By: Rachel Spiegelman
July 20, 2016
Uber Select. Soothe. Onefinestay. Now, even the pink mustache is getting fancy.
When Lyft announced it was launching its Premier service earlier this month, allowing its users to get picked up by a high-end luxury vehicle, it caught literally no one by surprise. With 70% of consumers demanding a more personalized shopping experience, brands are responding by providing “menus” of options. But only 26% of consumers feel it’s working, according to the Luxury Institute.
Back in the day, there was the haves and the have-nots. Rodeo or JC Penney. Chanel or Osh Kosh. Brands and businesses were all-in on a specific target and made sure those chosen ones felt special, taken care of, often making outsiders know they were exactly that.
Lyft was originally launched as an innovative way to connect drivers to riders in a world where young city dwellers were forgoing car purchases as part of everyday life. The whimsical pink mustache. The guessing game of what kind of car and driver you would get. “A ride whenever you need one.” It was all part of the lifestyle of Lyft and its every-day, mainstream users. But at the same time, the company was also (basically) telling my 65-year-old New Englander mother that if her Mercedes was ever in the shop, Lyft was not for her.
But now, with most of these services offering a “high-end” option, the lines are blurring around the types of consumers a brand can effectively reach.
So what’s changed?
First, it’s our definition of luxury. My mother’s generation thinks of luxury as a status symbol. This is not true for younger consumers. Millennials and Gen X — my generation — consider it a reward. A reward for dealing with work stress and life stress and family stress and so on. It’s something we deserve because of our effort, not something that defines our place in life.
Secondly, with the amount of exposure we now have on a daily basis — war, politics, hardship — our generation has adopted a “why wait” strategy. This is a primary reason experiences are becoming more important than savings accounts. We place the highest value on our own time, not on a logo.
This combination of immediate gratification for high-end rewards has redefined the luxury market. It’s what I often refer to as “expedited exclusivity.” We expect more, at a faster pace, than we ever have before. People are demanding higher-end treatment younger, and on a more regular basis.
Naturally, brands have adapted to it, or in the case of Lyft, adopted it. By taking it’s quirky, innovative service brand and slapping a “premium” next to it, they are going after a bigger-wallet consumer or more likely one who seeks expedited exclusivity and had not previously thought of Lyft as a brand that could offer that.
The lesson here is that making higher-end goods accessible to the mainstream needs discipline, but it can be done. With the right guardrails, most brands can do what Tiffany and Mercedes and Burberry successfully did: create lower-cost product lines, or mass awareness and appeal, without diminishing the true iconic value of the brand.
But can it go in reverse? Can brands that start out appealing to the masses create a truly leveled-up experience that will last?
Our history says it may be too far a bridge to cross. Walmart famously failed a decade ago when they launched Metro &, an upscale fashion line that intended to show they were on the cutting edge only to experience a disastrous launch that crippled national sales that year. And we all saw the public backlash that almost shuttered 114-year-old JCPenney when they decided to forgo coupons.
Have times changed enough to allow for brands to level up? I guess we’ll know the answer to that if you see my Mom riding sidecar with a pink mustache in the wind.