Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Ultimate Luxury for 2010: Forever Young

Sunrise in our backyard in Carpinteria, California

2009 has stood out as a year when the meaning of “luxury” itself has been dramatically re-examined, re-evaluated and re-defined throughout the world by high net worth consumers and also by the purveyors of luxury goods and services. To be successful in the next decade, as a luxury real estate marketing professional, it is now essential to gain a deep understanding of this shift in mindset that is gaining momentum from material to experiential.

Perhaps, the root of this important change began in the sixties, when a certain poet, expressed that “the times they are a changing”. As baby boomers are reaching the peak of their earning and spending years, it isn’t surprising that they have led the way to this awakening of a deeper meaning of luxury.

Recently, while driving down Pacific Coast Highway on a magnificently clear day we listened to Bob Dylan sing one of his classic songs: May You Stay Forever Young! He articulated for us, in just five words, the most profound wish that we have for ourselves and for others. It is the wish that represents to us the ultimate luxury: To maintain the optimism and invincibility of youth throughout our lives.

We wish for you a very Happy New Year. And, may you stay forever young!

Ron & Alexandra Seigel

P.S. We included the Joan Baez version of this song on video here because it is awesome. Here are the lyrics, too.

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
And may you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the light surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
And may you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
And may you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Bob Dylan-released in January 1974, on the Planet Waves Album-

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Luxury Real Estate Marketing: Is Luxury Out of Style?

1957 Mercedes Cabriolet

Luxury real estate marketing professionals need to stay abreast of current etiquette when conversing with high net worth clients. Economic conditions tend to affect the degree of conspicuous or inconspicuous consumption. But, is flaunting one's wealth ever in style?

Given the current economic conditions and the propensity of the media and talking heads to point out the downfall of the luxury retail market this holiday season, the following question comes to mind: Is luxury itself out of style?

The answer is NO. The essence of luxury is an object or a service that is well made/well done. Again the governing concept of an item is that is of exceptional craftsmanship which implies its long lasting value. A great service implies that you will return for that great service over and over again because it is worth it. The very well to do populace is not the only ones who buy luxury. There are quite a few people who may buy an item because of its "superior quality or performance." They understand that because it is a superior product, its longevity will make the purchase an economically sound decision.

Thomas Chippendale chair

There are people who will drive their Mercedes for 20-30 years. Divide the original purchase price by the number of years, and you will discover that given the performance and the lasting quality with which the vehicle is built, it is a bargain. In addition the resale value is higher, and if the model is sought after by collectors, it resale can be astronomically more than its original purchase price. A well made piece of furniture last lifetimes and is often passed from generation to generation. An authentic Chippendale is worth a fortune on today's market. With falling prices on many durable luxury items, those in the know are purchasing them.

The same could not be said about some luxury purchases. If one were to purchase a pair of satin Christian Louboutin shoes for $1500, the chances of those shoes surviving into the next century are not so great, even though they are well made and well crafted. The intention here is not to condemn the purchase but to illustrate the concept of long term luxury. It is possible that the wearer may be so careful as to avoid every possible scuff and not damage them at all and hand them off to a granddaughter with the same exact shoe size at some point in time!

What is out of style and what has always been out of style is in your face luxury i.e. bragging about and flaunting recent purchases. Etiquette is a lifelong pursuit and is not dependent on economic conditions to practice it. It depends on one's understanding and appreciation of all the conditions that life has to offer and reacting to them in a gracious manner.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Luxury Real Estate Marketing: Celebrating the Holidays with Localism, Part II

One of the most wonderful promises of the blog, as a communication tool, is that it empowers you to report on local events, customs and perspectives and share them with the world. Localism, a term that is often used to describe this capability, is a powerful strategy for luxury real estate marketing professionals. It can help you to stay in touch with prospective clients who plan on relocating to your area or purchase a second home in your marketplace.

Reporting on local happenings is also great way to of reminding locals (including prospective home sellers and referral sources) about what they love the most about where they live. You can help them to fall n love with their home town all over again and fall in “like” with you in the process.

In our home town of Carpinteria, next door to Montecito in the Santa Barbara area, there are acres of agricultural land. Carpinteria is one of the avocado capitals of the world. It is also the home of some of the best and most successful wholesale growers of orchids in the United States. Most of the orchids that you buy in Trader Joes and major supermarket chains are grown right here.

This year Westerlay Orchids decorated a lovely Christmas tree with orchid ornaments that is displayed in their showroom which is open to the public. Each orchid is placed in a tube with water to maintain its freshness over the holidays. The variety of colors is magnificent and the lights in the trees make the orchids glow.

Now, this is something you do not typically see elsewhere around the world. It is truly local. And, it is a joy to share with you, our friends from all corners of the globe.

