GUEST COLUMN: How will ethics drive consumer engagement in the jewellery industry?

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In 2018, consumers are aligning themselves with brands that represent values they care about.

As Positive Luxury’s Predictions Report identifies, it’s imperative that jewellery brands harness the power of those responsible practices to drive consumer engagement in order to stay ahead.

According to the report, sustainability is increasingly viewed holistically to encompass interconnected issues related to diversity, gender equality, philanthropy, and animal welfare. For jewellery, this applies across the board – from sustainable diamond sourcing to promises of transparency – and some brands are already reaping the rewards.

Understanding the power of emotional influence Last year saw the power of emotion influence everything from politics to retail, and it’s a trend that will continue to dominate. A brand’s ability to spark an emotional connection with consumers, especially around social and environmental factors that are increasingly important to them, will be imperative to growth this year.

Today, technological advances have resulted in a savvy consumer who operates in an increasingly transparent market. To build loyalty, brand communications need to be imbued with authentic emotional appeal.

While consumers previously may have been satisfied knowing only the designer of their jewellery, they now expect information surrounding its origin and provenance, and whether the workers were paid fairly.

As political commentator Teresa Buczowska states, “concepts are directly related to emotions and values” — and jewellery brands must harness this desire for engagement through communicating their positive actions.

Responsibly sourced and sustainable diamonds are top priorities for this new breed of consumer, making ‘conflict-free,’ ‘fair pay’ and ‘environmental care’ key factors to meet their standards.

Diamond brand Forevermark has already aligned itself with a deeper set of values by exclusively selecting responsibly-sourced diamonds that stand up to strict social and environmental standards, demonstrated by a unique inscription. Not only is Forevermark communicating responsible practices that go beyond the Kimberley Process, it is also fostering community through initiatives that support local businesses in diamond producing countries such as Botswana and Namibia.

Similarly, Argyle Pink Diamonds provides complete assurance that each diamond is as responsible as it is beautiful and rare. For over a decade, Argyle Pink Diamonds has been laser inscribing its diamonds and establishing a certification programme aided by advanced technology. Symbolic of its sustainable sourcing, the process delivers an important custodial guarantee from the mine to the point of purchase.

Achieving truly disruptive authenticity It is important to differentiate between hype and true authenticity: today’s consumers are acutely aware of ‘greenwashing’ – the practice of deceptively promoting an organisation as environmentally friendly – and seeking independent verification. Founded with the mission to connect discerning consumers with luxury brands that care, Positive Luxury provides that verification through the Butterfly Mark (pictured below), an interactive trust mark awarded to brands that are committed to responsible business practices. One such brand to have received the Butterfly Mark is luxury watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen.

Balancing heritage with innovation, IWC strives for complete efficiency when producing its precision-engineered watches. The company’s environmental efforts include reducing CO2 emissions by 90%, optimising energy, and reducing water consumption through smart hydroelectricity systems. In doing so, IWC has achieved a high standard of responsible production that aligns with its core values of craftsmanship and innovation.

It is this holistic approach that gives a brand true authenticity, a much sought-after quality that can win consumer confidence, and build a loyal and lasting community.

Aligning with identity-driven millennials A growing market that now represents $2.5 trillion in spending power, millennials will be the dominant force in both the luxury marketplace and workforce by 2020 — and with this generation comes a sense of ethical sentiment.

This shift can be identified on social media; emotions aren’t just motivating consumers at the point-of-sale, but rather driving influencers to raise their voices online and proclaim an identity, as well as align with the brands that echo their own world-view.

Leaders parallel to the jewellery industry, such as Belvedere Vodka, are already seeing that sustainable processes appeal to the millennial emphasis on conscious consumption. Belvedere is exploring the concept of ‘terroir’, the consideration of environmental factors such as farming practices and a crop’s specific growth habitat that was previously only attributed to wine. In doing so, they have tapped into millennials’ demand for provenance, responsible production and environmental appreciation.

Moreover, fostering human interaction, and using the retail space as a multi-sensorial consumer experience can result in real success for jewellery brands. Brands have also taken note of the sharing power of content around authentic experiences, building an ecosystem that is likely to create repeat business and brand loyalty. Indeed, new evidence suggests 50% of people would remain loyal provided they felt integrated into a brand’s community.

This has successfully been realised by IWC, which uses social media to provide unprecedented access and engagement. Consumers can message IWC’s CEO directly on Instagram and are given personalised customer service, not only driving brand loyalty, but also generating significant data that benefits the production cycle.

Farfetch leverages technology to provide online exclusives and a personalised shopping experience. With the launch of The Store of the Future, jewellery brands could move more easily between the online and offline experience. “Physical retail accounts for 93 percent of sales today, and even with online growing at fast speed, it will account for 80 percent by 2025,” explains founder, Jose Neves, of the innovation.

Embracing Corporate Social Opportunity (CSO) Technological advances aside, it is superior craftsmanship, innovation and impeccable service that has made the luxury jewellery market such a potent one, and at its heart sits human emotion.

The future looks bright for luxury as political and economical turbulence has led people to make more valuable purchases, and invest in something that lasts for a lifetime. However, in order to really succeed, brands must communicate their positive actions at a deeper level.

While Corporate Social Responsibility has long been thought of as a box-ticking exercise, it’s increasingly important that corporates who put sustainability at the heart of their business will be able to engage with a new audience and ultimately reap the rewards. After all, a company’s values and ethics shine brighter than its jewellery alone.