Luxury brands are here to stay

Guest post by Gary Shansby, Foster alumnus (BA 1959)

There has been a lot of talk these past several months about whether luxury brands will survive the recession, and whether “premiumization” is dead. Contrary to what the pundits, consultants and bankers may be saying, I believe certain niche premium brands are not only surviving the recession but actually creating inroads and growing in this down economy.

I have spent the past 50 years building luxury and premium consumer brands such as Famous Amos Cookies, Mauna Loa Macadamias, Shaklee Nutritional Products, Terra Chips, Voss Water, Pureology Hair Care Products and my latest brand venture, Partida Tequila.

While I’ve never experienced economic conditions of the current level, I have been through numerous market and economic roller coasters and I can say from years of experience that the biggest mistake a luxury brand marketer can make in an economic downturn is to abandon the premium brand positioning and begin price promotions and discounting. This will provide short-term sales relief but ultimately doom the brand—once you break a price, there’s no going back up market.

America has become an investment nation focused on the here and now, and on short-term (quarter-to-quarter) results. Public company CEOs and management teams are unrealistically forced to deal with stock prices, temporary or current trends, and demands built by financial institutions. We know how weak many of those institutions have become.

As a former CEO of a Fortune 500 company, an investor and a proud entrepreneur, I do not believe “premiumization” is dead. Marketers must learn that the growth path to success is not a straight line, and variances occur along the journey of life. Consumers are becoming more and more interested and knowledgeable about what they purchase and especially about what they put in their bodies. I believe premium brands will resume the upward momentum once the economic downswing lightens, and consumer confidence comes back.

I believe that brands that discount, offer lower “deals,” and change their direction for temporary gain will succumb to a form of suicide. Brand equity is all important along with the highest quality products that can be made.

Only time will tell… but my bet is on future growth for truly great premium brands.

Gary Shansby is founder, chairman and CEO of Partida Tequila, LLC and on the advisory board of the UW Foster School of Business.

What do you think? Will premium or luxury brands survive the down economy?