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Interview with Luxury Marketing Expert Michelle Peranteau

In episode #123, I chat with Michelle Peranteau, a marketing and brand strategist for luxury brands. Throughout her impressive career working with luxury and jewelry brands, Michelle has built her experience and expertise in all aspects of consumer brand and omni-channel marketing including advertising, digital marketing, social media, content creation, public relations, CRM, philanthropic partnerships, and special events.

She’s a true marketing generalist, so she has an amazing bird’s eye view of all the moving parts associated with marketing. She’s worked for companies like Harry Winston, Baume & Mercier, Platinum Guild International, Lagos, and more.

In this episode, Michelle and I chat about marketing specifically for luxury brands. What do luxury consumers crave, and how can luxury brands position themselves effectively? We cover all those topics in this fun and informative episode. See the transcript below.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 6:08
So Michelle, please tell our listeners a little bit more about your journey in the jewelry industry. How did you get to where you are today?

Michelle Peranteau 6:14
Thanks, Laryssa. I am a proud luxury Marketing and Communications professional who spent 20 years in the fine jewelry and watch space. I got my start in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I went to work for Lagos jewelry at a time where I had absolutely no jewelry experience whatsoever. And I am always grateful to Steven Lagos for taking a chance on me. But that really ignited a wonderful career journey to many brands and places and people along the way. But most interesting is when I started my career, I worked for a brand that manufactured their jewelry on site. So I love to share that with people because I didn’t know anything. And I knew that I didn’t know anything.

I literally would go and sit next to a jeweler I’d say, “Tell me what that stone is” or “Tell me about that metal or where are you in the process.” And I think it really gave me a bird’s eye view on the craft that is jewelry, and certainly a great respect and appreciation for it as well. And it’s really made me want to tell these brand stories to consumers all across the globe.

From Lagos, I went to Platinum Guild International, which is the worldwide marketing organization for platinum jewelry, and it’s wonderful to work for an industry organization because you can work with students that are just coming out of FIT, or the big brands that play in this space. The Tiffany’s, the Cartiers, the Harry Winstons of the world. And you kind of get an insider’s view of these businesses both from a retail a consumer and a brand standpoint, to really understand the ecosystem and what makes it home. From there, I went to Baume & Mercier, a wonderful watch brand under the reach Richemont family. And though I worked for a watch brand, during my time there, I had exposure to the jewelry brands that were in house as well and of course made friends with those folks to understand what they were doing. And then my final stint was at Harry Winston. So I really had the pleasure of working at a crown jewel within the category. So you can see that there’s there’s been wonderful progression, and I’ve made a million friends along the way. And my own jewelry box is quite full as well. So personally, I just love the category.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 8:51
I really enjoyed what you said about your first experience at loggos. And how you would like sit with the jewelers and try to learn more about the craft. First of all, I think that’s so important. And I love your sense of curiosity. I’m curious to know, how did you find that informed or helped the marketing that you did for that brand?

Michelle Peranteau 9:11
Oh, for goodness sakes worth it, it probably made me much more prepared. So for example, at Lagos, we did a lot of trunk show. So we would go to Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom and showcase the collections to the end consumer. So because I had the benefit of the experience seeing firsthand how the product was made, I could be I was in a position to tell that story about how that piece came to fruition from its infancy stage as a design to actually being produced in the manufacturing facility to being packaged up by our customer service team to get it to where I was that day. And I found that consumers love stories, they love brands stories, they want to know the how the why the what, not just the “what is it” but rather what brought this to life. And to this day, whenever I run into someone, and I compliment them on their piece of jewelry, I find that people are very quick to tell me their own story. “Oh, thank you so much my necklace, Oh, I got that for a special birthday, or this ring. This was an anniversary gift.” And I think all of those stories are really what makes the jewelry industry so special and probably different from other industries as well.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 10:38
So many great insights. And it’s true, like, no one’s probably gonna say, “Oh, thank you for the compliment. This is an 18 karat gold and a two carat diamond VS2, whatever whatever”, like, no one’s gonna tell you that. They’re gonna tell you the story behind it.