Happy Holidays!

Ron & Alexandra Seigel

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays in Santa Barbara: Part I

This is part one of our local coverage of holiday spirit, here in Santa Barbara, California. We were inspired by holiday blog posts we have read from all over the world from bloggers who shared local color, like the first snow of season. It truly helps to make the spirit bright!

One of the luxuries of life in the holiday season is to admire the lovely decorations that signify the end of the year. The creativity involved and the execution gives you a moment to reflect on people’s artfulness. To celebrate the season and wish all our readers a wonderful holiday, we are sharing our photos of local holiday decorations that we found impressive or original.

Today, we had breakfast with friends in the Bella Vista restaurant of the Biltmore hotel overlooking Butterfly Beach. It is a wonderful room with a retractable ceiling to let in the ocean breezes and very conducive to celebration or quiet relaxation. It is a favorite of the locals as well as tourists.

One of the landmark hotels in Montecito/Santa Barbara, the famed Biltmore hotel opened in 1927, as part of the Biltmore chain. Today, it is known as the Four Seasons Resort, The Biltmore Santa Barbara. The hotel has been lovingly maintained and restored. It exemplifies colonial Spanish/Moorish architecture with magnificent courtyards, gardens that feature specimen plants and trees, as well as a croquet lawn. We think that it is one of the most beautiful hotels to visit since it is reminiscent of the grandeur of the era in which it was built.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Luxury Real Estate Marketing: The Luxury of Lemon Grass

Lemon grass by Velela

Luxury real estate marketing has become an international game. Understanding what is considered to be a luxury in multiple cultures is now a requisite education for luxury real estate marketing professionals.

For example, what is considered to be luxury in Singapore, the fifth wealthiest country in the world? Its rapid economic growth and favorable business climate converted a port city into a major urban capital. In razing orchards and plantations to build high rises and an urban infrastructure, the country’s agricultural output became non-existent. Singapore is a country that imports the overwhelming majority of its food (eggs are the exception) and half of its water. Now, home grown vegetables, fruits, and herbs have become the new luxury.

Greening up the concrete fa├žade of the city began with the chefs of the luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons and the Fairmont, who were not satisfied with the imported organic fare. These chefs began growing herb gardens on their rooftops. This expanded to growing banana trees, chilies, bell peppers and more. Other business and restaurants have followed suit, and are growing lemons, curry leaf, lemon grass and mint.

In a country proud of its gastronomic heritage and a people who value diversity in gourmet fare, this trend of homegrown produce has become vitally importance to continue its dominance as a culinary capital. Using organic produce is also beneficial to the environment as it has an impact of lowering greenhouse emissions. Now, the government of Singapore is supporting residents to grow their vegetables on their rooftops, or participate in community gardens.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Luxury Real Estate Marketing: Thank You for NOT Calling Back

Zoe Darla Seigel, Abyssinian Princess

Alexandra here… your reporter at large, covering great customer service or the lack thereof. There is definitely an important lesson in this for your luxury real estate marketing practice.

Recently, I was in the process of ordering flea meds for our cats online from a company with whom I had previously done business. The website was not working, so I picked up the phone and called them. They were extremely busy and could not take my order. But, they did promise to call back in five minutes.

As I sat at my desk waiting for the return call, I noticed another web site advertising the same products. I clicked on it, and found, much to my delight, that the same exact pet meds were half price. So, I placed the order. The original company never called back. Typically, it is easy to get upset when you are waiting to be called back. Now, I just say “thank you” and move on. But, do keep this in mind, when you think of the visitors you painstakingly attract to you luxury real estate website.

This past Saturday, I called the local store of a national retailer to purchase a Dutch oven (on sale for 2 days only) for a Texas chili recipe I was cooking. They were busy at the store. The gal who answered the phone was rude. But, she asked for my number, and promised to call back in five minutes. It is Tuesday night as I write this post, and I have still not heard back. Meanwhile, I located the same item online with free shipping at a better price. In an effort to give feedback (because this is one of my favorite stores), I sent an email to the store’s headquarters.

Today, I received a reply email that expressed appreciation for my feedback. They gave me an incident number and that was all it said. What does one do with an incident number? Are they going to do anything to win my business back? The last sentence in my note was, “because of my respect for your company and my past experience, I am writing this to you. However, you have made it very easy for me to shop elsewhere”. They just lost my business and I gained an incident number. Can anyone use an incident number?

