Understanding the new Indian luxury consumer and capturing the luxury rupee: Gaurav Bhatia

Let us end the commoditisation of jewellery, said Gaurav Bhatia, cutting right to the chase. Consumer perceptions and the retail landscape have evolved over the last 10 years, he pointed out. It is time now for retailers to focus on building their brand, if they wish to appeal to consumer sensibilities. If retailers are to command the prices they feel they deserve, they must shed the habit of presentating unparalleled artisanship in merely material terms.

Crystal-clear advice like this, from the founder & CEO of Gaurav Bhatia–A Luxury Advisory Cell, sharpened the impact of this presentation, titled “India’s Luxury Decade: Understanding the New Indian Luxury Consumer and Capturing the Luxury Rupee”. Bhatia’s talk brought out a number of little-known but useful aspects of effective luxury branding and communication strategies.

“Developing a meaningful luxury brand that is capable of redefining lifestyle is always a good investment,” he said. “Today’s customers are influenced by international fashion trends, and they swear by brands like Fendi, Cartier, Cristiano Roberto and Jimmy Choo. They will find it extremely difficult to connect with the image of the local family jeweller. The age of jewellers and quasi-jewellery brands is over. You need to build a full-fledged luxury brand to command the premium.”

These shifts in the market and consumer behaviour call for a fundamental change in attitude among jewellers. “Despite having a huge tradition of craftsmanship, we jewellers are more worried about selling,” said Bhatia. “We don’t have the patience to create a brand. Winning over the tradition of offering [price] breakup would be the real victory for us and a definite step towards creating a brand.” The audience applauded enthusiastically. Jewellers are not unwilling to adjust their mindset — and Bhatia kept them avidly engaged from first to last.

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Few people are better qualified than Gaurav Bhatia to speak of luxury and the market — he was marketing director at Moët Hennessy India, a subsidiary of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s leading luxury conglomerate. He has worked in advertising with Young & Rubicam, where his clients included world-leading names like Sony, Kraft, AT&T, the Singapore Tourism Board and the Taj Group of Hotels.

In his speech at RJIF 2016 he explained aspects of true luxury is by means of quips built on actual examples. For instance: “People don’t buy fur from Fendi to keep themselves warm.” “If Beluga caviar were cheap, who would eat it?” “If Dom Perignon (champagne) were drunk by everyone, who would drink it?”

With a quite appropriate degree of lyricism he defined luxury in terms of what it means and what it does. “Luxury is beauty, heritage, handcrafted and bespoke. It is the indulgence of the senses, regardless of the cost. Luxury products push all limits of perfection, craftsmanship and decadence. Luxury products possess distinctive tradition and unparalleled quality. They are more perfect than perfect. Making luxury is an art, but it’s also a science.”
And this is more than a definition; it is a checklist of virtues for a true luxury brand.

“Luxury is about emotion,” he said. “A luxury brand should be able to establish an emotional connect with its customers. [If you do that,] You will be able to command a premium. Luxury is essentially timeless; it’s a quest for perfection.”

Luxury brands should know how to evoke emotion with engaging stories. Jewellers in India have enough ingredients to weave such stories around their products, Bhatia said. “Have you ever been proud of those stories?” he asked. “Are you willing to tell them? There are people who will listen, provided you package the stories well.”

To show what he meant, Bhatia told the story of the Kelly Bag from Hermès, a Paris-based high-end accessory brand. In 1956, paparazzi captured the former Hollywood actress and newly married Princess Grace (Kelly) of Monaco using an Hermès handbag to hide a pregnancy bump. This fairly innocuous act by an A-lister, caught on camera, gave a huge impetus to the luxury accessories brand, and the bag became a bestseller despite its price.
There is a momentous next chapter to this story, and Bhatia narrated it. Jane Birkin, an English actress who lived in France, happened to meet Hermès owner Kenneth Hermès and took the opportunity to complain to him about the lack of space inside a Kelly bag. That feedback led to the Birkin bag, which was more spacious — and is today one of the true “It” bags.

“Sometimes you need to create a story out of nothing, and that story grows into a bigger story,” said Bhatia. Foreign luxury brands, despite difficult tax structures, are targeting high-net-worth individuals (HNIs) in India with similarly charming stories through advertising, visual merchandising, product design, in-film placement, glamorous in-store events and more. Indian jewellers should wake up and compete for consumer mindspace with the help of more enchanting stories, said Bhatia.