Does Your Product Have Enough Flaws?

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The better the product, one expects, the fewer the flaws one will find. That’s why Lexus is at the top of the quality surveys, and why Yugo went out of business. That’s perfect logic, until you get to true luxury products. One of the counter-intuitive marketing characteristics of real luxury products, according to J. N. Kapferer and V. Bastien, authors of The Luxury Strategy, is that they may be less than perfect. To some degree, these flaws actually increase the luxury appeal of the product.

Take Ferrari automobiles, for example. They are far from perfect, at least as most would define automotive perfection. They are amazing performance machines, and, as such, sacrifice such elements of perfection as a smooth ride, a quiet passenger compartment, and overall ease of driving. Yet, they are undeniably a luxury product.

Even more telling are luxury watches. Most very high-end watches have mechanical “automatic” movements, which are somewhat less precise than the quartz movements common in most watches. These watches are also demanding of their owners. You can toss your quartz watch in the drawer and forget about it for a few months. Automatic watches, by comparison, need to be used to maintain their proper function. (Serious collectors buy gizmos that simulate being worn on a wrist to prevent their automatic watches from winding down.)

By any standard of perfection, an excellent Seiko quartz watch is as good as a top-of-the-line Rolex. It will keep better time and require less maintenance. It may be quite beautiful, too. Nevertheless, the Rolex is luxury, and Seiko is not.

Kapferer and Bastien make the point several times in The Luxury Strategy that even Lexus isn’t a true luxury product. Rather, it is a high level premium product. They base this assessment not just on the minimal flaws in a Lexus, but in the lack of heritage and myth surrounding the brand. There is no century-old tradition, no personality like an Enzo Ferrari or Ferdinand Porsche, and not much beyond an extremely good car with extremely good service.

So, if you are lucky enough to be playing at the luxury end of your market’s spectrum, worry less about eliminating flaws and more about staying true to what the brand represents. People tolerate a rough ride and demanding handling in a Ferrari because that brand is all about race-caliber speed and performance. People tolerate a Rolex being less accurate than a Timex because it stays true to its image of mechanical sophistication and complexity. Swapping out the guts of a Rolex for a quartz movement might improve its accuracy a bit, but destroy the brand’s luxury image. In short – don’t strive for flaws, but never compromise the major premise of the brand in the name of eliminating a non-fatal flaw.

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