Feature Article - November/December 2018

The Power of Luxury

The Inspiration Inherent in Good Quality & Design

By Deborah L. Vence

When you hear the word "luxury," what products or brands come to mind? A Rolex watch? A Louis Vuitton handbag? A Cartier bracelet?

Maybe all of the above.

Luxury, in the world of incentives, is closely associated with the types of products that companies turn to time and time again to reward their employees for a job well done and thank customers for their business. In the end, those chosen luxury items are what will create lasting memories of why the reward or gift was given.

From the perspective of how powerful luxury can be, industry experts shared their thoughts on what luxury means, why it matters in incentives today and who is motivated by luxury goods.

The Meaning of Luxury

As a noun, luxury is defined as "the state of great comfort and extravagant living"; as an adjective, it means "luxurious or of the nature of a luxury."

"To me, it is definitely a noun and an adjective," said Joe Zanone, authorized sales agent, Movado Group Inc., a premier watchmaker. "The words alone such as opulence, richness give weight to the value of the item. The best wording comes as an adjective such as smart, fancy, up-market, which is what we all would choose where we can afford it. There are lawn mowers. Then there are John Deere Power Cut mowers with every possible high-tech gadget available today. Every category of items available in our industry comes with basic, upscale and luxury versions. We all strive to obtain luxury in everything we work for."

While by definition luxury means opulence, lavishness or grandeur, "these words often carry a negative connotation," said Jessica Brown, senior director of luxury goods, Rymax Marketing Services, Inc., a full-service loyalty marketing provider.

"To us, luxury is any product that people aspire to own from a popular brand that people know and trust," she said, "particularly as it relates to fashion and accessories brands. To us, brands like MCM, Gucci and Ferragamo epitomize luxury."

Becky Sawicki, director of special markets, JURA Inc., a company that specializes in automatic coffee machines, said that "Luxury means something special, with connotations of elegance, quality and enjoyment. Luxury is often associated with wealth and money, but it goes beyond this.

"For example, allowing yourself to sleep in and relax all morning, sipping delicious cappuccinos is a true luxury for busy people," she said.

What's more, "Luxury can be a lifestyle when speaking about an individual, but when referencing luxury products it refers to quality, longevity, design and, at times, exclusives," noted Jeffrey Brenner, director of special markets, Seiko, and vice president of the Incentive Manufacturers Representatives Alliance (IMRA).

Why Does It (Still) Matter In Incentives?

"Luxury matters because our channel is all about motivation and merchandise brands that fall into the aspirational category are highly motivational," said Mike Landry, vice president, special markets, TUMI. "Individuals aspire to own certain brands for a variety of reasons.

"In the bag, watch and eyeglass category, wearing an aspirational brand is an outward sign that one has achieved a certain degree of success," he said. "They have 'made it,' if you will. People modify behavior to own and, perhaps, show off a brand that they might not otherwise purchase and that's the core of any effective incentive program."

Premium incentive products are about making recipients feel special, and luxury products do just that.

It matters because "Luxury is the blue ribbon at the state fair!" Zanone said. "We all strive to give and obtain the best in our work lives and the best deserves the blue ribbon. Luxurious goods are the pinnacle of performance recognition."

Brown noted that "People love trophy value items that are long-lasting. Cash rewards are not as appealing anymore because it is fleeting. No one remembers what they spent their last cash reward on. Most likely it was to pay a bill or put toward another large expense.

"On the contrary, every time they use their handbag, wear their watch or listen to music on their headphones, they'll remember where the items came from and how they earned them. Luxury items resonate and keep people motivated," he added.

Making consumers feel special is important.

"Premium incentive products are about making recipients feel special, and luxury products do just that," Sawicki said. "If a product is a cut above, it's more memorable and more likely to motivate."

Brenner added, "A consumer is a consumer. Where they get their product is simply the portal of delivery. The consumer wants something aspirational, a special item that says, 'I worked hard, I earned this'; or 'due [to] my many long days and hours of travel and hotel stays, I should be rewarded.'

"The act of recognizing and incenting is still critical to ensure longevity with your workforce and loyalty from consumers, and luxury goods enhance the process," he added.