Michelle Peranteau 10:56
I will share with you I have my very own story. I, of course, working for all of these beautiful brands had the privilege of wearing a lot of the product, purchasing a lot of the product myself. But I made a promise to myself that when I got a certain age, which was just a few years ago, that I actually would purchase for myself, diamond stud earrings. I didn’t own them. I wanted to be sure that I could make a purchase of a certain size and more importantly, a quality that really was reflective of my love and my passion for the jewelry world. And I did make that purchase all on my own. In fact, my own partner Billy said, “I would love to contribute to that.” And I said, “No, no, this is for me, this is sort of marking the moment and milestone in my life in a very personal way.” And I wear those earrings almost every day of my life. And they continue to bring me great joy. And so I think because I’m a customer myself, it helps make me a better marketer in the category.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 11:58
Yes, I love that story. For me a purchase that I have not made yet would be some inside out diamond hoops that I one day hope to get. But I totally like understand where you’re coming from with that. Absolutely.

So I really want to focus the conversation today specifically on luxury marketing, because you have so much amazing experience with luxury brands and to kind of set the tone for the conversation. If you can define what does luxury marketing mean to you? And how is it potentially different from marketing for other types of categories?

Michelle Peranteau 12:35
It’s a great question. Luxury marketing is really about understanding the brand’s history in many cases, its heritage, its lineage. And being able to tell that story to the consumer. Craftsmanship traditionally plays a very big role in luxury marketing where jewelry is concerned. Because many of the brands seek to set themselves apart from their competition by the materials that they source as well as the process by which something is brought to life.

From a luxury marketing standpoint, I think it’s always been very important to pay very close attention to the way in which a brand is communicated to the customer. And what I mean by that is word choices. So for example, you would never in the luxury marketing space say that something was “free”, you would say it was complimentary. You know, it’s just a different tone, it’s a different way to communicate. The use of white space in collateral materials or advertising is usually quite prevalent in the luxury marketing space for jewelry. A tone is set about a brand. I find that humor can be introduced, but in a very sort of subtle, educated kind of a way versus brands would stay away from anything that was considered crass, if you will, I always say I think about my grandmother and what would be acceptable in terms of properness, but luxury marketing is really a spirit or an essence or a DNA of a brand. And it’s really paying homage to where the brand was in terms of where it’s going in the future.

I think you know, one of the things I learned working at Platinum Guild International is platinum as a metal is the most expensive metal that one can purchase for their jewelry. And so because it can look like other metals as well be it sterling silver, white gold, palladium. It’s really about what are the features and benefits of platinum that make it special. And it became very important that we as an organization, and in my role as the marketing manager that I was able to effectively communicate that both to the trade and well as to the consumer, so it was about romanticizing, it was about telling the story. You know, one of the fun facts that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, in my life is: if you took all of the platinum metal in the world that’s been mined for jewelry usage, and you put it in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, it actually will only come up to your ankles.

So I think, you know, sometimes it’s really about that’s, that’s a great example of speaking to the features and benefits of a metal that certainly carries with it a very luxury lens. But you’re lending features and benefits and credibility to why it does have a higher price tag, why it’s more rare, why it’s more scarce in the world. And the consumer responds quite positively to that.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 15:56
Yeah, and also putting it in terms that really make an impact, like this image that you just gave to like standing in a pool, I mean, that makes it feel more real than just telling someone like a statistic or like a percentage or something like that. So finding ways to really communicate that in an impactful way.

Michelle Peranteau 16:16
And I think with luxury marketing for the jewelry category, the sales professional plays such a pivotal role in the marketing of the brand. You know, even with COVID, and so many stores being closed for a long period of time. Those relationships that sales professionals have with their customers became so important. They are well aware of their preferences, special occasions in their life. And there was already a dialogue in most cases in place. So it didn’t feel awkward that someone was reaching out to find out how they were or I know that you have a special anniversary upcoming. That’s about a luxury marketing experience from a sales perspective, but you’re using marketing to create that experience for the client.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 17:04
Yeah, that’s a great point. So speaking of the consumer, and speaking of COVID times, what would you say that luxury consumers crave in this world where we’re hopefully like emerging from COVID? And, you know, moving beyond that to a new era?

