True luxury: inclusivity vs exclusivity

I've just come across a series of thought-provoking posts on springwise. Their common theme is brands trying to build loyalty with online tools. Whereas some of them do it in a democratic and "inclusive" way, others opt for "exclusivity". Let's see how this might result in their brand positioning. One article describes a hotel in NYC which has set up an online forum for its guests. The Pod Hotel offers budget accommodation for young travelers, and the forum is a brilliant solution to help them connect to each other in real life, and have fun together in NYC. It clearly addresses the pain particularly of those who travel alone and don't know anybody in New York City.

Snapshot of Pod's online forum for registered guests

This is a brilliant idea, and The Pod Hotel is surely on the good track of creating some valuable loyalty with this simple online solution.  My advice is that it should definitely do a bit more to make this feature known on its website. As it stands now, the site fails to communicate it. I don't know if it's a planned move or not. If yes, I suppose that the reason might be that the hotel works at capacity most of the time, in which case the forum is only there to trigger repeat visits rather than recruit first-time customers.

Another idea featured on the same site is an online social network launched by the airline KLM. The online network is not targeted at all KLM's customers, but only frequent flyers.

For the moment, KLM has set up two online communities -- one for China, and another one for Africa. Essentially, the main target is entrepreneurs who all share the same challenges working in emerging markets.  They can discuss issues of common interest and network online, which triggers encounters offline.

KLM even organizes offline networking events for the online community members both in China and throughout Africa.  KLM says that its online social community is "exclusive" and by invitation only.  My guess is that this exclusivity is tied to KLM's reward program which actually makes sense.

Think of it: the more you fly, the more chances you get to meet like-minded entrepreneurs. And the better you should get rewarded by an airline company for your loyalty.  So, this kind of "exclusivity" achieves both goals -- it rewards frequent flyers whilst giving them a possibility to socialize.

A snapshot of KLM's online community for frequent flyers

I also want to address another kind of "exclusivity" which rarely does anything good if a brand seeks positioning in the luxury or affordable luxury segments.

I've come across many brands, especially various online shops, which try to create an aura of exclusivity out of .... well, pretty much nothing.  I find it amusing when some freshly launched site writes  me to become their member "by invitation only"and start shopping there.

In this respect, the example mentioned on springwise is Claseo, a recently launched "luxury" label. Unfortunately, it's not possible to have any idea about how luxurious its designs are because you can't enter their site. The reason is that the site is "exclusive" and by invitation only.

Snapshot of the invitation-only site of Claseo

I think it's counterproductive to seek positioning as a luxury brand through such self-limiting "exclusivity".  Whereas this might be feasible in instances when brand equity is already at its peak, this move is rarely a good solution for a start-up.  This is particularly true for web start-ups.  Building a user base is of ultimate importance for them, and certainly a key to creating a strong brand.  I have written and spoken about this on several occasions.

Looking at three examples above, the "inclusivity" of the budget hotel in New York in fact makes it truly exclusive. By solving the real need of its customers -- a simple human desire to socialize -- the hotel succeeds in occupying a very lucrative segment of affordable luxury.  The same refers to KLM's online social network for frequent flyers, which helps entrepreneurs connect and socialize in real life.

Funky brands are smart because they understand what true luxury is, and although it may sound counter-intuitive, in many cases being inclusive and democratic, rather than "exclusive", is what really helps build a great brand!