NEW YORK, United States — The Quintessentially Group, founded in London as a concierge service in 2000, has since grown to become a global lifestyle management operation, with 550 specialist members of staff and 50 international offices. Today its commercial clients include Marriott International, Cartier and Lamborghini; its private membership spans 220,000, and has seen a sharp rise in Millennials, luxury’s most significant consumer demographic today.
Through its concierge service, Quintessentially became a leading voice in the development of the experience economy in the luxury lifestyle sector. Handling millions of member requests, the company has gained unique first-hand insight into how the behaviours of the affluent and influential are shifting globally.
Accelerated by the effects of Covid-19, which has reduced our in-person interactions and connections to others, Quintessentially believes the pandemic has provoked a re-evaluation of our priorities — “we have come to value human connection more than ever.”
This month, in their inaugural white paper, Quintessentially share the five cultural shifts that they believe will hold the most significant implications for businesses over the coming decade, and identify “The New Era of Connection,” where the value of goods, services and experiences increase with their ability to create a feeling of connection with other people and ourselves.
Now, BoF sits down with Quintessentially’s Group Chief Executive Annastasia Seebohm to hear how luxury expenditure has evolved and to discover how brands should innovate their consumer engagement strategies to gain competitive advantage in a new and very different era ahead.
What informs Quintessentially’s insights into the luxury consumer?
We have been closely connected with the global luxury consumer for more than 20 years, and have built up an engaged, informed and valuable network of clients and premium brands. Speaking with our clients, members and partners around the world on a day-to-day basis puts us in a unique position to understand what the affluent consumer wants and how that has changed over the past 20 years.
We have handled millions of requests from these clients, from sourcing rare items and creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences to delivering bespoke client programmes or more practical day-to-day needs. That enables us to predict future consumer trends — their behaviours, their purchasing influences, lifestyle choices, their needs, wants and motivations.
How is Quintessentially pivoting due to the unprecedented circumstances of 2020?
We understand that human connection, and a focus on meaningful interaction, is at the core of people’s needs. In the last few months, our members have been in touch with us more than ever and we’ve built even stronger connections with them. We have supported our members with the move to remote working and learning, creating home office spaces and helping access tutors and specialist teachers for a host of subjects.
While physical events have obviously been scaled down, we’ve moved many of our experiences to the virtual and in-home with great success, continuing to create personal, engaging moments for our members. From one-on-one cooking classes with top chefs, private yoga and Pilates sessions with leading fitness experts, to personal masterclasses with artists, photographers and craftsmen, members have enjoyed unique experiences in the comfort of their own homes.
As cities around the world begin to re-emerge from lockdown, we are also getting back to supporting our members in doing what they love, curating bespoke travel experiences that offer a sense of adventure and excitement within the confines of new health and safety requirements. We’ve also been helping clients navigate the new landscape, adapting their client engagement strategies to this new era and helping them better understand the greater lean on technology and connection that is so important.
How should brands’ engagement strategies evolve?
Quintessentially created the category of lifestyle management and our first 10 years was spent very much owning that space. In the following decade, consumers came to place an increased value on “doing” rather than “having,” so we created best-in-class experiences for ambitious global luxury consumers and for our clients. As our relationships with commercial clients became closer, working with groups such as LVMH, Richemont and Kering, we came to better understand how to execute the impact and connection they were seeking to achieve with consumers — and we were increasingly able to support their strategies with our learnings.
The importance of human interaction, authentic experiences and an engaging and emotional connection with brands should not be underestimated.
Brands need to allow their very important clients, or VICs, to feel connected, engaged and part of a community. Luxury businesses have in the past been quite slow to adopt best-in-class digital ecosystems, but Covid-19 has forced brands to accelerate their digital transformation plans. While these digital channels are vital, it is imperative that brands retain an element of human connection.
In the future, we will see the virtual meld with the physical. Brands already have such an intimate relationship with their top 10 percent of customers — they know their birthdays, their husbands and wives, their passions and interests. Serving clients well digitally and online will allow the next tier of customers — the top 10 to 25 percent, say — to receive similar treatment to the top 10 percent.
How should brands innovate HNWI engagement strategies?
Covid-19 has also meant brands need to be transparent about how they are prioritising their clients’ safety. To put minds at ease, companies need to communicate exactly how they are adapting their spaces for Covid-19. Before they go anywhere, clients will want to know how they will get there, who will be there and what safety measures are in place. They are looking for reassurance. We have seen a demand for more private venues as consumers are increasingly valuing intimacy at this time. Brands should consider holding smaller events that focus on the passion points of their VICs, and one-to-one meetings with clientele, which also speaks to the importance of human relationships.
Traditionally, experiences on and offline co-existed but were not necessarily fully integrated. We expect to see events in which some VICs enjoy physical attendance, while others enjoy a digital interpretation of that experience, through streaming platforms from the confines of their own homes or another exclusive venue. The distribution of the event digitally to a wider client audience will allow others “access” into a brand moment, allowing new potential VICs a way to feel connected, and enter the funnel. In this way, a micro moment can have a macro impact.
How is luxury consumer expenditure changing?
We are witnessing a rise in activism and philanthropy driven by Millennials and Gen-Z — more people are wanting to buy items with a positive social and environmental impact. This “conscious consumption” will grow as these younger segments come to represent a greater percentage of the luxury market. The importance of human interaction, authentic experiences and an engaging and emotional connection with brands should not be underestimated, and luxury consumers will be much more motivated by purchases that make them feel inspired and enriched.
The pandemic has also increased the importance of health and wellness. At Quintessentially, we have seen health and wellness member requests grow over the past five years. It is becoming a dominant concern that affects many decisions: what to eat, how to get around, who to interact with. All brands must now be mindful that health is considered a precious resource.
There has also been a notable move away from impulsive experiences and a greater desire amongst the affluent to spend time connecting with and learning from new experts and like-minded individuals — investing in “self-growth.” Our members are looking for a chance to network and learn something new — to feel more fulfilled within themselves because of it. We believe the affluent consumer views the investment in and education of oneself as a major life priority. Knowledge is the new social capital.
What further change do you expect when global mobility increases?
There is unquestionably a pent-up demand for in-person experiences. Brands need to consider how they can bring people together, or help people connect with themselves. This needs to happen with or without technology. After such an extensive period of isolation, the luxury consumer will expect greater value in everything they invest in and spend time on. There will be a need for substance and meaning. For example, we predict there will be a deeper appreciation of and desire for nature as a part of the Covid re-emergence psyche.
After such an extensive period of isolation, the luxury consumer will expect greater value in everything they invest in and spend time on.
As life slowly settles into a “new normal”, brands should look to fuel these growth mind-sets and offer transformative experiences. That might mean offering personal meditation lessons, access to well-being experts or opportunities to learn new skills like languages. Brands will need to take this into account when rewarding and hosting their VICs, or seeking to develop their lifestyle category offerings.
What hasn’t changed?
Our membership base is still made up of business leaders: entrepreneurs, CEOs and decision-makers. Time has always been their most precious commodity and arguably the pandemic has made it even more important for them to maximise their time today.
While Covid-19 has quickened the pace of disruption, disruption itself has been ever-present in the twenty-first century. Businesses must continue to listen to their clients, identify their evolving needs and pivot their offerings and experiences to serve them.
Our purpose at Quintessentially has always been to spark connections. It is imperative that we keep connecting brands with influential and affluent individuals — to keep sparking the connections that enrich our members’ lives. This has never been more important in an increasingly isolated and divided world. How we bring them together may have changed, but that coming together is just as important.
This sponsored feature is part of a media partnership between BoF and Quintessentially.