So every time your call or email inquiries are not responded to as promised, don’t get mad. Just go on clicking. There is always someone willing to give you the service you are looking for. But, do remember that all the money you spend to acquire web visitors and phone call from prospective clients will go down the proverbial drain if you do not respond to your email or call people back. Your competition is just a click away.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Luxury Real Estate Marketing: Dominate The Uncontested Market Space

Recently, we responded to an S.O.S from a successful luxury real estate marketing professional who put out this distress signal: I have been blogging consistently. Why is no one commenting or following me? Is there anyone out there? For those of you who are experiencing the same frustration, here is an important tip: Discover and dominate an under served market niche

A niche is specialized market. It is a market segment or a particular market “space”. An example of a niche in luxury real estate would be historic homes. When we were in commercial real estate in Beverly Hills we specialized in high end retail and the entertainment industry. One of our jobs was to go to find potential tenants for retail stores and shopping centers that we represented exclusively, on Rodeo Drive, or surrounding areas.

In doing some research for an upcoming blog series we found an excellent analogy for niches by Ray Wert on his Jalopnik.com blog. He referred to niches as the spaces between the marbles in a Mason jar that is full of marbles. If you were to pour sand in the jar it would fill those spaces and there would be a surprising amount of room for the sand. Only when you can no longer add sand is the jar really “full”. The marbles represent what everyone else is doing, the niches exist in those spaces between the marbles that the sand fills.

To be successful as a blogger, as a luxury real estate marketing professional, you must first identify an uncontested market “space”. The first place to look is for an under served consumer group. It must be a niche about which you can write passionately.T It needs to be a market segment for which you can offer an extraordinary promise of value, value that cannot be found elsewhere. And, you must blog in your own unique voice, your authentic style. That is, if you want to build an audience and be follow-worthy over time.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Luxury Real Estate Marketing: Refining the Definition of Luxury

Mammoth IvoryCarved by Japanese Master Carver, source IvoryandArt

As a Luxury real estate marketing professional it is important to become aware of the current shifting values in the realm of luxury goods and services. We are always on the lookout for refining the definition for luxury to keep up with new trends.

Recently we read this definition of luxury:

“Enjoyment of time, place, memory or object without regard to time or expense. One notable exception is that hedonism borders on luxury with a primary distinction being that hedonism seems to entail being without regard to consequences.” --Jay Rogers cofounder of Local Motors

Hedonism is the seeking of pleasure-devotion, especially a self-indulgent one, to pleasure and happiness as a way of life. The disregard of consequences, in some cases, has meant the near extinction of certain animals such as elephants. Fortunately, an important re-evaluation of ivory carvings as luxury is now taking place.

Since prehistoric times ivory has been carved for ornaments, jewelry and artifacts. The ivory figure of Khufu, for example, was crafted for the builders of the Great Pyramid and is considered a masterpiece of ivory carving. The ivory was usually obtained from the tusks of live elephants in India, and in Roman times, from North Africa.

Perhaps, the East Asian cultures place the highest value on ivory carvings. An entire art form of miniature ivory carvings called Netsuke was invented in the 17th century. The finest of these extraordinary objects are considered to have great artistic merit.

In the refining of the definition of luxury in thes 21st century, however, social consciousness is playing an important role. eBay, for one, has banned the sale of ivory since January of 2009. If this becomes a trend, elephants will become protected as an endangered species and the most outstanding pieces of carved ivory will significantly increase in value.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The 2010 Imperative: Differentiate with Personal/Company Branding!

In 2010 you have a choice as a luxury real estate marketing professional: Stand Out or Bow Out! Consumers now have a plethora of choices and a scarcity of time. Your competition is just one click away. It is now an imperative to DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF and instantly communicate your unique promise of value with laser sharpness, in a nano-second. Check out these personal and company branding videos:

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Luxury Real Estate Marketing: The Contrarian Approach

Our digital world has brought about some wonderful efficiency in communication and has reduced costs. But, it has also made it easier to lose the personal touch which has now become a luxury. This opens up a tremendous opportunity for luxury real estate marketing professionals to gain a competitive edge by thinking like a contrarian.

In a time starved world where email-only customer service is the order of the day, a personal phone call can go a long way to build client loyalty. Here is an example.

Recently, a mistake was made on our account by an internet service to which we subscribe and our account was suspended. The only way that this could be remedied was via email customer service. There was no phone number given on their Contact Us page. Frustration set in because it took way too much time to write them and prove that the mistake was theirs not ours. Two days later the account was suspended again for the same reason. Again, the burden of proof was on us which took more of our time. And, we are one of their best customers!

This reminded us the Lily Tomlin sketch on Saturday Night Live where she played Ernestine the telephone operator. Her famous lines were, “I work for the phone company and it is not my job to think!” And, “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We are the phone company.”

Finally, we requested, by email, that a senior executive of the company call us, as there was no resolution via email customer service. Plus, we were ready to find a new service provider. We did get a call and the solution became apparent to the executive in less than 30 seconds. We now have her direct phone number which is rarely given out.

