Showing posts with label marketing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marketing. Show all posts

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Drive to Luxury: Commodity Fetishism or Innate Human Need?

Over the last several decades, across the globe, there has been a marked increase in consumers' collective demand for luxury goods.  What are luxury goods and why do consumers seem to express such an insatiable demand for them?  While most researchers cannot agree on a standard definition for luxury goods, they generally agree that it is any consumer product or item that is not a true "necessity."

In other words, access to potable water is a necessity to survive in the world, but owning a diamond-studded watch is not.

Some researchers argue that the luxury marketplace focuses the consumer on a perceived need to belong to an elite group and manifests desire for extremely high quality products, often far in excess of actual need.

Some political commentators on the left have argued that luxury goods are a negative form of "commodity fetishism," a term coined by Karl Marx. Marx decried the capitalistic drive toward exclusionary private property and seemingly irrational desire for classist exclusion that he believed luxury goods represent.

He argued that humans were encouraged to ascribe irrational value to arbitrary materials (such as gold or diamonds), which then are perceived as having a false "intrinsic" value in the marketplace.  He argued that such exclusion was designed to oppress the working classes, and served no other socially beneficial goal.

Yet, despite persistent economic turbulence and political instability in many emerging markets, the global luxury goods market remains largely robust.  Indeed, the pursuit of luxury has been a sustained growth trend, even in societies that have experienced substantial political perils.

But is this trend just a blip, or a new long-term reality?

I contend that the drive toward luxury is a positive feature of normal human economic and psychological development, and not just a short-term phenomenon or an irrational manifestation of oppressive capitalism gone awry.

As any human society develops, its' collective needs and consumer preferences will gravitate from satisfying the lower-level human needs (such as general stores selling staple household goods) toward increasing demand for brands that represent quality, the respect of others and social achievement.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his groundbreaking 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" in Psychological Review:

In essence, Maslow argued that all human behavior can be analyzed within the general framework of this pyramid, representing a dynamic progression toward higher thought processes and a greater degree of social functioning as one's temporal needs are met.

In other words, once a person's immediate physical needs and safety/security are satisfied  he will gravitate toward forming communities and families, and eventually, trend toward morality and achieve self-actualization.  Without one's lower-level needs met, that person -- and eventually his entire society -- will flounder.

From the perspective of predicting and analyzing consumer behavior, Maslow’s hierarchy can be thought of as also predicting macro-level social mobility and consumer preferences.  Such a model allows one to understand trends in demographics, and even develop sound long-term financial and investment strategies.

In other words, in a properly functioning society where social mobility is fluid, eventually, the retail options will become higher-end, and luxury goods retailers will move in.  The “local hardware store” will be replaced by a mass market retailer.  The mass market retailer eventually will be replaced by the shopping mall.  The shopping mall eventually becomes filled with luxury goods retailers.

Therefore, over time, as societies economically, psychologically and demographically evolve, luxury goods should become both desirable and attainable.

Financial data bears this trend out. Standard & Poors Global Consumer Enterprises Index is comprised of thirty of the largest publicly-traded companies in the GICS consumer discretionary sector that meet specific investability requirements.  The index provides exposure to leading publicly-listed companies in developed markets, which meet minimum international revenue exposure requirements.  100% of the companies included relate to consumer discretionary spending.  

Since this custom Index was created by S&P in 2009, it has demonstrated 5-year annualized returns of 25% growth, an astounding rate of return: 

Empirical consumer survey data bear out this trend, as well.  In a recent survey conducted by Empathica Consumer Insights Panel, the largest reported reason that consumers made a luxury purchase was to "reward themselves" (31.9%), although many consumers also indicated they were finally getting around to buying a luxury item that they had previously delayed purchasing (17.5%).  

Others bought a luxury good for a significant other (12.5%), or said they had extra money to spend and just wanted one (11.5%).  Despite the recent recession, three out of four consumers indicated that they perceived that there are the same or even more luxury brands available today than there were two to three years ago, making this luxury goods market more competitive than ever.  Interestingly, 28% of consumers also report that they will tell others about their luxury purchase through social media sites like Twitter, Facebook or blogs.

Therefore, consumers consistently express a deep need to have the ability to "reward themselves" through the purchase of a luxury good that was not a true necessity.  The approval, perceptions and respect of others played a critical role, as well.

Over time, I predict that this drive toward luxury is here to stay, as it represents the innate human drive to progress toward higher levels of achievement and acquire the respect of others, and not simply irrational exuberance or the exploitation of artificial demand.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Trends in the Intellectual Property Legal Marketplace

One of the most frequent questions that I am asked is what trends I see in the areas of intellectual property, brand protection and the marketplace for legal services.

There are a few interesting, long-term trends in the data worth mentioning, that affect everyone and not just lawyers or those who work in the brand protection and IP industry.  Perhaps the most glaring one is that:

The Cost of Doing Business Globally is Going Down, But the Cost of Protecting Intellectual Property Keeps Going Up

By 2014, the out-of-pocket costs of engaging in global commercial activity have become extremely low.  In fact, they are the lowest they have ever been.

For example, a relatively desirable Internet domain name can be leased for only a few dollars a year.  Using templates and shared hosting, virtually anyone can design and host an e-commerce website very cheaply.

This is a departure from a decade ago, when designing a website required an understanding of HTML and related computer languages, technical knowledge generally limited to IT Departments and computer consulting firms.

Similarly, marketing has become cheap.  Today, by using free e-mail accounts and social media platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Yahoo! for communication and marketing, and low-cost international distribution and shipping channels like eBay,, AliBaba and others, a well-managed small business can conceivably generate hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in only a short amount of time.

Yet the out-of-pocket cost involved in protecting a brand against Intellectual Property theft and infringement, both online and in the brick and mortar context, continues to spiral ever upward.

For example, the high-profile attorneys in the Apple v. Samsung patent wars charged their clients $1,200 per hour.  The hourly billing rates at all the large law firms have reached an all-time high, with many lawyers routinely charging well over $1,000 per hour.

And clients who choose smaller law firms and those firms that offer "flat fee" arrangements may get a better deal, but are not immune from the increased competition for high-quality intellectual property legal services.  

For example, one small law firm in Maryland posted its flat fees online, and notes that it is charging up to $12,000 for filing a provisional U.S. patent application.  An appeal if it is denied could add another $8,000.  That may be less than a large law firm's services, but just filing for a patent is still an expensive proposition.

And of course, that is just the first step in protecting Intellectual Property.  Filing for a patent or trademark is no guarantee that it will be respected by others. 

When infringers are inevitably discovered, commencing and pursuing complex litigation against them routinely costs companies many hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Therefore, it is clear that while many are finding it easier and easier to start and develop businesses, they are also finding it more and more expensive to effectively protect their Intellectual Property assets against thieves and infringers.

What does this trend signify?  It would appear that the marketplace is beginning to fully understand that the legal services offered by experienced Intellectual Property lawyers are at a premium, because branding and IP assets in general are as valuable -- if not more valuable -- than traditional ones.