A recent edition of the Robb Report summarised its best products for all of the well-established categories of luxury goods; watches, jewellery, aviation, automotive etc. The question I’m asking here is whether there should be a category for Digital?
You’d probably think the answer would be No, wouldn’t you? Well, I’m here to make the case for Yes, by looking at the characteristics of a luxury product and seeing whether it is possible to apply them to a digital product.
The first step though is for me to define what I mean by digital. I am referring to software and content stored in digital format. The software needs to run on something of course, and in our case, that’s an iPad typically, but the iPad itself is not the luxury product. It’s analogous to the beautiful box that your luxury watch is presented in.
The characteristics of a luxury product include price, exclusivity, quality, and history.
Luxury products are expensive. They have to be or it would be impossible to maintain the exclusivity that is also required. Pricing is one of the easiest luxury characteristics for a digital product to achieve, as pricing is established by the vendor.
Now things start to get harder. In this age of peer-to-peer file sharing, where even companies like Microsoft can’t prevent piracy of their products, maintaining the exclusivity of anything digital is a challenge. There is a solution however, and that is to uniquely tie the digital product to the hardware it runs on. In most cases that would be impractical, but when exclusivity is your goal, it’s not a bad thing. As an example, the LifeStories we create are uniquely tied to the devices they run on.
Furthermore, if there are a very limited number of vendors offering the digital product, that also increases the level of exclusivity. If you then add in that the product is heavily tailored to the individual needs of the client, then the Exclusivity requirement can clearly be satisfied.
Quality is a little more of an abstract concept to measure against. In the case of a luxury product, quality can mean the level of workmanship, but it can also mean the level of service provided throughout the relationship between vendor and client. Both of these elements can be satisfied with a digital product.
The artisans who were the founders of today’s most popular brands were craftsmen who had spent a lifetime learning their trade. Is it too hard to believe that there are digital artisans who have done the same? These are people who have spent decades writing software and dealing with media in all of its digital formats.
Providing the quality service that characterises luxury between an artisan and a client is a mindset. It does not matter whether the product is physical or digital.
And so we come to the crux of the debate. Louis Vuitton, est 1854; Audemars Piguet, est 1875; Rolls-Royce, est 1906. Luxury brands usually come with a heritage, and it is the heritage that is a major part of the attraction. For most digital products, a lack of history is the one characteristic that disqualifies them from being classified as a luxury unless they rely heavily on the heritage of their maker. A digital Rolex is a luxury product, but that’s because it’s a Rolex, not because it’s digital.
But just think for a moment about what “heritage” really means. It’s about things that have a historical basis that still have relevance today. It’s about belonging and tradition. We can look back on 100 years of a luxury brand and see all of its milestones.
Instead of looking back, what if you could look forward and see 100 years of milestones? What if the company that creates your digital product today could lay out for you its plans on how it was going to evolve for the next century and could convince you that longevity is its raison d’être? In that case maybe simply using history as a measurement of luxury is too narrow. Perhaps we should be using time, regardless of direction.
As I set out in another post, longevity is a crucial part of the vision here at LifeStories International. With it, I believe that we can satisfy the time element of luxury.
So in the vast majority of cases, you’d find it very difficult to argue that a digital product is a luxury product, but there are some cases where I believe that it holds true.