You couldn’t have spent a lifetime, however short that may be, in the modern brand and consumer driven world without building up your own pet set of aspirational tokens. It could be something as simple as the clothes you choose to wear, the car you drive, the locality you choose to live in or the food you eat. Your choice, when it comes to that is driven by so many inherent and learned factors that it is a science in itself. But there is one common thread that runs through our choices – we try to get ourselves the best that we can afford, sometimes even stretching ourselves to go that extra mile, putting aside necessities in the pursuit of perceived luxuries.
Have you ever done that yourself? It could be something as mundane as deciding not to buy a new outfit and using the money to celebrate a birthday. Or choosing to keep your car for another year, so that you can afford a holiday in the here and now. It again comes back to choice.
The entire concept of the value pyramid is built on the idea that as our economic clout increases, we move upward, towards the ever more expensive and rarer options of the premium, luxury and super luxury. Somehow, the quagmire of human nature and our need to live up to our vision of ourselves makes sure that we do not live comfortably with a standard of living that is below our station. This truism drives the marketing strategies of car companies that seek to upgrade you through their model line-up, from the entry level hatchback for the college-goer, to the family man’s first sedan and on to the mature family man’s estate or crossover. If it isn’t the family bit, then you are peddled cars depending on your position in life, from a sales executive’s wagon, through to the E-segment premium car of upper management.
However, that is something the modern world is finding a lot harder to keep as the status quo, largely because of a blurring of identities. Take phones for instance – Nokia’s Vertu brand was set up as the pinnacle of desirability in mobile phones. What still keeps it unique? That too in a world where you can quite easily buy an iPhone with a huge screen, lots of storage and a bucketful of desirability and quite comfortably use it while driving around in your Rolls-Royce. If you take it to the next level, one which most of us equate with, the same is happening in the regular Android phone space where manufacturers offer affordable price points for hardware that competes with the top rung offerings from traditional leaders.
That is increasingly happening in almost every sphere of the consumer’s umwelt – you are getting luxury features in mainstream cars as technology lowers the cost of production. What does that do for the luxury car? How does the premium brand keep its USP over the rest of the industry? In a world where one school of thought says that the product is of a standard irrespective of its place of manufacture, what is the attraction that a manufacturer offers by saying that they make their cars in Italy or Germany or the United Kingdom?
Of course the issue is with business chasing the money stream. If you are looking at export markets, your product has to be the best in the market you enter, or offer the best value for money at the very least.
However, as a consumer you couldn’t have asked for a better time to be alive. Aspire all you want for the best in life and somehow you can find a set of brands that elevate you along the way. So what if you don’t want to buy a small hatch back as your first car? You will find an Asian brand selling a family sedan for the same price. It may still take some time for the brand to become desirable on its own, but by then your means and your needs would have also moved on ahead. Your journey as a consumer seems to follow the much vaunted arrow of time, ever ahead. It’s just less and less likely that you will ever reach the pinnacle of uniqueness anymore.