Career Development

Understanding the New Phase of Luxury: Finding Job Security in an Insecure Economy


Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Well said Mr. Franklin, but I want to add one more thing to that list: death, taxes, and rich people.

I was traveling through Europe for the past month and people asked my opinion on the U.S. government shutdown.  I have an opinion but chose not to share it, until now:

It is my job to trend spot and observe how cultures interact.   Watching news coverage while overseas gave me an opportunity to see a more balanced view of what is happening worldwide, not just in my corner.  Many governments are being overthrown, many people are being oppressed, and joblessness is everywhere.  Right now the economy and politics in most of the world is scary to the extreme.  I liken watching the news to the feeling of riding too many roller-coasters in one day.  It is always halfway through the last ride that you realize you have overdone it, there is a nauseous feeling, and it is too late to get off.

Doom and gloom everywhere?  It is – if you are observing the most basic societal signs:  How many T.V. programs, movies, and books are about Armageddon?  How interested are people in talent shows where contestants are judged by populous vote (à la the Roman Coliseum thumbs up/down)?  How obsessed are people with escapism, voyeuristic watching of others – Royals, Kardashianesque families, and even poor unwed teen moms, all so they can feel superior and ‘normal’ by comparison?

Think I am exaggerating?  I most definitely am not.  Society as we know it is crumbling, but like earlier empires, the decline has been gradual and it will take a few generations for it to actually happen.

A counter movement I have seen since the 1990’s is conscientious consumption.  This has materialized in many forms: Green Movement/Global Warming/Recycling, publications like Real Simple and Living, the farm-to-table, urban gardens, homemaking DIY programs, and social justice protests such as Occupy Wall Street.  Sure looks like we are trying to put on the breaks and prepare for something big, doesn’t it?

So why the heck in this crazy time would anyone want to work in the Luxury Market?  I’ll tell you why, it is because that is where the money is.  The rich keep getting richer, the middle class is dissolving, and the best way to keep our heads above water is to swim with the tide.  Throughout history the people who survived have always been those who adapt to change.  (And the times, they are a-changing.)

I won’t depress you further with statistics and video clips on how most of the world’s wages have flat lined while the gap between rich/poor is growing.  You know it already.  Instead, I offer advice on how to deal with the current situation at hand.

It is worth examining how demographics of the rich are changing and how the luxury market is a different from five years ago.

Know the cultures of emerging markets: Working in luxury hotels, the languages the teams need to speak are Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, and Mandarin.  These global regions are traveling in numbers we have never seen before and need to be served and sold to with cultural sensitivity.

Different from the nouveau riche, these markets are not necessarily new money, but new to spend outside the confines of their homeland.  They are learning how to use their wealth, sometimes with funny or garish results.  There is lots of room for cultural misunderstandings, language barriers, and religious differences.  Once a company learns how to please these markets, they find there is more than enough business to make their effort worthwhile.

Know the marketing history of appealing to wealthy buyers:  The world is getting smaller as people travel more.

  • 1900’s Luxury services used to be exclusive, available only to the right families with proper lineage, think about all the private clubs and services there used to be.

  • 1980’s-2006 The roaring stock market and tech bubble brought a nouveau riche trend.  Ostentatious wealth and symbols were everywhere, remember Sex in the City’s obsession with Manolo Blanik and other designers the characters could not afford in reality?  Young women everywhere started dreaming of (and buying) beyond their means to carve out a piece of status. The mentality was unabashedly ‘greed is good.’  Remember the world’s most expensive martini, hamburger and cupcake ($1,223) etc…

  • 2007-Now Luxury and Service is Bespoke.  be·spoke  adjective \bi-ˈspōk,: made to fit a particular person; also : producing clothes that are made to fit a particular person.  Several bubbles and dreams burst with the recession, but some of the rich from bygone eras are still thriving.  Other businesses have taken off because they solve today’s issues thus creating a new generation of wealth.  Countries with resources are emerging as new leaders in industry. Because of this diverse population of rich people.  Luxury is tailoring their services to suit the desired experiences of each group.  It is not actually so different from the robber barons (a.k.a. captains of industry) of the Great Depression, just on a global scale.   Products are monogrammed, customized, tailored, and now the emphasis is on selling an experience rather than an actual product.  The virtual spin on what is/is not tangible is also playing a big part in this new world.  Service must be immediate, intuitive, and above all (unlike the anonymous masses) a personal connection should be made.

Perhaps you like living in this new reality where winner takes all and there is an opportunity to re-imagine the future?  Maybe you wish things would go back to the way they were when life was simpler and less connected 24/7?  If so, are you willing to throw away your smart phone and embrace the counter-culture?

One thing I do know is my own heart and where my values lie.  I advise everyone to live by the rules and credos that make them feel fulfilled as we work through these tumultuous times.  There is no shame in adapting one’s marketing strategy; it is only a shame if you have to change your morality to do so.

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