Friday, June 26, 2020

The Future of Jewelry, Part 7: Image - In the Age of COVID-19

Here is the list of issues we have been covering — we are up to number 7.
  1. The Gig Economy
  2. Millennials
  3. Climate Change
  4. Consolidation and/or Decline
  5. Natural Diamonds vs Lab-Grown
  6. Banking
  7. Image 
  8. Demographics
  9. Retail Evolution
  10. Industry Structure

I have been writing about these "issues" for a while.  I did not start out trying to put them in any particular order, but here we are addressing the first of the last four, and all are bound to be particularly affected by the pandemic, no doubt in ways that none of us could have conceived of just months ago.  

The definition of image, and how that definition is being forcefully altered, is one we ponder carefully these days.  The word itself is in many ways more powerful than an alternate that some people use - brand.  Some brands, say Coca Cola, have instant global recognition, but what we retain is sensory - what it tastes like, what the classic bottle looks like.  Such images are far more powerful than any words, though it is the word or words that evoke the images.

Images, and brands, are very hard to develop.  I once heard a highly successful couturier (can't remember the name!) say "My brand hangs by a thread."  Aside of it being a good pun, he was saying that brands are hard to build and maintain but are so easily destroyed.  How true.

In jewelry, we have always seen a parade of companies or individuals proclaim their brands as if they were done deals.  Almost all of them go past us unnoticed and unremembered. Why?  Because there is too often no compelling images associated with them.  A successful brand need not be global or even national.  It only needs to be instantly known by some group of cognoscenti who truly value the story, the design element, the creativity, the extraordinary skills - the image.  

We can call up only a few brands in jewelry that instantly evoke a response - good or bad.  JAR never advertised, but built a brand worthy of special museum shows.  Verdura lives on well past the life of the creator.  We know exactly how Yurman built his brand, and what his image is about.  The global retailers, such as Tiffany, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpel, and Chanel, have distinct images.  So do some retailers in local markets.  How about Pandora?

But all brands have now been swept up in a storm that has been building for decades.  We first saw that in the diamond business with the reactions to the horrors of African wars and uprisings, funded in part with illicit diamonds, and culminating with the Blood Diamond movie in 2006.  De Beers immediately responded to that film, knowing full well that the diamond "brand hangs by a thread".  

At the time, the public barely reacted, though the Great Recession hitting shortly thereafter, diverting attention away from such concerns.  Since then we have seen an ever-growing   wave of issues accruing social awareness - climate change, sustainability, equal pay, equal access, minority rights, social justice, and personal responsibility.  We witnessed how social media exploded, which contributed to seeing celebrities of all sorts quickly condemned and fired for everything from sexual harassment to racist comments.  There goes their brands.

Now, image/brand has taken on new dimensions that were rarely addressed in the past.  The pandemic has only intensified and accelerated the spread of the nation's structural problems.  We feel the weight of the responsibility we have for each other, and for the need to reinforce ethical standards.  People say that we have politicized our social relations, but I say we have socialized our politics.  People and companies, and their images/brands, are now viewed on where they stand in the spectrum of environmental and social behavior.  Neutrality is out.  A company can no longer say that it stands aside of social or political issues.  

How a company or individual sources components, employs people, and plays a role in the community all count as never before.  A company's policies on a range of issues are as much a part of its image as are the products it sells.

So, perhaps we have a new four C's, those critical to building an image - Competence, Compliance, Content and Character. 

No comments: