Image is Everything

By Hannah Wallace May 31, 2004

Martyn Schorr moved his media relations and marketing communications firm, PMPR, Inc., from New York to Sarasota after a decades-long career representing the high-performance automotive industry. Today, he is the media rep for Bulgari, S.p.A., Rome, the world's third largest luxury jeweler, and Cadillac, the American luxury car manufacturer, in a high-profile partnership that has resulted in Bulgari clocks and instrumentation being incorporated into Cadillac's Escalade and XLR models. We asked him about successfully navigating the road to luxury marketing.

1. Is image really everything?

In many ways, the answer is yes. Essentially, an image is a "promise" to deliver quality, design, performance, value. A successful image has delivered on its promises and is valued as a precious asset in a company's portfolio. Without it, it would be impossible for a company to compete and survive in the rarified air of the luxury brands marketplace.

A luxury brand's success actually has a lot less to do with money and possessions than most think. It usually has more to do with understanding target customers' dreams and fantasies than traditional textbook marketing concepts. Successful prestige brands do not merely sell products or services. They sell dreams.

2. How free a rein should a marketing person have in a successful company?

The marketing executive is often the one best suited to analyze the market and implement programs, and is usually one of the people directly responsible for results at the end of the year. It's an awesome responsibility for one person. A marketing person has to be a team player, working closely with sales, advertising and public relations to ensure success in a competitive marketplace.

3. Any rules on creative partnerships between two different brands, such as Cadillac and Bulgari?

Partners should understand and respect each other's corporate culture, customer demographics, position in the marketplace and future product and growth plans. In the case of Bulgari and Cadillac, it was further complicated by cultural differences as well as basic logistics. The Bulgari brand and its design studio are headquartered in Rome, and Cadillac calls Detroit home. It took a little longer to get information and creative services flowing back and forth.

A key factor in the success of the now five-year-old relationship is vice chairman Nicola Bulgari. For more than 40 years he has been a serious collector of American cars, primarily Buicks and Cadillacs, and a dedicated student of the history of the American car industry. He seized the opportunity for Bulgari to participate in what has since become the renaissance of the Cadillac brand. Cadillac is reaping the benefits of jewel-like interior upgrades and the cachet of being associated with one of the world's most prestigious brands.

4. How do you market luxury brands in uncertain times?

Traditional marketing wisdom usually favors maintaining marketing, advertising and public relations budgets during down or uncertain economic periods. In other words, spend like normal to protect market share. Successful luxury brand marketers invest heavily in uncompromising dedication to customer satisfaction. Under less than ideal economic conditions, even more resources are put into catering to the needs of loyal customers, many of whom are rarely affected by economic downturns. It is not unusual for a luxury jewelry brand to send samples of a new line, via courier, national sales executive or even a senior level officer, across the country or the ocean so that one of its important customers can view them in the privacy of their home or hotel suite. That level of customer service, although expensive, always pays big dividends.

5. Any advice for marketing professionals on keeping creative ideas firing on all cylinders?

Encourage your marketing professionals to take risks, venture out of the box. That should keep creative juices flowing. Marketers should actively seek marketing relationships with companies with similar status brand images in both related and non-related fields, exploring possibilities that could result in co-branding opportunities. Routinely benchmark the competition. Get into potential customers' heads, find out who they are and what they buy, look at other marketers who cater to their needs, then study their approaches.

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