We can talk ourselves into almost anything. What constitutes a “need” at any given point of time falls anywhere on the axis that runs from “passing fancy” to “temporary insanity,” depending on the size and shape of the object of your desire.
Let’s forget for the moment about the Masters of the Universe who buy Falcon Jets the way you or I consider buying snow tires. Let’s focus on those times when you or I buy the kind of thing that “the rich” buy — for whatever reason, at that particular moment of complete abandon and irresponsibility.
Here’s my story. It had a happy ending, just so you know. But it’s very instructive. I walked into an Oriental carpet store in Detroit with my beautiful wife Christine about 10 years ago. I’ve always had a thing for Oriental carpets, which share the spotlight of irrational desire with watches and pens, for some reason.
We looked at each other in the parking lot, put on our game faces, and said with steely eyed resolve, “our price ceiling is a firm, un-negotiable two-thousand dollars, period.” And we went in. And got completely turned around in about 10 minutes.
The salesman was right out of Central Casting. Urbane, vaguely Middle Eastern, and highly solicitous, I told him straight off how hard it would be to work over a guy with two thousand dollars of immovable will power. He closed his eyes and nodded, almost approvingly, at my strength and showed me a beautiful carpet that cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000.
I had to agree, it was gorgeous, but I was un-moved. After all, we’re not spending ten grand, even if it is a terrific looking carpet. Remember, we had a firm price ceiling of four thousand dollars. As we agreed in the parking lot.
Since we clearly understood quality when we saw it, he had to show us a particular carpet …. from northern Iran, hand-knotted (“Look! Look at the knots! They’re beautiful, aren’t they?”), very rare, of course …. and worth roughly fifteen thousand dollars.
I stared at it for a few minutes. This was a beautiful carpet. This was a show piece. Something you’d invite friends over …. just the important ones, of course …. to whom you would show it off, and they would think more of you solely because you owned that carpet. However, I knew I couldn’t buy it. After all, it fell somewhere above of my price ceiling, from which I was unwavering, of seven-thousand dollars. So no, thank you. Beautiful carpet, though.
This did not throw my host. He shrugged his understanding and then showed me a very nice carpet that cost $7,800. I really liked it. And frankly, as it was pretty close to my firm price ceiling of seven thousand dollars, I was sorely tempted to buy it. What’s the difference? Nothing really. A pittance. This carpet was going to look good in my living room, I thought. Then, regaining my wits, I ran from the store with my wallet, sanity and fortunes intact.
We are all slaves to our passions, aren’t we? It isn’t the thing itself so much, but what we expected as a result of owning the thing. Is it the experience of owning something unique or the perceived self-confidence that owning a unique object of desire will bring? I don’t know and frankly couldn’t care less. Owning a great watch doesn’t necessarily make me feel more self-confident; I’m just deeply attracted to wearing a piece of man-made mechanical artistry. People who buy antique Porsches or collect Renoirs must feel this way about what they do, too.
I’m curious to understand this. I think there are a few things going on when we obsess about something that costs enough to make us pause: the pure love of the art form for its own sake, the experience of ownership, and the need to share the joy.
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Key Takeaways (or at least pre-conceptions):
The Love: Do you love cars? Watches? How about hand knotted Afghan War Rugs? Do you think about them when you’re at work or pull over when you’re driving around on the weekend to stop at a small shop that sells them? Do you really love them? If you’re in the business of marketing these kinds of things, how do you foster that kind of desire? How do you create that exclusivity while retaining that promise of inclusion, if you’d just come behind the curtain?
The Experience: Is holding it, driving it, or watching it truly a unique experience? Is there something about it that is tangibly different than owning the common? Watching a Jaeger LeCoultre Atmos clock operate …. and knowing that it will never stop, ever, because it runs on air …. is a unique ownership experience. It’s also extremely beautiful, of course. Having a Kaleidescape System in your family room is a unique experience …. you fall in love with your movies all over again in a way that you can’t understand unless you have one. Is the experience unique? And does owning that experience put you in an exclusive club just because you own one? How do you scale the experience so that self-selectors are gathered as quickly and efficiently as possible?
The Sharing: Do you have a burning need to bring others behind the curtain? Are you a raving evangelist for your obsession? How do you share your passion? Is it something you can transfer to others? Do they have to experience it for themselves or can they become infected just by proximity to it? How do you promote the spread of this virus?
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Creating unique experience is what marketers do, whether creating peace of mind in the hearts of the purchasing managers who buy your ball bearings or outright lust in the hearts of your luxury product owners. If you aren’t focused on creating this unique experience, think along these lines and see where it takes you. It’s not just a different way to stretch your marketing muscles. It might take you into a completely new place.
What do you think?