Luminaries

Why Big Data Will Fail in the Irrational World of Luxury

Luxury can be many things, but fully rational isn’t one of them. That’s why the data-driven trend in marketing is highly likely to fail in the irrational world of luxury.

There’s a huge amount of scientific marketing chatter about Google algorithms, empirical quantitative research, media mix formulas, social media analytics and AI marketing metrics. It’s driven by the explosion of data at hand. Some estimates say that information is doubling every two years, due in part to the daily influx of 200 billion emails and the explosive growth of AI generated “news.”

We’ve gone from a megabyte culture to one of gigabytes, terabytes and petabytes—a single petabyte can hold 500 billion pages of standard text. And scientists say we are rapidly approaching the realm of zettabytes and yottabytes. To put it in perspective, the entire World Wide Web now takes up nearly a yottabyte, and it would take approximately 11 trillion years to download a yottabyte file from the Internet using high-power broadband.

We’re drowning in data, and that has led to a much keener focus on the science of marketing.Technology has produced new ways to process this deluge of raw information. Capabilities now exist to tackle everything from customer sentiment in social media and predicting future outcomes, to faster insights with in-memory processing and greater understanding of web behavior. Our lives, our behaviors and our preferences are being scrutinized, analyzed, digitized and monetized. Data analytics are fueling a new marketing megatrend, and essentially changing the marketing dynamic as it begins to evolve into an outcome-oriented science rather than an art.

Companies like Cambridge Analytica can scrape a user’s Facebook profile, “understand” and predict their sentiments and desires, and then generate automated, highly-customized “news” articles that manipulate the user’s feelings toward a desired outcome.

Narrative Science’s brilliant AI software can take vast amounts of raw quantitative data, identify relevant trends and anomalies in that data, and then automatically convert it into beautifully written prose and briefings.

Many marketers welcome this insight into the minds and behaviors of their targeted demographic. Heralding this new personalized strategy as intelligent one-on-one marketing, many are eagerly finding new ways to gather, process and utilize information to create even more personal messages using multiple mediums.

But before we get carried away, let’s remember that all of this exciting data-based marketing has a downside: the loss of the personal touch. One expert voiced it well: I find this hyper-customization, data and AI-based communications rush quite troubling. This is a desensitizing, dehumanizing, data-driven unfortunate trend that will eventually overtake this industry. I think you’ll continue to see less art and more science.

The other day I was speaking with old friend who I haven’t seen for years. When I said let’s meet face-to-face soon, he responded “what time do you want to Skype?” Ironically, we are more connected than ever, and yet simultaneously increasingly disconnected.

Luxury marketing requires humanity. I believe strongly that the role of luxury in society is to inject beauty and inspiration into culture, to celebrate excellence in craftsmanship and the human touch, and to remind us that time, and the ability to share it with like-minded people in comforting and elegant settings, is what life is all about: the creation of extraordinary memories.

I also believe – putting privacy issues aside – that the growth in AI marketing is disturbing because it is an attempt to create a false sense of intimacy. Unfortunately, intimacy has become a luxury itself. It is based on trust, and the mutual sharing of ideas between people who are trying to connect. Great brands help facilitate that.

An algorithm that observes what you do and who you are in an attempt to exploit or sell something to you feels more like a stalker who is pursuing you in an inappropriate way, versus a charming suitor who appreciates beauty, idea-sharing and poetry.

This new love and dependency on the use of data—because there’s so much of it out there—is going to eventually blow up on itself, but not before a lot of emotional fatigue on a broad social level becomes the norm. We’ll all soon be enduring “automated rudeness” and barrages of AI aggression and intrusion into our digital lives, as marketers strive more efficient ways to get into our wallets.

Despite the drive toward science, I still believe in the seductive art of marketing. Many luxury marketers have instinctively felt that “data is cold,” and have been extremely hesitant to fully embrace digital marketing (even to this day, you still can’t buy products on many luxury websites). Only in the past couple of years are we seeing luxury brands in social media.

I predict that rather than being rewarded for an increase in the use of aggressive, data-driven strategies and tactics, luxury marketers that embrace a more human, experiential-digital hybrid model will be the ones that find people appreciating their efforts to build tribal reconnection and kinships that are much deeper than a Facebook “like.” Tomorrow, the best luxury marketing will be less contrived and more authentic – informed by data, but articulated in an artful-altruistic-analog approach.

Five key principles are necessary for great luxury marketers to succeed in this new era.

1. Trust. Marketers, especially those in the luxury segment, need to keep their promises. In a media landscape where truth is often difficult to grasp, brands that amplify their genuine ethical values will stand out. The handcrafted culture of luxury makes it well-suited to seize leadership in this arena.

