What do you give the customer who has everything?

When it comes to the well-heeled, brand loyalty and purchase intentions are motivated more by recognition, exclusivity and excellent customer service than the low interest rates or gifts-with-purchase that get the pulse racing for us commoners, says Robert Clarkson, president of Carlson Marketing Group in Toronto.

‘Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me,’ said F. Scott Fitzgerald.

And while Fitzgerald’s observation was arguably made in better economic times (for the rich anyway), the very wealthy are still here, they’re still buying and, psychographically, they’re still different from you and me.

When it comes to the well-heeled, brand loyalty and purchase intentions are motivated more by recognition, exclusivity and excellent customer service than the low interest rates or gifts-with-purchase that get the pulse racing for us commoners, says Robert Clarkson, president of Carlson Marketing Group in Toronto.

He points to Carlson client British Airways as an example.

While young international business travellers may be interested in airline points to use for their next vacation, affluent, more seasoned executives want ease of processing at airports and perks that cater to their comfort and convenience.

Hence, there are two types of airport lounges for those with first-class tickets. There are lounges for Silver members – the occasional first class travelers – and then there are the lounges for the jet-setting Gold members, which are equipped like luxury hotels with mini-gyms, showers and spas.

Clarkson says the program illustrates the need to go long term with brand and loyalty building, rather than just instituting a quick fix to move product.

‘Instead of selling them one car with an opportunity to play golf with Tiger Woods, isn’t it better to say we want to sell them seven cars over the next 15 years? In a tough economy you want to stimulate sales, but it should be part of an overall strategy as opposed to ‘last year we gave golf clubs, this year we’ll give windsurfers.”

As with all demographics, Clarkson says it’s a mistake to believe the motivation for every upper-income consumer is the same. There is no one hot item or perk that is going to appeal across the board, he says. In fact, by failing to understand upscale consumers as individuals, marketers are liable to insult and ultimately lose some of their best customers.

The best approach is to use personal information to create personalized incentives. ‘When [a purchaser] buys his first Mercedes for example, he may be a fairly young executive just breaking into a new job with a good bonus,’ says Clarkson. ‘However, then he gets married and has his first child, and you need to know that, because what may have motivated him the first time – perhaps a windsurfer – is not going to work on a person who has just made the transition to new parent.’

Tony Chapman, president of Toronto’s Capital C Communications, says the best incentives for the monied set are the customized offers that give them a sense of prestige and exclusivity.

For example, he suggests that a customer who spends a large amount of money at Holt Renfrew would be more excited by an offer that gives her bragging rights, such as meeting Armani himself, than a gift with purchase.

Chapman points to BMW Canada’s current Toronto-area promotion (one he says, unfortunately, he had nothing to do with), because of the way that it combines a compelling offer with brand and loyalty building.

‘When you buy a BMW 5 series car you get a day at the BMW Driver Training School. It’s a nice tie-in to the brand – performance car, performance driving – and it probably costs a lot less than the $2,500 rebates Chrysler is giving away.’

Andrew Doyle, marketing communications manager for BMW Canada, says the company doesn’t do a lot of promotions, but the response to this incentive has been huge.

‘This the best of both worlds. It allows customers to get a benefit, an incentive that’s not just financial. They take part in a day of training and get to appreciate and understand their vehicle much better.’

The BMW Advanced Driver Training course is open to all Canadian drivers and travels to other centres across the country. The courses have a retail value of $455 plus taxes, and the free course incentive is only available to purchasers of BMW 5 series cars, which retail from $55,200 to $105,500.

In a sluggish economy marketers often look at purchase incentives, but Doyle says this won’t be a common occurrence at BMW.

‘We believe the brand has so much inherent value that it becomes much more of a rational purchase decision in tougher times. The customer realizes the BMW is a great car, a great image, but the quality is there too. There will always be customers purchasing luxury vehicles, so our objective is just to cover a broader range in the market.’

