Arab Luxury World, the key annual regional conference on the business of luxury, opened the doors to its second edition yesterday. The two-day annual event serves as a successful platform for members from several sectors of the luxury industry to interact, share and exchange knowledge as well as insights.
The last two plenary sessions of the day – “How to Stand Out” and “The Selling Experience” – highlighted the changing face of the luxury market and the term itself. Manal Khater, regional strategy director at Atelier/Leo Burnett, said that earlier, luxury was something that wasn’t available to over 90 percent of the people. However, today, it has become more accessible and consumers are demanding more luxury even in everyday products.
A recent Bain & Co. research showed that 15 years ago, there were 140 million luxury consumers and today there are 350m luxury consumers. Not only is luxury becoming more accessible, its consumers are growing younger – especially in the Middle East.
“This region starts adopting luxury at a much younger age and to connect with them, you have to be where they are – on their phones,” said Khater. While Neil Slade, director of operations at Aston Martin Middle East MENA, agrees on the importance of digital, he said, “No digital is ever going to replace the human experience.”
In the Middle East, consumers demand new and different products every year. Moreover, they expect to get the best, be treated as the best and continue to be treated as the best even after a luxury purchase. That’s why, Slade said, “you need to build a lifestyle around a brand”.
The luxury market is about to see a new entrant this year and it’s none other than Apple. The launch of the Apple Watch – the gold edition, in particular – will mark the advent of Apple moving into the luxury sector.
The brand has gone from a niche premium brand, when Nokia led the mobile phone market, to a mass brand today. What does its venture into the luxury market now mean for the brand?
Daniel Bowers, international strategy director at OMD London, said that this means Apple is now targeting the premium masses. Karoline Huber, brand director at IWC Schaffhausen/Richemont Dubai, who is an Apple fan, added that brands are like people.
“I know people who are very good at one thing but not many who are good at many things. So, when a brand is good at one thing, they should stick to that and evolve it over 150 years,” she said, obviously referring to IWC’s long-standing heritage.
However, can technology, which is always evolving, become luxury, which is timeless? According to Huber, the question isn’t which one is more precious: Smart watches or mechanical watches? But rather, which one is more desirable? And as Khater said, at its core, “luxury is all about desire”.