Q&A WITH MARKUS KRAMER, GLOBAL MARKETING DIRECTOR, ASTON MARTIN LAGONDA

It's just one more week before Forrester's Forum For Marketing Leaders EMEA (May 21st to 22nd) in London kicks off. Our analysts are excited to unveil the latest Forrester ideas such as the mobile mind shift in Europe, the database of affinity (in which we expect Google to win platform of choice over Facebook), and the latest in mobile marketing and engagement. Our analysts will combine forces with industry keynote speakers such as Frank Boulben, chief marketing officer at Blackberry; Markus Kramer, global marketing director at Aston Martin Lagonda; Pete Blackshaw, global head of digital and social media at Nestlé; Greg Williams, executive editor at Wired; Yannick Grecourt, COO, head of strategy and marketing at Deutsche Bank Belgium; and Micke Paqvalen, founder and chairman of the innovative startup Kiosked.

As we make our final preparations for the event, I caught up with Markus Kramer, global marketing director at Aston Martin Lagonda, about the opportunities and challenges specific to luxury brand marketing. Here's what he had to say:

Q: Based on your experiences at Aston Martin, and before that at Harley-Davidson, what in your view makes marketing for luxury brands different? 

A: Of course this depends on the very definition of luxury. For simplicity, let’s assume we are talking about products that are at the very top in their category and not accessible to just anyone. Certain principles of traditional marketing just don’t apply in luxury. For a start, the luxury value proposition consists of the most intangible kind you can imagine in a given sector. Very often, this is a feeling or an experience, and it is almost always very closely associated with real exclusivity. Luxury does not chase volume. In luxury, it is scarcity that creates demand. Rationality has a place, but it is never communicated. And communication is 100% geared towards pure emotion to fuel the dream, the aspiration.

True luxury brands are also sought-after, valued, and cherished because of their inherent human nature. A high price alone does not grant the label luxury in my view. Tradition, heritage, craftsmanship, a culture of passion for the product, and, in many cases, skills honed over decades if not centuries are what a customer buys into, often for life. And with this comes frequently a very close and personal relationship with the brand and the people behind it.  

Q: In your presentation, you will be talking about "professionalizing" luxury brands. Why do you think this is necessary?

A: You need to look at the broader picture to appreciate what I mean by this. Luxury as a concept is very old and has been part of society since human mankind started to develop a consciousness. What we see happening today is bound to impact on how luxury brands operate in an increasingly global market place, shaped and disrupted by not only economic instability but also disruptive technology — and through the latter, the way society communicates. Social media, for example, is one of the hot potatoes that many luxury brands are not quite sure what to do with yet. Why? Because on the one hand it offers a huge opportunity to broaden a brand’s reach and hence can help to fuel and transport the dream much wider than traditional media.

But at the same time, we see a democratization of luxury taking place. Mass brands start to premiumize, and certain luxury brands make themselves more accessible. Nieman Marcus and the tie-up with Target in the US are prime examples of what is happening. Consumers are no longer recognizable as luxury customers. I park my Aston Martin in front of Sainsbury’s. Or I park my Fiat 500 in front of an Aston Martin dealership. But I am an owner either way — or a hot prospect perhaps. The implications for sales process and training are huge.

Next, many luxury brands were by their very nature born out of families, who often handed their knowledge and experience down over many generations. Many of these high-end luxury firms are still relatively small — in particular, when you consider that they too operate in a global market place. How do you play in the big game of finding new customers, for example, in an ever-more complex and competitive marketplace? I see a huge opportunity for luxury brands to professionalize behind the scenes [and] not the shop front, not the brand, not the products, and not the culture that made them strong — but the marketing structures behind closed doors.

Many luxury companies won’t even have a marketing department, but probably a brand or a communications department. These are important, but they are parts only of a clever mix to make luxury tick in the future to come. Marketing systems, infrastructure, and processes are key, as are a culture and a marketing mindset that can reflect this into what is traditionally not a particularly marketing-driven organization. For this, talent and the people who can help luxury companies become more professional in this area, and with it successful on this journey, are key.
 

Q: Our Forum looks at the impact of today's perpetually connected customer on marketing. Yet one of your messages is that analog still matters. What's the right mix of analog and digital for Aston Martin?

A: That is a very good question! Can I suggest it depends on which angle you choose? But I think in a nutshell and to keep it simple, think of a customer journey. My personal take is that [right now and in the next few years still] digital matters most when it comes to utilizing comms channels most effectively. I will put anything and everything digital into this category, from our website through to our segmentation and CRM systems, the data the latter generates, [and] banner ads and email signatures.

When it comes to the actual experience of the product, analog is still king. The touch and smell of a V12 petrol engine cannot be replicated digitally — nor can the genuine, high-quality and handcrafted leather in a DB9 or roaring up the engine of a V12 Zagato. As a matter of fact, we call our key an "emotional control unit" — a highly polished and jewel-like glass piece. And you have to physically connect with the car. Have you ever seen Avatar and how they connect with their world to become one? Starting and driving an Aston Martin is very much an analog experience — and a fantastic one though it is, I can see digital helping us primarily in convenience technology only when it comes to cars for some time to come.

This goes for marketing very much as well. Digital is enhancing our ways to communicate, but when it comes to engaging with the brand and our cars more deeply on the customer journey, then the switch to analog cannot be substituted. Feel free to join me at one of our next track days!

To hear Markus Kramer's full story, come and join us at Forrester's Forum For Marketing Leaders EMEA, May 21st to 22nd, in London.