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THE GOOD LIFE Luxury


relationships Special


Post-pandemic, how will the luxury industry’s leading players build bonds with their most discerning UHNW clients?


Words Robin Swithinbank I


n the opening pages of Beyond Great, published by Boston Consulting Group in the aftermath of the first wave of Covid-19, the company’s chief executive


Rich Lesser offered this antidote to the chal- lenges of our time: ‘Difficult environments,’ he noted, ‘have historically proven to be more fertile periods for innovating and shifting competitive positions.’


Since the pandemic hit, luxury brands, par-


ticularly those targeting UHNWs, have been in fertile mood. They have been obliged to find innovative ways to seduce and retain their clients, a notoriously demanding cohort. Broadly speaking, many appear to have worked. Business is good. UK sales of luxury watches, to give one example, were up 34 per cent in July 2021 over the same month in 2019, when wealthy international visitors were still flooding into the country. How? Not by reinventing the wheel. The fundamentals of so-called ‘white glove’ client servicing haven’t changed. UHNWs still want products, services and experiences that are unique to them, whether they’re marketed as bespoke, customised or personalised. See Rolls-Royce’s headline-grabbing £20 million Boat Tail, which some say is now in the hands of Beyoncé and Jay-Z.


UHNWs also still want access to talent, shaped around their own tastes and passions. And they want relationships with people and brands they trust and admire. But that doesn’t mean nothing’s changed.


Even before the pandemic, the motivators be- hind UHNW buying decisions were evolving. For instance, increasing numbers are favour-


ing brands with a clear ‘purpose’ – or, in plain English, those that stand for something that’s perceived to be morally upright, beyond the primary product or service they offer. Brands that can demonstrate sustainability, or that they support conservation or humanitarian causes, now have an edge. Aino-Leena Grapin, chief executive of the


luxury yacht designer Winch Design, says her company used the pandemic to source more sustainable materials for use in their projects: ‘Our clients want something beautiful, and if


‘All my clients send their customers pictures of their products via


WhatsApp now’


it’s sustainable, they like knowing they’ve had a positive impact.’ The size of the opportunity has changed, too. According to Knight Frank’s Wealth Report 2021, there are more than 520,000 UHNWs (people with a net worth of more than $30 million) in the world today, an in- crease of 2.4 per cent year-on-year and grow- ing. The report calculated that the figure would rise by roughly 27 per cent over the next five years, bringing the total to 663,000. The UHNW demographic is changing, too.


Knight Frank’s report suggests that Asia will account for 24 per cent of UHNWs by 2025, up from 17 per cent 10 years before. Women now account for more of the world’s wealthy, too. Research produced by Relevance, a digi- tal marketing agency specialising in business- es that target UHNWs, estimates that there are now 29,300 UHNW women in the world, up more than 50 per cent since 2016. ‘This means you need a different kind of


language,’ says Muriel Penoty, a director at Relevance. ‘If you’re talking to women, you have to talk first about beauty and then about practicality and what’s behind the product. Men care about practicality, too, but for them it’s more about how well engineered a yacht or a watch is and how reliable it will be.’ The Far East focus plays well for luxury brands, particularly smaller independents with British heritage. ‘They don’t want the brands their parents wanted,’ says Isabel Ettedgui, owner and creator of the Mayfair- based luxury brand Connolly, of her Chinese clients. ‘They care about how things are made and they like that we only make in the UK and Europe.’ Before the pandemic, Connolly had begun hosting art events for young Chi- nese based in London. ‘The average age was 24, 25,’ says Ettedgui. ‘Young, wealthy Chi- nese consumers are much more sophisticated than everybody once thought.’ But perhaps the greatest changes are in how brands are managing client relation- ships. Luxury has been slowly digitalised over the past decade, and with it has come what many brands are calling ‘casual’ and ‘inclu- sive’ luxury themes accelerated by Covid and


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