LUXURY BRANDING AND CONSULTATION


Faith Marcus  answers questions from independent jewelry designers. With over two decades in the corporate luxury goods world, training brand ambassadors and executives, owning and running two independent businesses - and through consulting and mentoring, she offers insights into the world of luxury goods branding, sales and services practices, marketing, social media and the various challenges jewelry designers face in today’s marketplace.


Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for independent jewelry designers today?  

I define this with five key themes. They are all important, but I have attempted to rank them:


     1) Presentation : The majority of independent artists are one person operations -  and it can be overwhelming ! It’s enormously challenging to be a master of everything, so focus on what you do well and then seek help in areas where you lack proficiency. My best piece of advice is to attempt to learn or gain knowledge in areas you don’t know, and then be able to delegate to someone else. Photography, well written copy and all marketing materials (including social media posting) must be top notch and a reflection of your brand. For online presentation you cannot expect anyone to be interested in your jewelry if the images aren’t perfect. If you cannot master photography yourself, this is one area you should invest in. Quality jewelry photography is a speciality, so make sure the photographer you hire has expertise in this area. You need professional marketing materials, including your logo, printed materials and packaging. Make the investment in packaging. What’s outside the box must be a reflection of what’s inside. Your message should come through before a package is opened. Well designed marketing materials, including thank you notes should all be branded and the best quality. These small details are often overlooked - but they can make or break your brand. If you have your own website your copy must be well written and engaging. While great imagery is the first and most important, you must provide defined copy. Would you purchase fine jewelry online without knowing all the details? Probably not - and most people hesitate to contact you to ask a question - they just simply move on. Not providing detail puts you in the category of portfolio - not point of sale. Some artists have “loose” branding, collections and/or presentation. You might want to find a trusted consultant who can offer guidance and focus. The goal should be how to clearly define your branding, edit or build a collection and to set you in the right direction. You must be open to this type of feedback in order to grow. If you are resistant to feedback due to over-sensitivity or ego, no consultant or consulting is going to be able to help you. Every single aspect and detail of presentation is a reflection of you - so ask yourself, am I putting out the right message in my design, my imagery, my written and verbal communication, my packaging, marketing materials, my social media presence and my social and business interaction? The world is filled with coaches and consultants, so do your research. Speak with the consultant and see if they resonate with you, understand your challenges and can offer ideas that make sense to you. Not every consultant is the right fit based on your personal needs and each offers their own speciality. You have to figure out what you need and whether this person can provide you with the proper tools as well as challenge you to grow. Most importantly, are they truly interested in you and your potential? Do they ask questions and listen? Do you feel as if your concerns are addressed and are getting feedback and support?


     2) Competition : I often hear “I want to stand out in the crowd” or ‘So-and-so is so successful, how can I become like them?”.  First of all the only person you need to be in competition with is yourself. Constantly comparing yourself to other designers is a road to nowhere and is often illusionary. Of course, you may be inspired by someone, but never seek to be someone other than who you are. Never copy or seek to interpret what others are doing. You have to - you must- carve your own path in the road. First you need to define what exactly this path is before you start walking. If it’s not clear to you, this will translate in all aspects of what you put out in the world.


     3) Consignment : With the need or desire to get your name out there, many designers willingly hand over their inventory to stores in the hopes of name recognition, sales or notoriety. While the right placement can help, overall consignment as a way to conduct business is not a wise strategy, as it’s an out of balance relationship that benefits the consignor more than the consignee. More often than not designers wind up over extended, with dead inventory and lack of funds to move forward. I do not subscribe to the “that's the way the industry is - you have to accept it”. With a downtrending economy over the past decade plus, poor financial planning, lack of quality store operations and always wanting to offer the best and most current selection of goods, many stores have gone this route, as it allows them the opportunity to not have to invest in you financially. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to. If they are not willing to take the risk and make the financial investment, then why should you? The first thing to remember is - you can just say no. Allowing your goods to be given to a business for free sends a message. And once you start doing it it’s going to be difficult to stop, as it will be the expectation of the store to offer you what you have agreed to prior. All consignment placement must be contracted with terms of payment. You should also have a clearly defined time period and know that in the event of internal or external theft or damages you are probably responsible for any loss, unless stipulated otherwise in your contract. Never jump into this situation blindly - you have to weigh all the pros and cons very carefully. Look at consignment as a way to test a market and not as a fantasy road to success.


     4) Focus, follow through and organization : Due to the overwhelming responsibilities and wearing many hats, many designers are not focused, get easily overwhelmed and unfortunately this shows. This is due to not having clearly defined goals and steps or systems in place to achieve their goals. Finding the right balance between creativity and running a business can be daunting. If you truly lack organization, then you should seriously consider working with someone who can keep track of your expenses and paperwork, or help in areas such as website, technical, graphics, photography, copy editing, social media, etc. If you lack focus with regard to brand definition and your collection or marketing materials, you should seek consultation - and remember first impressions count and are key. Think of the time and money spent by trial and error trying to figure it out for yourself and determine which path will yield the results you are looking for.


     5) Understanding the business world. : With lofty dreams and constantly in a creative mode many designers, especially newer to the industry, have no understanding of store or corporate operations and how they function. It’s vital to keep the dream fueled, but the lack of awareness has proven to be a pitfall based on numerous conversations I’ve had. It’s a challenging road and the more understanding and knowledge a designer has, the easier it will be to navigate. Many designers wind up spending enormous amounts of money, often lead astray into situations that simply do not serve them. It’s vital that a designer does his/her research and uses discernment and also listens to their intuition when making financial decisions, where to, how to and who to invest in - wisely.


Q: Do I need a website? Where else should I be on social media other than Instagram? Having your own website defines your presence and adds credibility. However a poorly planned website that lacks quality imagery, copy and structure can damage your brand. Don’t launch a website until you are confident that its publication is near perfect. If you decide to have a point of sale purchase website you must be prepared for its upkeep and maintenance.  We see many sites lacking important information for online ventures, as well as sites that include information that makes them look cookie cutter, and in some cases too much information, some of it irrelevant. As far as social media, it's never a great idea to put all your efforts in one basket. Unfortunately with limited options the tendency is to go where the action is. If you are looking to develop your own site and presence in the marketplace, then you probably need to expand your social media presence. This is for search name recognition as well as branding. It's really hard to make a suggestion based on what is currently available for visual platforms. Choose one other than the one you spend the most time on and spend time developing it. Do you enjoy social interaction and discussion? Or are you more interested in visual presentation? Your choice should be based on what resonates with you, so that social media isn’t and doesn’t become a “chore”.  Regardless of what you choose, no social media grows without your continual effort.


Q: I’m looking for creative ways to drive more traffic to my website. What are some suggestions? Your website should be treated like your own store. It's important to refresh, update and give someone a reason to visit. If they come to your site and the home page always looks the same, what is the interest? Would you spend time in a store that always looked the same every time you walked through the front door? Your home page should give someone a reason to want to know more, project an overall message and not necessarily focused on products for sale. You will probably need to blog. The features can be focused on other interests you may have - if they tie into your inspiration for design, all the better. For example, other creative medium such as photography, art, home decor, fashion, gardening, cuisine, gemstone information, industry affiliations, etc. Customers who appreciate artisan jewelry and its art form will love any insight you can give them to know you and what inspires you. The more personal connection and inspiration you can create, the more interest. You can spark interest through social media channels, with “just updated to my website” , “new designs on my site” or “I’ve just done a feature about _____ - would love your feedback !“ A great way to keep customers up to date and engaged with your site is with a mailing list. The biggest turn off? A “pop-up” that comes on the screen asking for sign ups before someone has a chance to look through your site, promoting discount with first purchase, etc. This is a marketing trend that is heavily pushed, however you should know that many people truly dislike it. It is a very common marketing technique, not a luxury goods marketing technique. While building a quality mailing list takes time, put your pop up somewhere else on you site (for example, your “about” page, or on your policy page). Or time it so that it’s not within the first 5 seconds someone lands on your site. This is akin to walking into a brick and mortar and having a salesperson approach you before you even have a chance to get through the front door. It’s true that you have very limited time (just a few seconds) on a website to grab someones attention before they bounce off - don’t always rely on the “pop up” as the only way to grab someones attention. Many people are bombarded with emails, so while you want the sign ups, don’t present it in an intrusive way.  If you market through a newsletter then make it newsworthy and relevant. Nothing is worse than receiving daily emails promoting the same thing over and over. Whatever tools you use for email marketing or newsletters, make sure you can brand it - don’t use free services that don’t allow customization. Also, see why in the next question, offering a discount with first purchase is not a recommended marketing technique.


