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How Unilever’s Mass-Market Suave Brand Proves Luxury Is A Mindset

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By Pam Danziger

Recently Fast Company reported that Suave, Unilever’s mass-market shampoo brand, “fooled a bunch of beauty influencers into thinking it was luxury haircare.” It changed its name to Evaus (Suave spelled backwards), redesigned the package, gave it a premium price and presented it to a group of beauty bloggers and influencers to test. The result: The influencers bought it!

The bait-and-switch test was done to challenge the common belief that “women are skeptical of quality if the price tag is too low,” explained Jennifer Bremner, Suave’s brand director. She cited brand research that found seven in 10 millennial-aged women believe that premium or high-priced brands are more “trustworthy than value or lower-priced brands and products.”

To prove the point, the bait-and-switch idea behind Evaus was born. “On Suave, we learned from our listening that labels and price tags can play an outsized role in purchase decisions,” Bremner said.

This is certainly not news to me. Packaging, positioning and price play a huge role in how consumers perceive products. The more premium-looking the packaging combined with convincing promises of enhanced quality and excellence in performance, the more elevated the brand in the customers’ mind which then justifies paying a higher price. That’s because…

In marketing, perception is reality

The Suave-Evaus test proves that by changing the customers’ perception, marketers can change their business reality. If customers are convinced they will get a heightened, more luxurious experience, as the Suave experiment did, they are likely to get it. That is because luxury is a state of mind, not a brand or a price point.

Luxury is a state of mind, not a brand or a price point.


How can marketers create that luxury perception? By telling new stories of luxury that are interesting, meaningful and relevant to the next generation of customers that mean growth now and in the future.

“Shoppers’ most valuable asset isn’t their dollars, it’s their attention,” says Christopher Brace, CEO at Syntegrate Consulting in New York. “Millennials are especially influencing this area because they don’t buy things, they buy stories.” It’s a battle for the customers’ mind, not their wallets, where the brand marketing wars are fought.

To plot brand stories that make a connection with the next generation affluent customers, who I call HENRYs (high-earners-not-rich-yet), you have to understand their psychology. Luxury brands are challenged reaching them because they focus so much on tactics to connect – internet marketing is a given. Rather they need to create new and compelling reasons why their brands are meaningful and important to this digitally-empowered generation.

Young HENRYs interpret luxury very differently They want luxury that is more inspirational rather than aspirational. They reject the traditional ways that luxury brands have positioned themselves with marketing messages they see as exclusionary, elitist, and irrelevant.

Brand stories that connect with the next generation must reflect a more contemporary, inclusive, democratic and relevant ideas. They want to hear new stories of luxury, such as:

  • Luxury for Me (Anti-status): Luxury isn’t about you, and what you think, but about me and who I am

  • Luxury of Discovery(Spread the word): Thrill of discovery anchors brand’s most powerful marketing tool — Word-of-mouth

  • Luxury of Simplicity (Simple elegance): It’s the KISS principle — Keep It Simple Stupid! – is valued. Embrace the concept of simple elegance.
Too many heritage luxury brands are trapped by tradition and wedded to old stories that simply don’t mean that much to today’s younger, more informed and educated affluent consumer. It’s why emerging, disruptive brands, like Shinola, Everlane, Suitsupply, Canada Goose, Warby Parker, Blue Nile and RH, are finding a ready audience for a new style of luxury and taking share from the established players.

For heritage luxury brands, this doesn’t necessarily mean forsakinge the qualities and values that made the brand great, but there is a need to keep examining its roots, pruning and shaping the strategies and the messaging to keep the luxury brand vital and relevant.

Today too many luxury brands focus on new marketing and messaging tactics, while ignoring the strategic shifts that need to be made for today’s luxury market. And that requires putting the customer front and center. Give them the luxury they really want, need and desire and forget about the luxury you always gave them and think that they still want.

Master brand story telling for the next generation of luxury consumers

Unity Marketing has published a trend report, Brand Stories that Sell to HENRYs, to show how to master the art of brand story telling for the next generation of luxury consumers. It delves into the values of HENRYs and the kind of brand storytelling that will sell to the next generation’s affluents. It examines 19 new stories of luxury that connect with the psychology of young HENRYs and shows how different brands use each story to achieve marketing success.

This report will be inspiration for marketers looking to tell stories of luxury in a brand new style.



More about Pam Danziger: Speaker, author, and market researcher Pamela N. Danziger is internationally recognized for her expertise on the world’s most influential consumers: the American Affluent. Her new book, Shops that POP! 7 Steps to Extraordinary Retail Success, reveals the secrets to crafting a retail shopping experience that’s irresistible to high-value shoppers. As founder of Unity Marketing, Pam leads with research to provide brands with actionable insights into the minds of their most profitable customers. She is the author of five books including a recent mini-book, What Do HENRY’s Want?, explores the changing face of America’s consumer marketplace. Pam is frequently called on to share new insights with audiences and business leaders all over the world. Contact her at pam@unitymarketingonline.com.

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