Monday, September 24, 2007

Expects revisited

Chapter 3 of my next book, Consommation et luxe (Consumption and luxury), is devoted to the study of expects (this a contraction of expectancies or expectations, a catchy term I have coined to best translate the French notion of «attentes». Here is an excerpt.

The theory of the needs, still used today as the basis of marketing by the vast majority of theorists of this discipline, must be replaced by a theory of expects, which better renders the complexity of purchase behaviour. (See B. Duguay, Consommation et image de soi, Montréal Liber, 2005. Also see R. Rochefort, La société des consommateurs, Paris, Odile Jacob, 1995.) Here is a graphical representation of this concept, which I refer to as the «Ring of expects» (PDF format). To better understanding the notion of expect, let us consider the purchase of a car. One may buy a specific model for various reasons: its low fuel consumption (makes functional expect), its reputation (symbolic expect), the image one wishes to project (aspirational expect), the driving pleasure (sensory expect), its reasonable price (financial expect), the dealer’s or salesman’s warm welcome (relational expect), the use of recycled materials in its construction (societal expect), the unique look of this model (aesthetic expect), the detailed and user-friendly information supplied by the manufacturer (informational expect), the speed of delivery (temporal expect). The final choice will undoubtedly take into account several factors, perhaps even all, each being weighted on a scale unique to each buyer.

An expect must be seen as a requirement the consumer wants to satisfy. It clarifies the hazy notion of need without translating immediately and obligatorily into a desire. If one’s most important expects with regards to a product are satisfied, this person may develop a desire for this good or service, desire which may later materialize in a want followed by a purchase. Contrary to needs, which marketing claim to be inborn and thus firmly anchored in the human being, expects are determined by countless elements; in the very first place, advertising and all other commercial communication actions, but also values of the society to which an individual belongs, his personal evolution, the product of technological development, largely broadcasted by all information channels … in short all stimuli to which a person is exposed. It is essential to understand that to each consumer expect corresponds an element, in the broadest sense, of the product; thus, to answer the functional expect of a durable garment, the product will have to call for a material which will ensure this durability, while communications will have to take part in building an image of durability.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Consumption and luxury

Today, I start publishing my blog anew with the following three paragraphs drawn from a first version of Consommation et luxe (Consumption and luxury), my next book, to be published this fall (in French only for the time being).

« These Romans are crazy! » Many remember Obelix’s trademark phrase in the famed adventures of Asterix the Gaul (Uderzo and Goscinny, Book series, Paris: Dargaud editor). Confronted to the, strange to him, culture of the Roman people, he was thus expressing his dismay. I believe we will soon hear similar words from people to whom the consumer society culture will appear just as strange. « Cute baby » one could read on the front page of La Presse, one of Montreal’s daily French newspapers, on Thursday December 8, 2005. This catchy title referred to a series of articles relating to luxury products for babies, in the « Actuel » section of the day. « Luxury products for babies? », may some say to me. Well, yes! Our little ones have discovered a craving for luxury! The time is over when all babies were content with the same brand of soap, shampoo or powder, Johnson's in Quebec or Mustela in France; although these two brands are still very popular, in some circles the baby’s beauty of baby calls for Anthony, Kiehl's, Klorane and many others.

How did we get to there? Consumption has become an activity of foremost importance for most people in industrialized countries. Moreover, if branding, this business philosophy which emphasizes brand production, allowed said brands to experience stunning growth, it has also democratized, sometimes even damaged, them. Consequently, wearing brands does not allow one to sufficiently distinguish oneself, to project a unique image. What the hell, how can one appear to be different if everyone wears Nike or Tommy Hilfiger? What can people eager for differentiation do when brands no longer suffice? Luxury! Only luxury now allows some to distinguish from others, to rise, so they believe, above masses.

This said, don’t believe that I condemn all luxury goods and services. Luxury is necessary… even for those who are penniless, perhaps even more so for them since they, above all people, need a few pleasures in life. In fact, even Gilles Lipovetsky, famous critic of consumption, writes: « For a long time, the best minds have emphasized the universal, anthropological nature of luxury », supporting his words with this quotation from Shakespeare, « The poorest beggar always has superfluous little things! Reduce nature to the needs of nature and man is an animal », and concludes « Luxury is a dream, that which embellishes life’s decor, perfection made good by human genius. » (G. Lipovetsky, Le luxe éternel, De l’âge du sacré au temps des marques, Paris, éditions Gallimard, 2003, p. 19) If, for a rich person, luxury is the buying a condo in the Bahamas, for a less fortunate person it can be a treat such as an occasional dinner in a prestigious restaurant. To each his own luxury!