Q: I’d like to liquidate old inventory. I’m currently selling at trunk shows and stores as well as privately. I’m not sure how to approach this on my website without it conflicting or impacting my brand. Every designer has older inventory. There are several ways you can approach this. You can do a live event on social media (like FB) , promoting this as a unique opportunity to purchase previous season goods - if you are not camera shy it’s a great way to connect live with customers you can’t meet face to face. You can also create an album of these designs offering them to “fans only”. Your older inventory is perceived that way probably only by you - someone interested in your jewelry may perceive it as a special opportunity. Your approach to get sign ups can include special “mailing list customer only” opportunities. You can use this as a special event type of opportunity to purchase older designs, and add the older inventory to the section of your site for this purpose (and then remove or hide it).  Developing a mailing list takes time. If someone emails you, do not randomly add them to your mailing list unless they have opted in and subscribed, or you collected their name in person, asking them if they want to be on your mailing list. I’m seeing this more and more - receiving emails from designers that I have emailed or have just randomly emailed me from social media channels, without my opting in for subscription. It's not an ethical practice. Liquidating older inventory can be done and should be done in stages. A habit not to get into is continually offering sales as a way to get customers interested in your jewelry. Once you start to offer sales for every online holiday, or due to market pressure, or because everyone is doing it, or as a way to capture an email address, you are basically training your customer to expect to be offered continual discounts. It's important to remember that desire is the primary driver and pricing is secondary. That is why the pop up offering a special deal is a precursor to “expecting a sale” training and is one not recommended for luxury goods branding.


Q: Pricing is something I constantly struggle with, and I find myself justifying the cost of my more expensive pieces to potential buyers. Any tips on how best to relay prices without feeling the need to justify?  Never “lead” with price in conversation and never be defensive or intimidated about your pricing. If a customer asks you the price and it happens to be your upper end, lead with “You’ve selected one of my best and most special pieces ! It is 14K gold with this exquisite gemstone - or, this design involved numerous hours to create - and then state the price. Remember that “price” is totally subjective. Don’t be on the defensive or intimidated by the statement of “that’s so expensive”. Your response can be “Yes, it is, and here are the reasons why”. Someone may state that, it is your opportunity to turn it around with confidence and building an interpersonal relationship through knowledge and trust. You will earn someone’s respect by not having to feel any need to justify.  Don’t assume that if someone questions a price that they cannot afford it - sometimes it's just a reaction - and you need to respond, rather than react. Never feel the pressure to lower your price. You may not have even factored in all your business expenses and your pricing may be too low. As an example, I spoke with an artist - and the first thing that stood out to me what seemed to be low pricing. When we talked about it, it was the fear that asking for more would result in scaring off existing customers. With some adjustments the artist came up with a better pricing strategy, which resulted in sales, and also the inquiry and contracting of an expensive commissioned piece. Lowering your prices is not always the solution. Being confident in your pricing is the better strategy. Pricing strategy is key - especially if your goal is to sell to stores. Many designers price themselves too low and then realize there is little to no profit if they decide to wholesale. Many do not factor in the marketing expenses of running a business and only use formulas based on their time and material.


