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roseI’ve frequently written about the importance of the customer relationship when selling luxury. I’ve focused on the need to use the right language and gestures to create an environment of elegance and grace. But, until now, I hadn’t thought about intimacy and how it relates to luxury.

Perhaps I’m having a bit of an “everyone is driving my car” moment. You know how it is. You buy a new car and suddenly you notice all the people who are driving the same car as you. If the concept of intimacy in luxury has come up before, it wasn’t until last week that I noticed it  – and now it seems to be everywhere.

The dictionary defines intimacy as “something of a personal or private nature.” It also refers to a close association, detailed knowledge, or deep understanding. Naturally, creating a personal connection and having detailed knowledge about your customer is key to building an enduring client relationship. But the word ‘intimacy’ brings a whole different flavor to the affair. It’s a closeness, a shared experience, an emotion, a sensuousness that goes beyond a typical brand relationship.

I recently ordered Chanel’s Les Beiges Healthy Glow Sheer Colour Stick. The exquisite onyx cylinder came packaged in a soft, black pouch embossed with “CHANEL.” This was wrapped in delicate, white tissue paper and the whole was encased in the iconic Chanel black and white box. Unwrapping my make-up became a sensory experience, like discovering a forbidden secret. It was an intimate encounter.

The following day, I read an article on LuxuryDaily.com by Marie Driscoll who wrote about the need for luxury retailers to match the level of intimacy they provide in-store to their online channels: “a favored luxury brand has our attention when offering product, fashion and style advice. In-store, at its best, this is clienteling… Luxury brands need to extend this intimacy to their online platforms.”

Next I discovered a video describing how Hermès-owned silver maker Puiforcat paired sommelier Enrico Bernardo and designer Michael Anastassiades to create a new wine tasting collection. Listen to Michael Anastassiades describe how they removed the wine stem to bring you closer to the body of the wine, thus creating a more intimate experience:

PUIFORCAT Sommelier from Puiforcat on Vimeo.

But what really clarified for me the role intimacy plays in the luxury experience is the Brand Intimacy Report 2015 from MBLM. This report examines which brands have built intimate relationships based on six markers:

  1. Fulfillment– exceeding expectations, delivering superior service, quality, and efficacy
  2. Identity – identifying an aspirational image or admired values and beliefs
  3. Enhancement – becoming better through use of the brand
  4. Ritual – ingraining a brand into daily actions
  5. Nostalgia –  evoking memories of the past
  6. Indulgence – moments of pampering and gratification that can be either occasional or frequent

The study found the most intimate brands outperform the standard financial indices –   “on average, more than a third of those most intimate with a brand are willing to pay a 20 percent premium.”

At its core, Brand Intimacy is about building strong bonds. It factors in reciprocity and emotion as key drivers in decision making and behavior.

-Mario Natarelli, Managing Partner,MBLM, New York City

The report breaks out brands by industry, country and gender. At the top of the Health and Beauty sector in terms of brand intimacy is Chanel.  Though not all of the top brands in the Brand Intimacy report are luxury brands, it’s important to understand the role the markers have in determining the character of the luxury brand relationship to the customer.

A strong emotional connection is a key requirement and the foundation of intimacy. We believe the greater the emotional connection between a brand and consumer, the more powerful the relationship.

Think about the following questions and how you can increase your brand’s intimate relationship to your customers:

  • Are you fulfilling or exceeding your customers’ expectations?
  • Are your brand values ethical and admirable?
  • How do you make your customers smarter, better, more connected?
  • How are you vital to your customers’ daily lives?
  • What feelings do customers associate with your brand?
  • How do you indulge your customers by creating a sense of closeness and intimacy?