The high-end luxury world of exclusive jewellery, cigars, whisky, cars and fashion is only available to the selected few rich and famous. And with Trump’s new threat for tariffs on EU top luxury brands, these products may become even less affordable and more exclusive soon. A conversation I had with Michael Hakopian and Taron Mosesian, co-founders of the Dutch luxury branding agency Studio Succes, gives us an insightful peek into this world and into how they approach it with their strict invite-only policy.
Common forms of invite-only marketing
Invite-only marketing is a popular marketing strategy to increase the desirability of a product or service by restricting access to invited people only. Its main characteristic is that you can only buy a product or service when being invited by the company, or by an inner circle around it.
Facebook used this strategy to get started, Google used it when launching Gmail and OnePlus used it when launching the One phone. Furthermore, it is also used by startups as an inexpensive word-of-mouth tactic that, so it is hoped, will generate a lot of free publicity.
What these and most other cases of invite-only marketing have in common that circulate on the Internet, is that the invite-only principle is only used in the early stages of a product launch. They all target at a mass-consumer market where, after the initial buzz-generating stages, the product is widely available and mass-marketed in a more open way, making it accessible to everyone interested.
Sometimes the invite-only concept is taken much further and is even made the core of a company’s marketing strategy. We especially see this in the high-end luxury market where store doors only open for the selected few, where it may be close to impossible to even find a company, and where brands circulate that are unknown to the general public. To have access to such products, you need to have the right amount of money, the right friends and the right mindset and image. Having that may produce you an invitation.
Invite-only in luxury branding
As a high-end luxury branding agency, Studio Succes envisions, designs and produces branding experiences for their clients. They organize personalized events in which their clients’ customers get to experience a product in a luxury environment. Think of, for example, presenting a new line of jewellery at the Paris Fashion Week.
This is how far they have taken the invite-only concept. Their website is invite-only with only a simple “request access” button. Unless you carefully fit their clientele’s profile, though, there is no point in requesting access. This means that their primary way of acquiring clients is through their inner circle network and word-of-mouth. And even then they will take one or two months to screen you as a potential client before they decide whether or not they want to meet you for a first conversation.
This is not merely “playing hard to get” or a buzz-generating exclusivity strategy. In the high-end luxury market, an invite-only strategy has additional and more important purposes. “Buying a high-end product is all about experience and identity” Hakopian explains, “Luxury products are a completion of someone’s personality. This makes that not only the product, but especially the brand and buying experience need to exactly fit the personality and image of the customer.”
As Mosesian adds, this means that also the branding agency needs to perfectly fit in. Since Studio Succes knows the kind of clients they would match, they want to carefully select them to make sure that they only serve the right type of clients. This saves them, and particularly their aspiring client, valuable time. It also reduces the risk of failure, especially that of loss of face by the client.
Another reason to adopt an invite-only strategy is that clients in the high-end luxury market value their privacy. They don’t want or need anyone to know with which branding agency they work or even that they work with a branding agency. So, it is also out of respect for their clients that they adopt an invite-only strategy.
Expanding the invite-only concept elsewhere
Thinking about it, the invite-only approach makes a lot of sense for a luxury branding agency. And along those lines, for the entire high-end luxury market—wherever exclusivity and image play a key role. While still the exception among branding agencies, this begs the question why not more of them follow this strategy. Perhaps it is the determination and self-confidence that is needed to deliberately restrict access to your product or service from the very first client on. Many entrepreneurs may find that too risky and rather sell their product to anyone that wants it. If there is anything clear from my conversation with Hakopian and Mosesian, though, is how determined and confident they are about their invite-only strategy.
It also begs the question whether a similar advanced invite-only approach can be used elsewhere too, outside the luxury market. I think it can. Given the increased customization and specialization we see in many industries, and given the strong identity-creating role of fashion and technology products, companies increasingly may create local “mini monopolies” in which they are the only ones serving a particular niche community. A radical invite-only approach might work there just as well.
This post was published earlier here on my forbes.com page.
Image credit: Studio Succes