If your competition in luxury real estate is heading in one direction take the opposition direction and stand out. Be a contrarian. Maintain your personal touch, even after you have sold the home. It will go a long way to build client loyalty and referrals.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Luxury Real Estate Marketing: In Praise of Snail Mail!

Photo by Jurgen Schoner

"Luxury is making an impression, without making a scene"-Yaffa Assouline.

A handwritten note to a prospective client expresses you care in a nanosecond. One of our clients welcomes his out of town buyers with a handwritten note placed in their hotel room along with a small box of chocolates from a local purveyor. Would you want to buy a home from anyone else? The initial conversation may have started by email, and he may have sent a text message alerting his client regarding a new listing.

In the not so distant past, people made beautiful boxes to keep love letters. A love letter is a treasure, a keepsake, a touchstone of a cherished moment! Would you profess you love in a text message or via email? Would the recipient file it in a folder on their hard drive under documents/love letters?

People purchased beautiful stationary to send thank you notes, and invitations to events. They sent birthday cards and anniversary cards. They bought special commemorative stamps to match the stationary and the event. Some still do. So, the US Post Office sells customized stamps. Another client sent invites to her opening party at her new office with her picture on the stamp. Would you want anyone else to market your home?

Balance high tech with low tech marketing. You will be surprised and delighted at the results.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Luxury Real Estate Marketing: Is Print Media Dead?

Luxury real estate marketing professionals are often told that “print media” is dead. Shrinking revenue numbers of traditional media is presented as proof. Besides, Google discontinued its print ads in February of 2009. But, according to the Luxury Institute print will always have a place in luxury and we agree. Why? Because, taking the time to browse through a print magazine is a luxury in and of itself. Plus, it’s a break from being in front of ubiquitous digital screens: TVs, Computers, PDAs, Smart Phones, video games and now reading devises likes Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s Nook.

Consider in-flight magazines. London-based Ink, a privately held company, posted after-tax profit of £2.4 million ($4 million) on revenue of £25.3 million for the year through June 30, 2008. Last fiscal year Ink showed close to a 10% increase in revenue. According to a study conducted by Arbitron, more than 80% of U.S. passengers read the magazines airlines placed in front of them and readers average around 30 minutes per flight with their magazines.

What is important to understand about this captive audience is that frequent flyers, those who can afford to fly frequently (or be sent by their companies), are upper-demographic consumers who are taking a break from electronic devices.

Yahoo! recently announced its new 15 month marketing campaign ($100 million dollar budget) which includes print ads, TV ads and online ads. Clearly, this internet company sees the value of print advertising combined with other media. This balanced approach is a good strategy for luxury real estate marketing professionals, as well, especially when your competition is retreating from print.

Luxury real estate magazines are often placed where high net worth consumers will take the time to read them. For example, duPont Registry distributes its high end magazine to athletes. Their issue featuring California luxury homes is placed in the locker room of the San Francisco Giants. LuxuryRealEstate.com (Who’s Who in Luxury Real Estate) sends their glossy magazine to 500 top CEOs and also on private jets.

Print advertising for luxury real estate marketing can be an integral part of your personal or company branding strategy if it is done effectively. What is often missing is the right call to action that can generate bona fide leads, leads that can convert to measurable sales.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Luxury Real Estate Branding: Branding is Like the Wizard of Oz

The most common misconception that luxury real estate marketing professionals have about personal and company branding is that it is as simple as creating a new look. Given that the average age of most real estate websites is five years old (35 years old in internet years) , a new look can be helpful. But, your brand will not become your “silent salesperson” if it does not reflect your entire package--the soul of your brand.

To quickly grasp the vital importance of what we mean by the soul of your brand, consider the classic story of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy wanted to get back home. The Scarecrow wanted brains. The Tin Man wanted a heart and the Cowardly Lion wanted courage.

Your personal or company brand must have brains. Your knowledge of your marketplace, your negotiating skills, and your educational background are all logical reasons to do business with you.

Your brand needs a heart. These are the emotional reasons to do business with you. What you stand for, what you value most, what you are passionate about: all of these things must be reflected in your brand.

Although, your superior marketing savvy must be reflected in your brand both intellectually and emotionally it is your courage to be different, to be distinct from your competition and to stand out from the crowd that is the soul of a market leader.

But, the most important aspect of your brand must be authenticity. That was Dorothy’s quest: to get back home. If you are not “at home” with yourself, if you are not totally comfortable within your brand because it does not reflect who you really are, you will not attract your ideal clients. Ideal clients are people like you who recognize that you are a match faster because you exposed and expressed your brain, your heart and your courage within your brand.

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