How exclusive messaging speaks to your inner VIP

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Some brands will fall over themselves to make you feel special.

They'll pour you a scotch, recline your leather chair and massage your delicate ego. They are limited edition, invite only, bespoke. They make you feel wanted, unique and adored.

Crucially, they create an air of exclusivity, even though they're advertising on every billboard in town. It might seem contradictory, but it's extremely clever marketing. That's probably why luxury brands are thriving, even in woeful economic conditions.

Yes, you might look fleetingly impressive if you own a high-status handbag or belong to a members-only club in Mayfair.

But, more fundamentally, researchers at Cornell University and the London Business School have found that:

... the experience of owning status goods provides important psychological armour to protect the self against the arrows of negativity.

Exclusive messaging pushes our buttons. It speaks to a profound desire – common in all of us – to be worthy.

It strongly implies that we might be missing out – and speaking from experience, FOMO can do unbelievable things to a girl's spending habits.

Here's how many a successful brand uses exclusive messaging to increase its reach, while insisting everyone keeps its brilliance on the down-low.

1. Be discreet – and whisper if at all possible

Remember those Secret Escapes adverts on TV? The ones with a lot of whispering? Yes, Secret Escapes, 'the worst kept secret in luxury travel'.

Now there's a brand that knows how to work exclusivity: well-spoken beautiful woman, gorgeous locations, hushed tones, and lots of 'shhhh'.

Those are the hallmarks of exclusive advertising. It draws you in. It's intimate. It's polished and deliberately understated. No garish colours, and definitely no shouting.

2. Cool kids only – put conditions on ownership or access

Secret Escapes is a members-only service. Lots of brands make themselves more desirable by making customers feel like they have to 'qualify' to so much as look at their products.

Their shops have a dress code (Harrods) and their employees reflect the brand's image (Abercrombie and Fitch). Their products have a heritage (Chanel).

Take Patek Philippe. Not many people can afford to spend over £15,000 on a watch, so you’re already in a special minority if you don't choke laughing at the very thought.

The company markets its watches as heirlooms. In an inspired (and pretty sickly) bit of marketing, it says:

You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.

The message is shamelessly emotive. You're pretty much starting a dynasty by buying a watch. It goes one step further than needling your own self-esteem. Patek Philippe know that you want your children to be solvent and stable as well.

To be fair, leaving your son a watch that costs the same as the deposit on a small house is a fairly good way to secure his financial future, so I don't suppose it counts as false advertising.

3. Create a limited edition version of your product

Every year Sky issues a limited edition run of 'designer' Sky boxes, designed by the likes of Roland Mouret, Giles Deacon and Sophie Dahl. This means that, even if you already have a Sky box, you feel you should get the more exclusive version. It promises that little bit more.

It's an illusion, but an effective one.

Just today, I saw a café pushing 'limited edition cheese and ham toasties'. As far as I could tell, they are in no way different from your common or garden toastie but, we must assume, all the more desirable for being a limited run.

It's the same idea behind celebrity ranges at high street stores. They are two a penny really, but ever since Kate Moss for Topshop, we can't resist clothes dipped in stardust. David Beckham for H&M, Rihanna for River Island, Rita Ora for Adidas, Idris Elba for Superdry.

A celebrity designed your outfit? You're stellar. That's the message.

4. A little celebrity goes a long way

Because if you can get just one über-celeb photographed holding your product, you've got it made. It’s a marketing idea known as ‘seeding’.

Only the best people use our tablets. Only the most beautiful people wear our shoes, don’t you know?

If you see Beyoncé with the latest iPhone, you’ll feel like, if you have it, you two have something in common.

You'll also feel just a little bit more rubbish about yourself, which will prompt you to self-soothe by purchasing said iPhone. The researchers at the London Business School suggest that:

...seeing a high-status person, someone we compare negatively against, may trigger a temporary ego threat – however if this individual is advertising a high-status product we are immediately drawn towards the possibility that purchasing the high-status product could ease our psychological pain.

5. Make sure the price is right

Have you ever considered that high end brands choose a price point based on how 'premium' they want their product to feel?

It's an idea known as the Exclusive Value Principle, and it was developed in the 90s by economists John Groth and Stephen McDaniel.

They suggested that the market price of a product is decided by adding its 'utilitarian value’ (how much it is actually worth) and its ‘exclusive value premium'.

This applies to designer jeans, branded breakfast cereals and even (astoundingly) cars.

'Badge engineering' is the practice of rebranding cheap cars so that they can be sold as more desirable brands. They can be made in the same factory, and even on the same production line, but people will pay over the odds for something they consider luxurious and exclusive.

Aston Martin tried it with the Cygnet, a small city run-around on the market for $45,000, which – it turns out – was actually a rebadged Toyota iQ, selling for just $17,000.

To succeed in this market, deliver on your promises

The Cygnet was pulled from the market after a couple of years, which – I would suggest – just goes to show that our appetite for exclusivity does have some boundaries.

Your members need to experience all the benefits you advertise. Your products must be high quality. Your customer service must be second-to-none. You need to be subtle, but maintain a slightly knowing sense of fun.

Exclusivity messaging will only hold firm if you really are offering something a little bit special. If you're not, consumers will cotton on pretty quickly.

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