Michelle Peranteau 17:21
Absolutely. You know, I think some of the observations that I’ve made during this period of time during the pandemic, both personally but also speaking with, with friends and and industry fellows, is that the jewelry business never stopped during the pandemic, if anything, in some cases, it increased. And I think that’s because those really personal moments that one experiences in their life, getting engaged, getting married, anniversaries, birthdays, it’s a random Tuesday, I remain gainfully employed, my friends and my family are healthy. And so I want to celebrate, those all became really moments in time for purchasing jewelry.

I think, you know, for a long time, the pendulum had swung to everything that was experience oriented or travel oriented. And I think the pandemic actually really brought back the whole idea of the meaning of jewelry, and how it does help you mark those really important moments in your life. I don’t know about you, Laryssa. But I actually had the pleasure of attending a couple of Zoom weddings during this period of time. And if, if the couple didn’t have jewelry as part of that exchange, in some ways, it wouldn’t have felt complete, you know, yes, there was a dress, yes, there were flowers. But it’s really the rings, no matter you know what kind of a wedding it is that really marks that moment, and you say to yourself as the observer, they’re married now. So none of that really stopped during this period of time. And I really do think that that personal connection to jewelry is going to continue to be important in the marketplace. And I think is as more and more of our local jewelers are opening back up. And even some of the chain stores I think they’re experiencing almost like a pent up demand, if you will, for these personal items.

And let’s face facts, as you and I are communicating right now on Zoom, you your ears become take on a different meaning your neck takes on a different meaning, even your fingers to some extent. I know many women who keep what they affectionately refer to as Zoom earring at the ready. So that yes, you know what, you may have some casual wear on but you have something that’s really spectacular dangling from your ears. And it gives you confidence. It helps you know be able to watch yourself all day long. And it really kind of makes it an experience a bit more special.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 19:55
Oh absolutely. So many great points that you just shared. So thinking about how the tactics that luxury brands can use in marketing because there are so many directions they can go social media, email marketing, SMS marketing, event marketing, a combination, all these things, what have you found works the best or a combination, I’d love to hear your experience about that.

Michelle Peranteau 20:20
In my experience, I have found that you have to take a full 360 degree perspective, I think, especially for the luxury consumer. They are traditionally people who travel quite frequently, they have homes in multiple places. And so if you just stayed in one lane of the highway in terms of being reliant on that means of communication or interaction with the customer, you actually might miss out. So I have so I’ve always found it’s very important to take that 360 degree perspective.

From a brand perspective, it definitely means advertising, I think, in the luxury jewelry world, brands continue to utilize print advertising. And in fact, over this last year, as people have returned to print magazines, where they’re able to dream and be inspired and kind of step away, if you will, for a little bit, I think we’re going to my prediction is you’re going to see more traditional print advertising coming from a lot of the luxury brands. I also think that events play a very big role.

Jewelry is something that people want to touch, and they want to feel. And so if you can create the opportunity for them to do that, while you’re telling the story about the brand, about a collection, the people behind the collection, I think that’s I’ve always found that to be an initiative that where consumers respond quite well.

Email Marketing is absolutely important. But you have to do it in a cadence, and in a tone that respects the client at the end of the day. So unlike perhaps our friends at the Gap that like to send us emails, three and four times a day, a luxury brand will be very considered in their timing. So they might send out a communication just once or twice a week. And they’re only doing it when they have something to say not just for the sake of it. I think that today’s consumer can sniff that out right away. Yes, I also think that the sales associate, as I said before, is a very important part of that mix.

