Internet shopping. Bloody brilliant. The answer to a modern man’s dreams. Everything I could want at my fingertips. No other shoppers to deal with. No annoying sales assistant bugging me. No bags to carry around. No problems. Bliss.
But as I cruised ASOS looking at jackets, jumpers, socks… (anything really, it’s my birthday this month) my girlfriend walked in. There’s a white t-shirt from Uniforms For The Dedicated on screen.
“50 pounds!!!!” came the deafening yelp from over my shoulder. “How can you even look at that? Primark t-shirts are, like, a quid!” I rolled my eyes: she doesn’t understand. I tried explaining it to her but she just walked off while I was in mid sentence. I bought the t-shirt. Now I’ve made it my mission to clarify to my girlfriend exactly why, so she needn’t look at me with disgust every time I wear it.
In the simplest terms, I’m completely obsessed with brands. If I wasn’t, I couldn’t do my job. Premiumness is the word-de-jour in the branding world. “How can we justify to people that they have to pay more for our stuff?” Here are my three theories about what makes premium, and what it means to people:
[WARNING: sweeping statements and massive generalisations will, more than likely, be made.]
1) The rules of credibility theory
Brands in the premium landscape can appear in many different, equally credible, ways. Credibility, in this scenario, is relatively dependent on the economic situation of a person’s environment.
For example, in developing nations a visual statement of premiumness is key. Brands that show their credentials – like D&G’s large silver plaque-like badges on jeans, or the candy-coloured, instantly-recognisable repeat pattern of Louis Vuitton – are coveted because they are a declaration of wealth, situation, and, in some cases, political preference.
In more developed countries, craft is what people look for; a story behind the brand that consumers can buy into. Brands talk about the way things are made. They tell their story and that is what consumers care about. Whether it’s the way a particular chef’s knife is made (e.g. Global knives, made the old way Samurai used to make their katana swords) or the story behind the Burberry Trench. It’s a chance to wear or use something with meaning; something of importance.
Lastly, we are now seeing a new wave of premium, for the discerning millennial who has turned away from traditional forms and, indeed, the crowd. These brands leave it all up to people to discover them. They are the hidden secrets, occupying the speakeasy mentality. It’s about the secret handshakes, the emblems, the codes. Being in the know. I could name some brands, but that would spoil the whole idea, right?
2) The fixed theory
Premium is specialist. Why do we buy into Armani suits for upwards of £1000, but when they make watches with a Rolex or Breitling price-tag, we get all squirmy and feel like they don’t belong? By branching out of their specialism they have, in turn, lessened their premiumness.
We believe that if you do one thing well you can charge a premium for it. If L’Oreal stuck to making hair dye in 1907 and only sold to Parisian hair dressers, would we be paying a premium for their hair dye today? Would we be lusting after L’Oreal like we do over Dom Perignon?
3) The abstract theory
This theory’s a tough one to hear for most marketers, as it essentially takes the power out of their hands, but there is a happy flip side to it. At a recent meeting with Chris Arning from Creative Semiotics he uncovered an insight that struck me as profound:
Premiumness can only be measured by how long the consideration time is before we actually purchase a product.
This sliding scale highlights that a £50 white t-shirt (just off the top of my head) could be a really significant purchase for one person, or a completely throw away item for someone else. It scales with individual wealth and individual perspective. The happy flip-side is, no matter what your brand is, there will always be people who consider it a premium product. (Unless you’re Primark. Some elephants are just not meant to fly.)
One thing is clear from all of this: the attitude towards premium is always in flux. Whether it’s your pricing strategy or your brand story, your bling-tastic badges or your on-the-down-low approach, there is a place for all of you; there are tribes for all of you. The one thing you need is an understanding of how people view your brand, how they want to be spoken to and getting them to believe in what you stand for.
One brand does it best. Through the quality; through the timeless design; through a single ethos that has been upheld for generations, flowing through the family-owned company from the top to the bottom. An ethos that resonates with parents all over the world. A unifying point of view that everyone understands and aspires to. It ticks all the above boxes, in every premiumness situation I have mentioned: a badge to show, a story to tell, an art to discover, a specialist, and a life-long consideration time. All summed up in one line:
You never own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.
I just hope I can now wear my t-shirt in peace.
Written by Jamie Campbell