Why should you learn about Hermès’s brilliant marketing if you’ll never buy or sell a $10,000 to $150,000 purse or a $500 scarf? If you take a close look at their brand strategy, you will find a strategy unlike any other. Hermès has found the ultimate way to create a desire to buy, even from clients who have everything.
How does this lesson apply to you? Imagine being able to create a need to buy even from customers who are accustomed to getting what they want with total ease! Today we will take a close look at the brand strategy for Hermès, from their products to the customer sales process.
Some of these points may surprise you… even I learned something new from my wife Jennie’s latest Hermès unboxing. At first, I thought she was trying to scam me, until I learned the truth.
Watch this video about Jennie’s buying experience and how she surprised me with her latest Hermès purchases.
Elusive and Exclusive: Got To Have It
Here’s some fundamental marketing psychology: People don’t want something unless they can’t have it or other people want it.
So just how elite and exclusive is the Hermès brand? You can’t even buy exactly what you want, even if you’re a millionaire! They decide what you get, and when you’re going to get it. Now how can a strategy like that generate revenues that top USD 6.6 billion and profits that exceed USD 2.3 billion?
Hermès has mastered this concept of exclusivity starting with the distinctiveness of its products. Hermes’ claims that “each product is entirely manufactured by hand by only one craftsman, [signifying] the quality of craftsmanship and uniqueness of its products. For example, its silk scarves are only made from silk produced by Hermès farms in Brazil.”
The aura of exclusivity is important for Hermès because it doesn’t want to be seen as mass-market luxury or even premium luxury. Its aim is to remain “ultra-premium luxury” – not easily available and unaffordable to most.
The company doesn’t even have a marketing department. Nor do they condone celebrity endorsements. “The very fact that only A-list celebrities and the ultra-wealthy can afford and get access to their most premium and exclusive products is an authentic endorsement of the brand.”
Today, there are 307 stores in the U.S., Russia and Asia and over 13,000 employees. Hermès began in 1837 as a harness workshop along the Grands Boulevards quarter of Paris, making products for the horse and carriage trade. Currently, the company sells leather, lifestyle accessories, home furnishings, perfume, jewellery, watches and ready-to-wear.
What remained consistent in its 181 year history is its dedication to creativity and craftsmanship, and a focus on long-term benefits. So how easy is it to buy one of these high-end Hermès products?
The short answer is: if you’re patient and good at waiting, you’ll be rewarded with a surprise.
Scarcity And Limitation: Good Things Come To Those Who Wait
How does a company create scarcity (and raise desirability for its products)? First, they advocate the “limited edition” strategy and limit the availability of its products in stores. Craftsmen – those who produce the leather products – have a mandatory 2-year training before they can start producing leather goods.
So what does this mean for the consumer? It means you have to be patient. You can’t walk into a store and walk out with a Birkin style bag! You have to place an order and wait a couple months before it is ready. Most stores use a high price tag as a way to limit the number of people who can buy a product.
Hermès rations availability by creating a queue. And if you can’t buy a purse that day? You can pick up “consolation” products like wallets, scarves and belts. (Keeping in mind each of these are hundreds of dollars a piece.)
So how special is an Hermès bag? The “Birkin bag” was introduced in 1982, after actress and singer Jane Birkin told Hermès then-CEO Jean-Louis Dumas that she needed a medium-sized bag.
Each Birkin costs between USD 7,000 to USD 300,000, made by a single craftsman, after 18 to 24 hours of work by hand. The longest wait list for an accessory goes to the Birkin bag, at around six years.
In contrast, an Hermès silk scarf sells every 20 seconds.
So what is it like to buy an Hermès bag? The experience will surprise you. It certainly was eye-opening for me.
Buy Other Stuff To Get What You Really Want: The Secret Language of Hermès
It is definitely not your typical shopping experience. There is an air of mystery to the whole thing. When Jennie invited me to the Hermès store, she was asking me about getting a new belt, pocket square or shoes. I didn’t want any of that, so I asked her what was really going on.
She was trying to build up credit for her next Hermès bag, a Birkin, which cost around $12,000. But to get the Birkin, she first had to buy $8,000 to $11,000 in accessory products. That’s right. She had to buy other stuff first before buying what she really wanted. It was like we were being scammed!
This is the fascinating part of the Hermès marketing strategy. You get these premium products in the trademark orange box tied with a Bolduc ribbon. For example, a $200 pocket square with the Hermès logo in this fancy packaging and a beautifully done receipt.