You know, in luxury jewelry, there is nothing like a handwritten note. Dear Laryssa, thank you for visiting us today. It was a pleasure to clean your ring for you. And I hope that we see you soon. That makes such an impact on people. It’s a simple gesture, but it’s an elegant gesture, and it makes people feel taken care of and tucked in. So I think that that’s always been an initiative that’s been very important. And surprise and delight the customer. So if we know it’s your birthday, we want to send you something to help you celebrate, be it a bottle of champagne, some flowers, some balloons, something that’s unexpected, but makes you feel good, and then reflects quite positively on the brand as well. So again, I think it’s really important that you engage a number of initiatives around the client from a marketing standpoint, instead of just relying on one or two.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 23:29
Sure. I thought it was really interesting what you said about email marketing and about the cadence of it and your comparison with the Gap. No shade on Gap.

But, of course, a luxury brand is probably not having a sale or a discount or free, as you said. So those emails can’t be focused around the discounting strategy, like a lot of like, more lower priced retailers are. So what do you have suggestions for like the content of that email campaign?

Michelle Peranteau 24:05
I think absolutely. And in the luxury space, things don’t go on sale. You know, there isn’t a please use this code for the discount. So it’s really about how do you communicate value. Let’s face facts. I use this example a lot. If there was a customer out there that said, it’s a very special anniversary. And I’ve set aside a budget of $20,000 to do something special for my significant other, that consumer has a lot of choice in the ways in which they can spend that money. I mean, it certainly could be jewelry, it could be a timepiece. It could be a piece of artwork, it could be travel someplace, it could be a new piece of furniture for the home. And so why choose your brand and why choose the jewelry category in general? So you really need to communicate that that value and I think tugging at those emotional heartstrings is always really important. So that you can closely aligned that piece that brand. With those special moments in your life.

I think, you know, there are wonderful, more mass-oriented jewelry brands out there who I think do a magnificent job from a marketing standpoint, because they follow a different playbook, if you will, in terms of how they reach their customer, and how they’re able to turn over inventory quite quickly. I think in the luxury space, the difference is people want what’s unique, they want what’s special, and they want things that not everybody else has. I have a dear friend of mine in the jewelry industry. And she coined an expression, which I’ve adopted as my own. And it’s, “Michelle, I do not want to see myself coming and going on the street.” I want to know that what I own is quite special, and that it doesn’t look like everything else that’s out there. And I think that it’s up to luxury brands to be able to give the customer a reason to buy at the end of the day.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 26:07
So many great points. And I think I mean, it’s so true a customer consumer at that level, say they have $20,000 budget, like you said, they have so much choice like really anything is available to them. So distinguishing yourself, providing value, all these things that you said, showing the uniqueness of the of the product, like that’s the thing that’s gonna make that consumer who basically has the world at their fingertips, ultimately want to buy. So really great points.

What would you say is the role of branding for luxury goods, businesses? And how can they ensure that the brand identity that they have or that is evolving or that they’re building is actually resonating with the target customer?

Michelle Peranteau 26:54
I think this is the biggest challenge in the marketplace. You know, when I started in the business, the brands really couldn’t control their brand strategy and their brand story. And certainly with the introduction of social media and more of a focus on digital, the consumer is really taking a much more active role in storytelling on behalf of the brand and deciding their relevancy or their irrelevancy in some cases. And so I think it’s really important that brands do engage in a two way conversation with the consumer and not be in a position where they’re just speaking to. I think that that engagement is what draws the luxury consumer in specifically, and keeps them a customer for an extended period of time versus having them just move on to whatever is next.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 27:50
Do you know of any luxury brands that are really doing that two way conversation?

Michelle Peranteau 27:54
Well, so I’ll tell you something really interesting that that I’ve observed during this past 14 months, I think that the auction houses, specifically those who were focused on jewelry, I was doing an exceptional job. I think they’re helping to really increase awareness of jewelry. And it’s sort of happiness power, if you will. I think that if you think about auctions, in general, it’s product that was owned by someone else. So there’s this legacy bit to it, and the storytelling and a bit of mystery, if you will, as well. And I think the auction houses have done a great job from a social media standpoint. I mean, their imagery is just gorgeous.

And I’ve noticed that many editors who cover the category have really taken to helping amplify that content through their own social media platforms as well. So I think it’s been really interesting to watch how that’s all unfolded. Now back to the specific brands. I have a very special place in my heart for a lot of the smaller luxury jewelry brands who are family owned and run. I think because I’ve gotten to know the people behind the last name, if you will, and I visit their stores on a regular basis. I love their social media.

So when I think of the Gumuchian family and those amazing women who started a business, it’s global. I think their designs are smart. I think they’re sexy. I think that they know jewelry and they know women. I think they’re doing an exceptional job. I love Kwiat. That’s a brand that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s a brand that’s on my own hand. And I think that this next generation has really embraced the digital ecosystem. Um, you know, they’ve done some great Instagram Lives during this period of time. They do great events in their boutiques, they really seek to bring people into the family, if you will, and make them feel very special. And I also think, you know, some of the industry organizations, I think that the Natural Diamond Association has done a great job. I think raising the consciousness and awareness of real diamond jewelry is exceptionally important from a both a mass as well as a luxury standpoint as well. And they have a big megaphone: their social media platforms, their website, their alliances, their partnerships. So I’m definitely continuing to watch them with great interest.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 30:46
Those are great examples. It was very funny to me that you mentioned the auction houses, because for some reason, while we were talking, this popped into my head, and I had my wheel spinning about it. I’ve been following Heritage Auctions. I think they’re based in Beverly Hills. They just sent me like a direct mail campaign a few days ago. And I was very impressed by the photography and the presentation and the storytelling. And I think like you said, these auction houses, which I kind of whatever I sort of paid attention to, but over the past year, year and a half, suddenly they’re like more on my radar. I’m more interested in this, like mystique kind of thing, like you’re talking about. And I don’t know if I would consider myself a luxury consumer, but it almost makes me feel like it’s sort of in my reach. Like, it becomes an aspirational thing that maybe wouldn’t be on my radar. Otherwise, like, I can kind of see myself towing into this world that’s slightly beyond me. You know, and I’ve definitely, like gotten that from their marketing, and I kind of love it.

Michelle Peranteau 31:57
And I think, you know, it’s, you have probably developed and not even recognized it a deeper appreciation for design and stones. I mean, when I look at some of the pieces, you know, the internally flawless diamonds that are going up for auction, pink diamonds, blue diamonds, Ruby, red rubies, that are these Burmese, Burmese, red rubies that are absolutely exquisite, and so very rare, rare, sapphires, emeralds, I think it to me, it looks like a pool that I just want to jump into because one piece is more beautiful than the next. And I think you’re absolutely right. I don’t think that any of these auction houses have compromised from a luxury standpoint, I think that they’ve kept a certain tone, the way that they’re doing their collateral materials, the way they’re positioning themselves. But I do think that they’re probably doing an amazing job to cultivate sort of the next grouping of people that will be quite comfortable to make a purchase that way. And so hats off to them, because I think it will help it will help all of the boats kind of rise within the category.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 33:14
Really great point. Yeah, I even saw like they have the auction previews, which I guess you can consider a form of event marketing. Yeah. And it’s like, you know, make an appointment to come to this preview. And I’m like, I mean, I don’t think that I’m the right customer for this but just like you’re saying it’s almost like grooming you and making you feel like you could be part of part of this if you wanted to.

Michelle Peranteau 33:39
I’ve been able to go to some of these previews in person. And the professionals that work for these auction houses are walking Google resources of the jewelry world. I mean, they can tell you about stones and about metal and about design through the ages. And so even if someone were to go there and not yet be in a position to make a purchase, but they’re educated and they’re inspired, it’s like I almost wish I had a camera to follow that person through the years because it may have ignited a passion for jewelry that maybe another marketing methodology may not have done for them. So I think that they have pretty big platforms on which to stand. And the fact that they’ve pivoted to a lot of digital activity gives a lot more people access to that right now.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 34:33
Absolutely. So curious because I know some of my listeners are not all luxury brands, you know, maybe some of this is not super relevant, but I do think there are tactics strategies, approaches that kind of crossover and apply for like fashion Demi fine, even lower and fine jewelry. So where is that crossover? What can they learn from from this?

