Leaders, Thinkers & Creators: Authenticity Is The New Luxury: An Interview with Dr. Martina Olbertova – EAT LOVE SAVOR International Luxury Lifestyle Magazine
EAT LOVE SAVOR® as part of our editorial mandate since our inception, embarked on a mission to showcase true luxury brands, to celebrate excellence, and through luxury expert insights, help readers make sense of the true luxury lexicon in order to foster greater understanding and clarity of this complex ecosystem. We believe this is especially important during a time of great change in the luxury landscape as a result of the overuse of the term and in the face of luxury democratization. In this special editorial feature, we interview thinkers, leaders and creators that serve the luxury market to inform and shedding light on the multi-faceted complexities of luxury and how it is expressed. EAT LOVE SAVOR had the opportunity and great pleasure to discuss at length with Dr. Martina Olbertova about the subject of luxury and meaning. We are delighted to bring to you this in-depth interview as she offers great food for thought and insightful perspective. If you are not familiar with Dr. Martina Olbertova and her work, she is a leading expert on brand meaning and cultural relevance. Dr. Olbertova is a global brand consultant, cultural strategist, semiotician and social scientist on a mission to redefine the role of meaning in business. As the Founder and CEO of Meaning.Global, a strategic intelligence consultancy, she helps brands and organisations navigate the shifting symbolic meanings and adapt to the changing cultural context of the 21st century to profit from culture change. She helps brand and business leaders become more culturally savvy and create authentic meaning, value and relevance to connect with their customers. She’s a contributor to Branding Strategy Insider, Forbes, Luxury Daily, Luxury Society and author of The Luxury Report 2019 on Redefining The Future Meaning Of Luxury. She holds a BSc., MSc. and a doctorate in Media Studies from Charles University in Prague. She consults, teaches and speaks at conferences around the world. INTERVIEW In conversation with Dr. Martina Olbertova Authenticity Is The New Luxury “Being your authentic self is the highest form of Luxury.” What led you to create a company focused on reconnecting with ‘meaning’? What is your mission in business? Over the last decade, working as a strategy consultant in branding and marketing, I started observing the fundamental disconnect between the value we intend to create and what we actually do. The difference is usually a vast one. There seem to be many gaps in business today as brands and organisations are still mostly managed in silos, which fragment their inner value and perceived meaning. This creates overall market climate of meaninglessness – in brand communication, product development or customer experiences. The second aspect is the complete lack of cultural and contextual thinking in business today. Cultural irrelevance and value fragmentation are the biggest reason why global brands now struggle to grow and retain their value. We cannot manage brands in detachment from the real world. Brands are not islands, they don’t exist in a vacuum; they derive their value from the cultural context in which they are embedded. Meaning is the connective tissue between brands and the world we live in. Only when brands are contextualised with culture and society can they be relevant, valuable and profitable. My mission is to help businesses offset this ongoing crisis of meaning and help them in better adapting to the quickly changing context of the 21st century to create new value for the upcoming generation of consumers. With meaning and cultural relevance at the core, brands – and luxury brands especially – can become vibrant and profitable again. Tell us about your vision for the future of brands, in luxury or otherwise? My vision is to educate and guide business leaders on how to manage their brands as the dynamic ecosystems of cultural value that they really are. The measurement-obsessed, short-termism driven, left-brained business management paradigm took the life and soul out of brands. But when it comes to luxury, this soul – the essence – is the core asset of your brand. If you lose it or don’t keep it up to speed with how the society is evolving, your value as a brand will decrease. We could see it recently with the likes of brands such as Barneys or Zac Posen’s House of Z. Even if you have the Hollywood A-listers clientele, it won’t save your brand if your business model doesn’t stand the test of time and you cannot adapt quickly enough to the changing tides in culture. In this regard, LVMH is paving a brave new way forward with its strategy of global cultural diversification. We’ve seen Bernard Arnault invest in FENTY, MadHappy and most recently in the largest ever acquisition of the American icon Tiffany. LVMH is clearly on the path of owning, consolidating and leveraging new relationships with consumer audiences and venturing into new territories to grow their global empire. How is meaning connected to luxury? What is their mutual relationship? We now live in the age of abundance: we have plenty of things to desire, but not enough of what we truly need – not enough of what feeds our souls, makes us feel alive and makes our lives meaningful. We have an excess of data and information, but we are starved out for true meaning – for the kind of things that truly matter in life and increase their value in time. This is what luxury needs to turn to next: to saturating our starved-out need for true meaning, for connection, for transcendence. Luxury needs to become more essential in our lives to saturate these deep human spiritual needs. True luxury transcends the limits of space and time. It increases in value, not decreases because we ascribe more meaning to things that last – those that have personal value and relevance to us, to the kind of things we identify with based on our own values. And it’s not just