Dr. Bob Deutsch, founder of the brand consulting firm, Brain Sells, probes the psychological power of luxury


Recently there have been a number of newspaper and magazine articles about high-net-worth individuals seeking exclusive, exotic and thrill-seeking vacations. Luxury marketers should pay close attention to such reports because they imply two related and important facts about luxury in general:

1. Extraordinary experiences yield incredible stories (let alone, memories); and
2. Having incredible stories is the enduring luxury.

Obviously, you don’t have to put yourself at risk in some far-away land to experience luxury. The question for luxury marketers is, what engenders “extraordinary experiences?”

When people describe an activity or acquisition accordingly, what they mean is that the experience is felt as something deeply personal. In part, this feeling follows when the end-state of an experience is not known at the beginning; when surprise – the experience of something new – is possible; and when an encounter is not perceived as scripted or routine, not generic or homogeneous. When these conditions are met, people tend to experience an intensity and variety of feelings that go beyond their familiar, yet “fits” them. As a result they realize something latent in themselves that has now been made more manifest, and real.

This actually is brand, that spasm of sentiment – illogical, immediate, and rock-solid – that convulses within us when we perceive a product as a venue for manifesting our latent selves. Luxury branding is not just about display, competition and comfort. It’s about the personal exclusivity that comes from expansion of one’s self-identity. Luxury experiences help to craft a “new me.”

With this new me comes new stories, and because identities are best understood through one’s stories, people perceive you differently. Furthermore, the better stories you have collected the more attention you garner from others. Stories have many tentacles.

Noteworthy, too, is evidence from new brain scan studies showing that when one person tells a story and the other person actively listens, their brainwaves actually begin to synchronize in agreement. This makes stories not only important to luxury consumers, but also to luxury marketers and salespeople – online and in-store.

For example, a person’s sense of time, and its relation to one’s sensitivity to sensual experience, are critical to their appreciation of luxury. Therefore, luxury marketers should focus on three initiatives:

1. Their stores or website layouts and product displays must be designed to slow the perception of time, to increase a customer’s intensity and persistence of focus, and to excite the imagination.

2. Product presentations should be as artfully rendered as are the luxury items produced by artisans. This entails “conversational abilities” on the part of salespeople to co-author a narrative that intertwines the product story with the customer’s story so the two become metaphorically merged. This, of course, is harder to do on-line than in-store, but still can be supported by expert design of the digital space.

3. Presently, a great deal of attention is being paid to in-store and website design that enables the consumer to experience the particular luxury brand represented. This marketing goal is slightly misplaced. The big payoff comes not when the brand and its referents are the end-point, but when the offering is perceived as a venue for a person’s own sense of self-expansion. The luxury product is but a means to an end.

When the luxury consumer’s shopping experience is as luxurious as the product itself, the brand is enhanced, the probability of sale heightened, and an increase in the number of items a consumer purchases per visit is maximized. That’s a story all luxury marketers can happily live with.


Bob Deutsch

About the author

Robert Deutsch

Founder & President

Dr. Robert (Bob) Deutsch is a cognitive anthropologist, consultant, and founder and president of Brain Sells, a strategic advisory practice that works with companies to reinvent how they assess the mind and mood of various publics and then communicates with them (1992-present). From 1975-80 he lived with primitive cultures in New Guinea and Amazonia. Deutsch earned a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NIMH Post-doctoral Fellowship, and a Fellowship from The Max Planck Society of The Federal Republic of Germany. Afterwards, he conducted inter-disciplinary research in anthropology and cognition at Rutgers University Medical School. From 1982-91 Deutsch worked in the US Department of State, advising on strategic communications and public diplomacy. In 2007, Deutsch became a Senior Advisor in International Communications at The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. In 2010, Deutsch won a CICERO Award for best "Political Hot-Button" speech. The title of the winning speech was "Imagining 'the Other'." As president of Brain Sells, Deutsch is a consultant, writer and speaker.

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