Michelle Peranteau 34:55
You know, a brand story is a brand story and whether it’s a luxury brand, whether it’s a day You find brand, whether it’s a more mass brand, if you’re able to communicate to your customer, the why, and the how I think that those are very important tenants that they need to follow. Again, service is so important. And that is down to how can someone communicate with a brand on the website, you know, is there a chatbot that pops up? Is there a customer service phone number or an email address, and to recognize that no matter how big or small you are, or luxury or non luxury you are, the way in which you treat a customer can either win or lose your customers in the future, because word of mouth is still a very important part of the marketing mix. And you want people to talk positively about their experience with your brand.

While I think the luxury space really focuses a great deal on these kind of service oriented details, that white glove approach, I think that those are applicable to anybody within the space. You know, how do you greet someone when they walk into your jewelry store? I learned from a great jewelry trainer many years ago that if you walk into a store and someone says, “Can I help you?” Inevitably the answer is no. And the conversation is done. But if you walk into a store and say, “What is it you’re looking for today?”, you have to answer with more than a yes or no question. And then sales professional gets a little insight into what brought you in today and they can begin the conversation, begin to show you the product that fits what your needs are. That happens at Harry Winston on Fifth Avenue. And that probably happens at Louis’s jewelry store in the middle of the country. And I think that those are principles that are just important in the business overall.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 36:51
Yeah, such great points. And I was recently having a conversation with someone and they said to me, “it can be argued that marketing is the way that you answer your phone.” And like totally agree with that. And doesn’t. I think that that can be translated across digital platforms as well. It marketing can be the way you answer your DMS marketing can be the way that you engage on your chat platform, in your emails, whatever, whatever platform, it is like the message that you are sharing with the customer, especially on a first touch, like that is marketing for you for you.

Michelle Peranteau 37:28
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that, you know, especially after this last year or so, that close connection to a customer, that relationship building and that focus on getting to know the customer, I think is more important than ever, because if we found out that all of a sudden, next Wednesday that a store had to shut down again, do you have your customers contact information, their email address, so that you can continue to build and deepen that relationship that’s become I think paramount to what could be potential success in the marketplace?

Laryssa Wirstiuk 38:05
Oh, yeah, such a good lesson, too. I mean, I hope that a COVID kind of thing never ever happens. Again, we’re sure don’t have a global pandemic ever again. But we should learn a lesson from this so that at the last minute not scrambling to like, fix whatever issue there is, instead setting yourself up for potentially like the worst that could happen.

Michelle Peranteau 38:31
Absolutely a great learning lesson. I think for all of us. I think, you know, CRM systems, probably our conversation topics that many brands are having now. The How are they communicating with customers? How often what’s the information that they need? And of course, in concert with all of the laws and regulations that are associated with client data these days, which you have to pay very close attention to. But really building that relationship with the customer is just so important.

Laryssa Wirstiuk 39:04
Absolutely. This has been such a lovely conversation. Michelle, I’m curious, do you have anything else you’d like to share her other topics or insights that we haven’t covered? Is there something we can talk about

Michelle Peranteau 39:16
Laryssa i think that you know, the jewelry industry, I say I’m still working in it as a consultant. I’m also working in the home space and when someone says, Well, how do you go from jewelry to the home space and I say it’s adornment of a different kind. You know, things like lamps, and pillows are just embellishments just like earrings and bracelets are really you I’m utilizing a lot of the same marketing principles. But I will definitely say that the jewelry industry is a strong category for retailers across the country. I think that you know, for hundreds of years people have found ways to adorn themselves. All you have to do is go to some of the exhibits at the Met and look at you know, jewelry from hundreds of years ago it’s existed, it’s not going to go away. It’s not all the sudden going to be replaced. And so if someone is considering a career in jewelry, I always say go for it. It’s a beautiful business comprised of really amazing people who make absolutely beautiful things that are enjoyed by so many. So who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Laryssa Wirstiuk 40:30
Ah, I mean, I’m on board with that. 100% Well, thanks for your time. Michelle, it was fun to have you on the podcast.

Michelle Peranteau 40:38
It was such a pleasure to be here and thanks for such a great conversation.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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