The re-invention of premium, it almost had become a back and forth strategic evergreen. From exclusive to more inclusive. From heritage to based on modern culture. From storytelling to story doing. And back again.
Car brands, fashion industry, FMCG; every marketeer of a premium brand seemed to be resolving the same tensions.
However, in these strange times, the same is no longer the same. Premium is going back to abnormal, and not to normal. Many of the classic solutions to build modern premium feel small and superficial now. Add a new design? Add some experience to the brand? Maybe, but maybe not. The first priority now is to make that retail store, that airport or that car a safe and healthy environment. Yes, in the first stage, premium will become… a bit more boring, a lot more basic and way more responsible. Values like safety, integrity and personal space will dominate. Marketing communication will be an exercise in educating and informing consumers while staying true to premium brand values. Cross-fertilisation with disciplines like UX/CX will thrive to build the next premium.
Premium going triple R
However, this pandemic doesn’t only pause the present, it also forces us to rethink the future. And there is a weight on the shoulders of premium brands. We aren’t expecting price players to build ‘the new abnormal’, but expectations are rising for any brand going beyond commodity. Research shows that premium could be entering a radical phase of ‘3XR’. The question both marketeers and shoppers are all pondering today: ‘Who will emerge intact from this pandemic purgatory, and who will not?’.
Premium brands will do anything to reduce the impact of price players. ‘Broken’ industries will take this momentum to shape-shift their market: who do you trust to fly tomorrow: a premium airline or Ryanair?
Does a premium brand need a triple-A high street location? An experience centre? A physical event? Doubts. In a low touch economy, with (over)sanitisation outbound delivery of both goods and messages will be the new standard.
Ah, and last but not least, there is purpose. In the new abnormal, brands will no longer get away with purpose theory, premium brands will be judged on actions and facts and not on some mission statement. Disruptive thinking on purpose will rule. Just one simple example is Patagonia’s response to pause its e-commerce due the COVID-19 pandemic. This would have been a very unusual decision for many retailers since a majority of them are now relying heavily on their online sales in order to survive. But not for Patagonia, a company known for its authentic leadership style and the way they treat their employees. The decision to temporarily close its online sales was, therefore, one taking the interest and wellbeing of employees at heart.
Yes, for premium brands, this will be an era of People. Premium. And Planet. Some might call this boring. Others will see the opportunity to change the way they and their industry operate in the long run.