Great brands are going to have to re-up their commitment to doing the right thing. “Double bottom line” ideas, for example where profits from expensive goods are partially re-invested into community uplift – perhaps in the form of education and skill-building – will increasingly be required for luxury marketers.

So will telling your story the old school way. Relying on a piece of AI to communicate for you dramatically increases the likelihood that trust will breached. There is already a high level of cynicism and distrust among consumers. The cure is an authentic trusted voice.

2. Multiculturalism. Luxury marketers should have a deep understanding, appreciation and respect for multiculturalism and diversity. We live in a dynamic multi-faceted world – that means there should be warm, romantic and unifying messages for people that come from different heritages and backgrounds. Luxury, at its core, is about aspiration, and that is a truly universal concept. To me, the charm and seductive energy created by luxury culture is most powerful when it is resonating and connecting with people who come from all different backgrounds.

3. Community Building. The best luxury marketing creates micro-communities of like-minded people that have utility and real function. For example, luxury car maker McLaren does an extraordinary job of creating a deep sense of community and connection among its consumers. They’re a group of people who share common values around futurism, love of design, love of speed and competition, who celebrate intellect. They are active and engaged innovators.

I also admire the community around the Rolex brand.  It’s the object that has become synonymous with the celebration of time well spent at the conclusion of an extraordinary career.  The brand’s very special “mentor-protégé” program, in which it pairs legendary creative people across disciplines with young talented newcomers, is a beautiful leadership example for successful Rolex tribe members to emulate in their own local communities.

Luxury brands should have the mindset of the mayor of an affluent town like Aspen or St. Barth’s.  Their job is not just selling an object. It’s also providing its community members with a suite of services, inspirational stories and support.  This is traditionally the realm of experiential and analog. But social media and mobile technology are enablement tools that create a new opportunity for unfiltered dialogue, instead of just a monologue from the brand.

4. Attention to Detail. Luxury is about an obsessive love of detail and craftsmanship. Unfortunately, it seems that many great luxury brands, in their pursuit of quarterly profit margin gains, are increasingly cutting corners by using automation instead of the human hand.

AI and robotics continue to evolve and accelerate in their development, and we will increasingly see the removal of humans in the luxury production process. Ironically, a robot can likely stitch a handbag with greater precision, accuracy and detail than a person. But the slight imperfections of a handcrafted bag are details that turn the object into something unique, versus a perfect replica, thus increasing its value. The signatures of the engineers who built the Ferrari engine make the owner’s connection to the car far more emotional than if it were assembled by a lifeless series of machines.

5. Love. This is a word that people often feel uncomfortable using in the commercial realm. But great marketers of all kinds, not just luxury brands, need to demonstrate love. It’s the perfect antidote to the unhealthy doses of negative energy many people are absorbing right now.

Luxury marketers are dream-weavers who tell stories of aspiration and brighter futures. They are perfectly positioned to inject optimism into the culture and become more love-based rather than fear-based in their orientation.

Luxury marketing often creates anxiety for people, because it reminds them of what they don’t have. Imagine an altruistic luxury brand message that continually reminded people of the greatness that is possible, and provided them with ideas and a practical map how they might amplify their lives. And most importantly, encouraged self-love, but not through material acquisition.  In the mass market, the famous Dove campaign celebrating the authentic self was a masterful illustration of this concept.

Ultimately, the most important element of all may be establishing a clear sense of self: self-awareness and self-definition. Be able to say this is who we are; this is what we stand for. This is the most important piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to figure out how to create some kind of energy that will be attractive to other people.

As luxury marketers, we are not just selling a product— we are selling the intangible energy and spirit around the product. This is a concept that no AI will ever be able to fully grasp. This uniquely human ability to reflect and then interpret and project emotion into an object or experience that inspires others is luxury at its finest.

The art of living a luxurious life is to live as a contributor. I firmly believe that the goal and mission of marketers of luxury objects and experiences is to artfully communicate ideas that help people to grow, to inspire, to move our culture forward. It will be a truly remarkable (and perhaps frightening) day when a piece of emotional artificially intelligent, big data driven luxury software can do that.

Jonathan Cropper is the Founder of Futurlogic, an innovation think tank, business development and branding studio committed to exploring the intersection of luxury marketing, advanced storytelling, and the future of media. He has an extensive luxury marketing background, having been a senior strategist to the leadership of the Four Seasons (Private Jet Program), Rolls-Royce, Credit Suisse Private Bank, Moet Hennessey, Sotheby’s, Bugatti, Condé Nast, and Ralph Lauren. He has held management roles at MTV, Quincy Jones Productions, Nissan North America, Badboy Worldwide, and Young & Rubicam Brands.

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