Q: Is it possible to sell wholesale when most of my pieces are limited edition and OOAK? It depends on the store and how big of a market reach you are attempting. Even if you offer limited edition or small batches and want to approach small independent stores, you still will need to present a cohesive collection of replicable pieces if you truly want to expand. A well thought out collection gives the store an opportunity to select what they feel is the best fit for their market - and this often varies by location. One of a kind pieces should show some relationship to the existing collection and not be outliers. Building a collection as well as a wholesale business takes time and proper steps to develop. Every artist needs to focus and plan accordingly on what is realistic, and find a balance without stretching themselves too thin, or from caving to market pressure to design what fits for a store vs what is their true identity. You can never be all things to all people, so do not let the temptation of making drastic changes affect you, rather, first develop a well thought out collection and present it properly, with professional marketing and business materials and with full confidence. Never go out into the marketplace without these key essentials.


Q:There is a sea of social media services that allegedly help engage organic followers, but turn out to be gimmicks. What, in your opinion, is the best way to authentically boost and keep potential clients engaged on social media?  Why do people spend time on social media? To be entertained and inspired or to be the entertainer and the inspirer. First and foremost, your content has to be compelling and will make someone stop and look. Your presence on social media defines your brand. Are you posting for posting sake? Or is the content itself engaging? You can ask questions, offer choices (what is your favorite, what do you like) - give a potential customer a reason to engage, and make sure you respond in a timely fashion. Be interested and well as interesting. Be consistent. Do you post regularly or just when you can? You can’t expect good results without consistent effort. If your time is limited, then schedule a time when you can post and interact - and stick to it regularly.  If you are building a brand, try not to focus too much on posts that mix personal with your design. A bit is OK here and there, (especially if that relates to your design - for example, travel, nature, outings or spotting of your jewelry)  but if its customers you want, focus on your business. You can always create a separate personal page for friends and family. Paid services for followers will result in numbers, not necessarily people truly interested in you. Eventually they will fall off, since they are not really “organic”. They are a waste of money, and some use inauthentic tactics (such as follow/unfollow) to grow followings, even though as marketers they insist this is the only way to grow big numbers. This technique is a bridge burner - especially for businesses. When you start to realize who is doing it, it will taint your perception and realize the lack of authenticity is sadly rampant. While everyone is “numbers focused” try to shift your thinking to focus on quality people vs large numbers of followers. Over time with great content and engagement, you will connect with people who you can genuinely interact with. You can also seek out like minded people by searching hashtags and engaging with new people by commenting on their profiles. Always keep your interaction sincere. It's a time consuming process, but remember, those with genuinely big followings all started at zero, and they take time to build. The exact algorithms of social media platforms are not known to the public. Therefore, no marketing “expert” can tell you exactly how to fully understand them. The one known driver, however is engagement. The more engagement on your posts, the more you will be seen. Don’t fall into the perceived illusion that accounts with huge numbers are authentic. Unfortunately, many are not. They are used to make the average person believe they have clout, social stature or influence. Don’t fall into this trap. Anyone can buy followers and likes. Your focus should be on steady and consistent growth.


Q: What is you best overall advice for success in a crowded marketplace?  Stop comparing yourself to other designers. Do focus on the elements you admire and see how you can incorporate that into what you are doing. Don't copy! In order to stand out in a crowd you have to be able to tap into your own uniqueness and find a way to translate that with the way you present and market your line and what you design. Trends are tricky and can be costly. If you deviate from your core creativity you will always come across as some deritivite of something else. If your “inspiration” comes from something already in existence or someone else, you will always be looking for what you can extract vs what you can create. Tap into your own uniqueness and be able to translate that into product and communicate and brand effectively. Should you be seeking design advice from other designers? In a competitive minded world, even your good friends may not be truthful or be the best judge in this regard. If you really are open to feedback, you need to be open to criticism and honesty. It's always best to get feedback from a trusted mentor or from your customers. Speaking of copying -  an area that I am seeing many designers lack understanding of is copyright, trademarking and registered trademarking when it comes to their own branding, designs, namesake and tag lines.  


