occasion to ripping up the tarmac in your Ferrari is experiential. How you feel is at the core. And that’s the beauty of luxury.
So, what is experiential luxury?
I mean experiences in the real sense. Not just the feeling you get when purchasing or using a brand’s product. I mean real, memorable experiences curated by these brands or anyone else that leave you wanting more. Experiences that generate a wonderful memory you treasure forever. Experiences that wow you with a different memory every time you indulge in them.
Now obviously, that might be a little vague. So let me try and break it down a bit.
How you feel when you purchase something from a retailer is an impression of the brand and the buying process. How you feel using the product is another impression of the product.
Now think, a retailer comes up with an innovative way you can shop. Instead of picking up a dress from a shelf, you walk into an empty black room whose walls light up. You touch something and the next thing you know, the screens change into a mirror, with you wearing the dress. The sides of the screen are displaying all kinds of details about the dress such as cloth type, unique features, cut, designer and similar clothes you can try on at a tap.
This would be a retail experience, consisting of several good impressions, making the buying process a pleasant memory. I predict such experiences will penetrate every other element of the consumer journey. Luxury brands have been doing it since forever with client-only events.
Brands of the future looking to solidify themselves in their industries must include experiential elements in their touchpoints. Tailored, unique experiences will no more remain something that only the luxury industry indulges in. Mainstream brands like Starbucks have already started with upscale sub-brands. Starbucks Reserve seeks to provide a whole another level of coffee.
Another massive industry, closely tied with luxury, is the travel industry. The very nature of travel is explicably experiential. But soon, experiences that are destinations in themselves will become commonplace. Think about the Annual Grand Prix or the Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. Curated, artificial experiences that are breath-taking and inexplainable, hosted at destinations you otherwise wouldn’t visit. Have you noticed how both boutique luxury hotels and international chains flaunt the ‘authentic’ and ‘deeply local’ tags? Yeah, they’re trying to embrace the experiential.
And the innovation in digital media and technology will lead this trend. As all industries begin to dabble with experimenting experiences in their brand and product strategies, the market itself will see a transformation; into a market led by experiences every step of the way.
And this transformation will be neverending. The demand for creativity, innovation and unconventional ideas is today higher than ever, with brands curating experiences for both clients and prospects. People will soon begin to choose products based on how good the brand experiences are, mirroring the classic case of how other industries often begin to practice trends after they are first witnessed in the luxury industry.
The future is bright. And experiential.