An Innovation Strategy For Brands With UHNW Customers

EVP of Marketing and Innovation at VistaJet, luxury fashion marketing expert and professor at the International University of Monaco.

I read daily about upcoming customer trends, led by changes brought by the current pandemic. On the news, in articles, on social media, we keep being told about how we will work remotely, how online shopping is changing and the need for experiences in a socially distanced space and time.

Many of the headlines are based on short-term sales data provided by companies. At best, the insights presented are extracted from online questionnaires commissioned by companies navigating a very fluid environment and trying to adapt day by day.

It is true that successful companies have acted decisively in creating new ideas to move through the crisis. This is allowing them to stay at the top of their market, while most of their competitors are struggling, and they will likely come out of the crisis among the top brands in their category. Unfortunately, though, a short-term approach is not the most solid base for a durable, profitable innovation strategy.

The world is never going to be the same. Why would you?

It’s the best time to plan for the future.

In the Harvard Business Review article “Why Now is the Time for Open Innovation,” (subscription required), authors Dahlander and Wallin note that, “Urgency leads transformation. [In a crisis] smart companies seize this opportunity to rethink their innovation infrastructure.” Executives are open to partnering with other companies and, most importantly, they are ready to commit to change.

How can you start innovating effectively and fast?

What’s the problem for strategy leaders today? That what we knew about our customers, our most precious resource, is not so useful anymore. During the crisis, customers evolved.

Second- and third-party research can only give us images of past behaviors. Even worse, they might end up asking the wrong questions — questions about things brands know already — and using categories that are not relevant anymore.

To apply the good product development mantra “first observe, then design,” we need firsthand data. We need to hear the customer’s voice. We need to let the customer speak.

Use an authoritative voice.

High-end luxury brands have been traditionally cautious when engaging directly with their customers and asking for feedback and ideas. Asking people directly to collect firsthand data has always been the big taboo in luxury.

Afraid this could be seen as weakness or, worse, to receive suggestions they won’t be able to fulfill, thus disappointing their loyal customers, high-end brands often revert to internal brainstorming to develop new ideas.

Working in the luxury space myself, I believe the solution is to engage clients with a neutral voice, one that does not need to promise anything in return. This can be approached through authoritative research, collecting data and presenting a white paper to the industry — to all the luxury brands.

Applying the concept of open innovation, in partnership with the International University of Monaco, I am inviting our customers at VistaJet to talk to us freely about their experience, to hear what is important now and what they voluntarily note as being most important today and tomorrow.

This will only be the start. We will invite high-end brands from other industries to join the research to be able to run an analysis of the changes in behavior and beliefs as ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) clients describe their experience across different industries.

Beyond the data, consider the motivation.

In both normal and in incredible times, the most rational move to refine your strategy is to measure real priorities, investing in the most efficient way to evolve your product.

While the rational approach of a closed questionnaire provides you with easy-to-analyze answers, an open-flow interview methodology can gather results you did not expect when you set out on your discovery path.

When skilled interviewers guide you, they actually help you develop your own thoughts. The same happens when doing innovation consultancy work. I like to start a conversation from data, trends and questions I would like to answer; but eventually, I let my mind wander, trying to discover the why, not just the what.

The way I see it, qualitative investigations should be the base for every luxury research. Emotions are much more interesting and can still be measured.

Times changed us.

Talking to UHNW customers during the pandemic, I observed a large shift in customer perception, as their choices are led by new criteria. The old parameters don’t suffice anymore, and words have changed their meaning, often becoming more nuanced.

Give yourself a challenge and search for clarity to be able to use this precious information to innovate your services. Gauge the new real needs of your UHNW customers to understand what makes them tick and how they make their decision. Discover what they love in the present and what they hope for the future.

Find the right partners and design the future of luxury. I can’t wait to hear what you will find out!

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