Q: If you could name only one characteristic for success, what would it be?  Confidence ! In a creative and emotive business, it's very easy to project insecurities, fears and emotions. In all fields, people who are confident excude this quality from within. Many people can learn technical skills. Attitudes are often difficult to mold or shape. How can you be more confident when constantly challenged? Confidence is a balance between your mental outlook and your emotions. Confidence begins by focusing on the positive and also by remaining realistic. Confidence does not mean arrogance or a sense that you are better or more knowledgeable than someone else. It means you feel good in your own skin and you come across as being knowledgeable, thoughtful, authentic, considerate and someone others want to emulate, and feel good in their presence.  Confidence is a great influencer, and being an influencer sometimes is more powerful than being all-knowing or technically book learned or skilled. Not all supposed “smart” people exude confidence. They exude “smartness”. Confidence and a positive attitude is highly contagious, so remember that attitude is everything.


Q: What is your best overall advice or best business practice or life lesson?  Don’t spread negativity, ill will and don’t gossip about others. Not every situation, person or encounter is going to work for you - that’s just life. Don’t allow your disappointments to become toxic attacks against others. Unless you have been financially damaged through theft, or have had your reputation harmed, learn from an experience and move on. Learn to be accountable for your own actions. If you’ve made a mistake, acknowledge it. Don’t burn bridges. You never know where someone will be in 5 years, 10 years or beyond. Keep your communications professional. Choose your words and actions carefully and know that all successful relationships - business or personal - require balance, and most of all they require respect, diplomacy and reciprocity.


Q: What do you look for when choosing designers for The Jewelry Showcase?  First and foremost the designers collection and presentation. Is the design distinct, does it strike a chord and does it have a clearly defined message? Beyond that, we look for designers who we consider to be talented individuals as a whole - beyond their jewelry design. We look for team players. Also those who appreciate the opportunity to work in a group environment, can follow directives and are open to growth. A good attitude can propel a designer while a negative one can impede the growth even if they have great design potential. At the core of every artist is who they truly are - we gravitate towards and align ourselves with artists who exclude graciousness, authenticity, professionalism and integrity.  Many designers guide us to incomplete websites and often tell us to go through their Instagram account to see more of their work. Think about what message(s) you as a designer are sending. Instagram is a marketing tool and shouldn’t take precedent over your website. Always approach a platform, a store, a blogger or any industry professional with one clear destination (go back to the first and most important key we discussed - presentation). Other key factors are follow through and adherence to deadlines. Lack of follow through, adhering to or challenging directives, disrespectful or lack of communication are all flags and signs of problematic relationships.


Q: What trends do you see on the horizon? I personally have never been a follower of commercial trends when it comes to my own personal style. Trends come and they go. They can be costly and risky mistakes for a designer, as you are either on the front (rarely) ,middle (maybe) or tail end (probable) of a trend. The most sustainable is to remain authentic yet relevant. If I had to predict trends in design? Overall, I would say cleaner, more distinct, high quality, less gimmicky/trendy, unique details that transcend time . Consumer trends? A desire for more authentic design, quality, investment purchasing, personalized caring service and rejection of what isn't sustainable or usable, wearable or desirable for the long term. Good design and quality transcend time. This is the definition of a luxury brand. Luxury is not defined by price point, rather its definition lies in its relevance, timelessness, quality, desirability and distinction.


 

"Whatever your passion is, keep doing it. Don't waste time chasing after success or comparing yourself to others. Every flower blooms at a different pace. Excel at doing what your passion is and only focus on perfecting it. Eventually people will see what you are great at doing, and if you are truly great, success will come chasing after you."

— SUZY KASSEM, RISE UP AND SALUTE THE SUN










This interview was published on TheJewelryShowcase.com blog on December 8, 2018 and is the intellectual property of Faith Marcus and The Jewelry Showcase

No portion of it may be used, copied or distributed without written permission by the author

@2018 Faith Marcus The Jewelry Showcase