What Sets Luxury Brands Apart? | A Q&A with Brand Expert Markus Kramer

30 October 2018

As Global Marketing Director at Aston Martin and Marketing Director at Harley-Davidson, Markus helped build, scale and deliver their fascinating brands to more people in more places around the world.

When the marketing team had the chance to catch-up with Markus and pick his brains, we grabbed the biggest notepads we could find, and with our biros at the ready, we fired off our questions...

What are the key challenges for brands at the moment?

On a tactical level, the key challenge remains very much in how to find more customers for less money - and keeping them loyal. So this is all about digital, automation and efficiency. From a strategic perspective however, the challenge and opportunity is very much in creating relevancy – this is huge, especially when we will see algorithms (think Alexa or Google Home) taking purchasing decisions on our behalf.

Sure, everyone understands the vital role of technology, especially in terms of reaching millennial and Generation Z. But creating coherence, meaning and hence relevancy across generations is the key challenge.

Sectors in retail and B2B are already feeling the pressure. Key drivers are acceleration (speed) and the ability of smart brands to build shorter and direct bridges (access) to consumers at every level, mostly enabled through technology and disruptive distribution. Amazon, Tesla and luxury brands are leading the way in how tight consumer ecosystems and vertical distribution go hand-in-hand.

Are there strategies brands need to employ to engage with millennials and generation z for instance?

Yes, absolutely. Firstly, it is important to understand that we are rapidly moving into an era of radical transparency. In essence, we are going beyond using data for better customer targeting and can increasingly harness data to share and convey meaning, continuously evaluate (brands, products – and people!) and hence radically expose our views individually and in aggregate also collectively.

This is true for everyone, increasingly for millennials and even more so for generation Z. And it has profound implications for brands.

Businesses that are not yet looking to create value from within are missing out and will gradually loose relevancy for these generations. A future-proof strategy for brands to grapple with this challenge is to use and anchor a Purpose that addresses a broader social good - and then create value around it. Inside out, so to speak.

Think of Apple for instance: “Humanize Technology” or Airbnb’s “Belong” – these go deep and way beyond the features and benefits of products or services. It is all the more important as we will see a shift from projection (Brand) to reputation (Integrity) management. A purpose driven strategy can tackle both.

What are the elements that help some brands succeed long term and others fade into obscurity?

A crystal clear purpose that addresses a fundamental human need + Absolute integrity + A well though through or at least a well articulated and compelling story + A Passionate staff and customer base On the flip side ... - Transaction thinking - Too much science - Internal Focus

What brand, past or present, would you like to work with?

Financial Institutions pick it up most currently, but anyone on a low trust and commoditized environment really is a super audience to engage with; these are also the ones who will get most out of it, both B2C and B2B.

How did you get into corporate speaking?

Organically ... I have developed the topic of what organisations and brands can learn from Luxury into a compelling and relevant story; it connects well and I guess word has gotten around - I do enjoy it a lot too and find it satisfying if I can inspire and leave participants with food for thought. So it is a perpetuum mobile, quite literally ;)

What do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Professionally + Taking Aston Martin to more people in more places around the world. Scaling a small British Brand to world fame. Personally + Absolute balance in life, true inner happiness and the joy of taking people around me along with me.

What do you do to ensure your presentation has a lasting impact?

I look for input, preserve the core, but stimulate with learning - though the core and essence of it are timeless; the interesting and changing nature is in the Q&A, very much driven by industry, focus, level/capability, organisational disciplines and technology. I also keep my engagements with both Oxford University and Henley Business School in the UK alive with modules and guest lectures on Brand and Luxury Brand Management ... keeping on the pulse of both cutting edge marketing and latest insights in the world of Branding and Luxury Goods.

If there was one key takeaway or learning experience that you would want your audience to leave with, what would it be?

At the risk of this coming across somewhat counter-intuitive: go and indulge in luxury – even if it’s just for a moment. You don’t have to go and buy a Ferrari or get yourself a Rolex to experience luxury, but go and find a way to treat yourself to a brand or a product that is scarce.

Appreciate the depth of the product or the service you receive. And then take a step back and ask critical questions. How and why does this work? These brands are excellent at mastering the domain of creating brand desirability, evoking emotions and extracting premium value for what they do, all while making you feel good. There is a lot we can extrapolate from the world of luxury.

And if you could give one motivational or inspirational comment to our audience out there, what would it be?

Brands and life in general are all about having a clear sense of identity and a vision that takes us forward. Or in other words, know who you are and where you want to go to. On a brand and personal level, this is about purpose. A sense of existence that provide anchorage, dreams and ambitions that drive you forward.

Whether brand or individual, I encourage everyone to think hard and long about positioning (who am I) and purpose (Why am I here) and vision (where do I go) – Put the tactics behind for a while, think deeply and once you crack this, go full steam to get you there.

For further information to book Markus or another speaker, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email  info@speakerscorner.co.uk .

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