How To Do The Dance: Speaking The Code
So back to how Jennie was trying to get a Kelly or Birkins bag. First, you need to get enough credit so you have to buy a bunch of stuff before you can get your bag. But the most important thing to know is that when you visit Hermès for the first time, you cannot talk about the bag.
You just can’t. It’s almost insulting. Instead, you have to learn to play, to speak the secret language. The sales staff get good commissions on jewelry. So you want to start with asking about watches, accessories, shoes, and jewelry. THEN you can ask if they have any bags.
It’s almost like dating. You can’t be direct and ask the question you really want to ask. Instead, you must learn this type of dialogue first. You must learn the dance.
Now, behind the scenes there are some rules for the salespeople. They can’t just sell you a bag because you want it. They have to ask their manager. And they can only sell two per household per year.
It doesn’t matter how rich or famous you are, you only get two. So to get a bag, you have to give the salesperson a good impression AND you need to have enough credit. When you’ve done these things, you’ll get a signal when they ask, “Is there anything else you want?”
That’s when Jennie said, “You know, I want what every girl wants.” Then the saleswoman asked what colors she wanted. Then she said, “I’ll take a look for you.”
In plain English that meant she will literally look when there’s a new shipment coming in, and give Jennie a call. But the whole time, you don’t say Kelly or Birkin bag. It’s all a secret code – a dance.
All Under Wraps: The Mystery Purchase
Now here is the next secret signal: the Twilly. It’s a scarf, but not for humans. It’s a scarf for the bag. Jennie says a person could wear it, but you would look silly. Unless you’re a girl. You can wear it on your wrist like a bracelet.
The accessory changes the look of the bag. The Twilly is great quality for $200 and can match your bag to the seasons.
So here is the secret language part. The other day, Jennie saw a lady come into the store but she didn’t get anything except for a Twilly. That’s code for picking up a new bag. At the checkout, she had the trademark orange box. A new Kelly or Birkin was probably inside.
We couldn’t confirm it because the bag is never shown in a public place prior to purchase. Other people can’t see what the customer bought. Other salespeople couldn’t see what their coworker had sold. It was all a secret.
Earlier, the customer had gone into a private room and walked out with a box. She had built up enough credit that the sales staff offered her a new bag by offering her some options and telling her to wait in the room.
It’s all very hush hush so other customers can’t ask why the store had a certain bag but only sold it to certain customers. You can tell the salesperson what colors you like but they will never tell you what bags they have in the back. That’s a secret. They will only bring you a couple of choices. That’s it.
It’s brilliant. At any other store, you can ask for whatever color you want and then look for it on the shelf. If they don’t have it, they will order it for you. This experience was the opposite of that. You don’t know what inventory they have, and you can’t see what other customers are getting.
The Emotional Roller Coaster: Takeaway Selling
Now here’s the psychology of the next part. You’re in the room and then the salesperson brings you two bags. You’re not particularly crazy about either bag. You could pass, but you’ll have to wait for next time. Are you going to piss off the salesperson by passing a couple times in a row?
You could keep buying accessories until the next window of opportunity comes. Or you could wait while your salesperson exchanges inventory with another salesperson.
But emotionally, you’re excited about the surprise while you wait in the private room. Jennie said that while she was waiting there, she couldn’t wait to tell me what she was going to get.
You don’t know what they are going to bring. And if you don’t like your surprise you could wait another six months. But if you don’t want to, you get the bag you’re mildly interested in.
But… you’ve used up your credits, so now you have to buy more accessories so you can get the next bag. Now for rich people who can walk into a store and buy anything, Hermès is the opposite of what they are used to.
People don’t want something until they know they can’t have it, or other people want it as well. That’s the power of takeaway selling.
At Hermès, you can’t have anything you want. You have to buy all these other things before you can get what you really want. Even then, you have the emotional roller coaster of not knowing what bag you’re going to get. It’s like gambling.
In this case, money is not power. They don’t care how much money you have. They control your buying experience.
Final Thoughts On Hermès: The Secret Language That Creates Desire To Buy
Who would have thought buying a purse would be such an emotional experience! Hermès has developed a marketing strategy to keep high-end customers returning for more.
Not only is there a waiting list for the item you want to buy, but you must buy other things first before getting to what you want. And at the end, you might not even get the bag that makes you happy. At what other store would a customer walk in, be offered something she doesn’t really want, and then buy it anyways in the hope that someday, she’ll get what she really wants?
Hermès has found a way to create a desire to buy, with a secret language that customers must master before even making their first bag purchase. The strategy is brilliant.
What was your last surprise gift or purchase? Comment below.