Amex Canada is well known for its Membership Rewards program but not as much is known about the relationship-building programs it offers to the very rich, the Platinum Card members. Platinum Cards are issued only through invitation from Amex which looks at a Gold Card member’s spending history and other information, then approaches only the richest and biggest spenders.

Rob McClean, director of marketing responsible for Amex Canada’s charge card portfolio, membership rewards, and frequent flyer program, did not reveal the income threshold.

McClean says this elite group of card members, although established and sophisticated, is also looking for value and tangible reasons to carry the Platinum Card, which has a steep $399-a-year fee.

‘It’s a very competitive marketplace and you need to provide offers to stand out. We pamper them and tailor our benefits and services to meet their needs. They don’t mind the cost as long as value is delivered,’ says McClean.

‘We look at whether the benefit or service has relevance. Is it exclusive in the marketplace? Is this the only place I can get access to this benefit or service? Finally, is it customer service-focused, so it’s not difficult for members to execute and take part in the service?’

The four main programs for Platinum Card holders are the International Airline Program, Fine Hotels and Resorts, the Fine Dining Program, and the Platinum Card Concierge.

McClean says market research and profiling of the Platinum demographic indicates that this group does a lot of international travel and looks for travel benefits that go beyond North America.

Thus, Amex partnered with airlines British Airways, Alitalia and Cathay Pacific to give Platinum Card holders thousands of dollars in benefits wherever they happen to travel.

For instance, those booking travel through the Platinum Travel Service receive a complimentary companion ticket, and there are no limits on how many times they can take advantage of this benefit.

By calling Platinum Card Fine Hotels and Resorts, cardholders get preferential treatment and complimentary services at more than 100 properties around the world. Perks include complimentary breakfast, late check-out, and amenities such as free spa visits or afternoon tea.

The Fine Dining Program, in turn, gives card holders preferential access to over 200 restaurants in North America. Reservations made through the Platinum Card deliver the best seats in the house, thanks to special tables that Amex sets aside.

The final perk, the Platinum Card Concierge program, is the most flexible and individualized benefit.

‘There are turn-key types of requests, such as restaurant or hotel reservations,’ says McClean, ‘but this is a personalized service and will assist card members with virtually any request, any time, through a toll-free number.’

One of the more remarkable requests to date came from a member looking for an unusual getaway: a trip to the Northwest Territories in the middle of winter, complete with igloo accommodation.

The concierge service arranged expert local guides, sourced an igloo, stocked it with local foods and beverages and had the card member and companion picked up at the airport by dogsled and transported wrapped in furs to the igloo.

‘Every case has a unique and different twist,’ says McClean, ‘and no matter how outlandish the request, the concierge is there to solve the problem. It’s really about going above and beyond. Over the years, the [concierge professionals] develop personal relationships with Platinum Card members in order to understand their needs and build profiles of what their needs are.’

Tennis Canada has been providing innovative and exclusive experiences for both its upscale event attendees and sponsors for a number of years.

On the sponsor side, Stacey Allaster, VP of corporate sales and marketing for Tennis Canada, says there’s a growing demand for experiences that money simply can’t buy.

For example, she says, a promotional program was recently developed specifically for AT&T Canada and Rogers AT&T Wireless, the new title sponsors of the Rogers AT&T Cup women’s tournament.

The ‘Player for a Day’ fantasy program was used on a consumer basis by Rogers, and on the business-to-business side by AT&T. Through the program, the sponsors were able to award their customers or clients the experience of being a tennis star for 24 hours.

Lucky participants were picked up at the airport in the official BMW, stayed at the official hotel, had access to players and the broadcast centre, received a tennis lesson from a pro, and landed a gift package with player-type merchandise.

‘The title sponsor also actually hosts the players and their guests – even actually eating with players,’ Allaster says. ‘It’s quite impactful for guests to have access to this exclusive tent, and sitting at the table across from you is Serena or Venus Williams. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance and you can’t buy that.’