our own values, it’s the brand values, too. More meaning means more value. People value meaning. We don’t consume brands for their logos, products or services, we consume them for what they mean to us – for what they represent in terms of our own desires, values, feelings and mental images we create about the world we live in. The more meaning you create as a brand, the more value you will have as a brand. And how is this connected to your personal philosophies about luxury as a mindset and approach to living? Luxury should help us transcend our immediate reality. It should help us connect back to our essence to feel truly alive. I am now contemplating a new luxury experiential business based on the principles of travel, exploration, seeking and cultural immersion where the transcendence of human spirit and connecting back to our soul should happen almost as a by-product of living truly and fully in the moment. When we are fully present, wonderful things can happen. Besides, there is no other time than the now. The whole past-present-future continuum is just a series of nows, a series of moments that we tie together based on what meaning we choose to assign to them. We are in control of what kind of life we live. But luxury can amplify our lives by heightening our senses and making us more perceptive to beauty, more sensitive to what’s truly important. What do you wish people knew about luxury as it relates to meaning? Luxury is all about meaning: the very essence of luxury is based on the inflation of its symbolic value over the functional value of its goods and services. Luxury costs more simply because it means more. We pay more for the symbolic excess: for the extra signs and symbols, images and projections we get to consume that signify an aura of exclusivity and luxuriousness around our beings, and this way help us more creatively express who we are, our personal preferences, our sense of style, our individual identity. We pay more for the cultural construct of luxury – for what luxury represents in our society as a shared social concept. That’s why it’s so enjoyable for people to aspire to and emulate as a vehicle of upward social mobility, or now increasingly as a vehicle of our own unique self-expression. Luxury has earned a highly prominent position in our culture as a powerful catalyst saturating complex personal and social needs. It plays an instrumental role in our lives and serves many social functions: it signals a heightened social status, increases our perception of self-worth and cultivates high value in our relationships and so on. Meaning is the real value of brands and the inner essence of luxury. It’s through meaning that brands gain and grow their value. This is the reason why ‘meaning’ as an intrinsic value is far more important for luxury brands to create and retain than for any other market sector – it conserves value and serves as a catalyst for our social interaction. The understanding of luxury and the perception of its definition have changed vastly over centuries, and especially in the recent past. Some would say, it has lost its luster and is now too accessible. What do you think of these changes? What are the bad parts and the good parts? The essence of what luxury even means today is changing. We are seeing a shift from the excess, rarity and opulence – which were the signifiers of luxury in the past – more towards minimalism, essence and the new essentials that have become scarce in our increasingly complex and lonesome lives in the 21st-century: time, space, clean air, leisure, experiences, inner peace, mindfulness and a genuine human connection. The accessibility is a problem only when luxury brands don’t know how to manage their core value properly and go full-on in the direction of pure efficiency. In this mindset, they are sometimes wrongly embracing the cultural fads of the now, effectively diluting their inner essence at the expense of generating short-term profits. But luxury brands aren’t in the game of short-term profits, they are in the game of long-term value creation. Their game is that of a long-term cultural effectiveness, which has the opposite set of rules than a lean-operated process-driven corporation manufacturing consumer goods. That’s why embracing the inner essence of brands while paying attention to the human essence of your customers and their newly scarce needs today is so important to luxury brands in crafting viable and relevant future strategies. When it comes to meaning in luxury, how can luxury brands and consumers connect to ‘meaning’ in these evolutionary times and how luxury is conveyed and consumed? Many years ago, when the CEO of Rolex was asked how the watch market was responding to changes and what that meant for Rolex, he responded: “Rolex is not in the wrist watch business. We are in the luxury goods business.” And he was completely right. Luxury brands are in the business of symbolic meaning, not physical goods and services. This is just one of the many ways to make this point more apparent to luxury consumers and the broader audience of marketers. You cannot optimise your way into creation. The job of luxury isn’t to cut costs and optimise, it is to create and inflate its symbolic value and make people feel better about themselves. The job of luxury brands is to elevate their own symbolic value to create timeless emotional connections in people’s minds, not to focus on fighting market shares in the here and now. Because luxury elevates the human soul and spirit, its value span is arguably much longer and far surpasses the present moment. As Patek Philippe says, you never simply own our watch. You are merely looking after it for the future generations.” This doesn’t mean that ownership and emotional investment wouldn’t be important for Patek Philippe, but that the span of value and appreciation for this brand surpasses the individual’s lifetime. Its value is in itself transcendental. If you think about it, that is...
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