Luxury market and cultural diversity

March 28, 2024 •

8 min reading

Exploring cultural diversity and sensitivity in luxury markets


In terms of breaking into new foreign markets, cultural sensitivity emerges as a pivotal factor in establishing trust and meaningful connections with customers rooted in their particular cultural identities and values. Based on a recent SBP, we discover the similarities and differences of three key global markets, (the UK, Japan and India), with special attention paid to the nuances that define them in the eyes of a Swiss luxury brand wanting to appeal to a new and diverse customer base.

Why is cultural sensitivity so important in the luxury industry?

Every culture has its own imprint based on centuries of values, traditions and behaviors. When a brand demonstrates understanding and respect for cultural norms in foreign markets, it builds trust and cultivates long-term relationships with a new type of customer. This is particularly important in luxury markets where the clientele is selective and seeks personalized experiences that resonate with not only with their personal  identity and core values, but also their cultural background. Showing cultural sensitivity impacts the international brand’s marketing communication strategies, (e.g., language, tone and references that vary across cultures). By understanding cultural preferences and aspirations, offerings can be especially developed to feel more relevant and desirable to diverse foreign markets.


Diving into cultural diversity with care: Salanitro - a Swiss example

Pierre SALANITRO, founder of S-By-Salanitro, a Swiss luxury goods and jewelry company renowned for its exceptional designs, aesthetic sensibility and expertise in materials and gemstones, is embarking on a new ambitious project: to conquer the luxury markets in the United Kingdom, Japan and India. Recognizing the cultural diversity and nuances of each market, Pierre knows that cultural sensitivity - approaching foreign markets with respect for their traditions, values and norms - is a strategic element to be managed for access to these markets.

The level of cultural sensitivity fosters trust and resonates with consumers, creating a deep emotional connection that can be a game-changer for brands”. To address this challenge, the brand has commissioned six final-year EHL students (Adrien ALETTI, Max GRÄBNER, Janice NSAMBU, Laurianne PACHE, Marion SALLESE, and Adrien STERN) through a Student Business Project (SBP) to explore these three rich and diverse cultures.

Through extensive field investigations and exchanges with a wide array of industry professionals, notably, insights from 25 experts actively involved in the luxury sector, this research provides many essential findings regarding cross-cultural consumer behaviors within the luxury markets of these three specific countries.


Crafting luxury in the UK: Navigating tradition, refinement and social rituals

The United Kingdom, with its rich traditions and history, represents a luxury market where authenticity and quality are paramount. Our search reveals that the UK market is mainly characterized by:

  • Heritage and tradition: The UK's artisanal history spans centuries, with iconic brands like Burberry, Garrard, and Aston Martin perpetuating traditional craftsmanship. British consumers value authenticity and the history of brands, often favoring family-owned businesses that embody these values. Additionally, the British monarchy exerts significant influence on consumer culture and preferences. Brands receiving the "Royal Warrant of Appointment" enjoy special recognition, enhancing their prestige and reputation.
  • Refinement and discretion: The luxury market in the UK is characterized by understated refinement. British consumers appreciate superior quality products, but often prefer a discreet and timeless aesthetic over ostentatious designs.
  • Social rituals: Britons have distinct social rituals, such as the famous ‘Afternoon Tea Time’, which holds particular importance in their daily lives. Symbolic gifts are also common during special events, underscoring the importance of attributing cultural significance and symbolic value to products.

"To captivate the affluent British clientele requires a subtle blend of authenticity, discreet elegance, and impeccable craftsmanship. By creating bespoke designs, weaving narratives of timeless allure, and delivering a flawless personalized experience, these are the keys to enchanting the sophisticated preferences of the discerning elite."

Charlie Pragnell – General Director at Pragnell.

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Harmony in luxury: Navigating Japan's market of tradition and modernity

Japan, known for its elegance and subtlety, presents a luxury market where harmony between tradition and modernity is essential. Japanese consumers pay particular attention to:

  • Simplicity and elegance: Japanese consumers value simplicity and elegance in luxury products. Brands offering clean and timeless designs, while highlighting a philosophy or story, are often well-received in the Japanese market.
  • Traditional craftsmanship: Japan is renowned for its exceptional craftsmanship, ranging from ceramics to lacquerware to floral arrangements. Japanese consumers appreciate products that showcase this traditional craftsmanship and reflect Japanese aesthetic values as illustrated in Figure One . For example, the brand Van Cleef & Arpels has successfully captivated Japanese consumers with its Enchanted Nature collection featuring a white gold hummingbird, symbolizing joy, luck, and regarded as a messenger of the gods.
  • Philosophy and tradition: Japanese consumers place importance on the philosophy and tradition behind luxury products. Brands that manage to convey a story or concept deeply rooted in Japanese culture, while offering high quality, can forge strong emotional connections with consumers.
Leading Points_Yu Kerguignas
Figure One: Leading points of interest in art in Japan 2021. 

"A Japanese specificity lies in meticulous attention to every detail, especially technical ones, rather than storytelling. There is very little interest in the narrative you will tell, but what matters is the product."

Pierre-Yves DONZÉ Professor at the Faculty of Economics, Osaka University.

India’s market: Where tradition meets luxury

India, a land of contrasts and diversity, offering a rapidly expanding luxury market, is defined by:

  • Symbolism and tradition: Indian consumers attach great importance to symbolism and tradition in luxury products. Brands that integrate cultural and symbolic elements into their products can establish a deep connection with Indian consumers. The Christian Dior Pre-Fall 2023 fashion show is a perfect example because it was the first time a European luxury brand officially organized a runway show in the country, in collaboration with the Chanakya School of Craft based in Mumbai. This demonstrates meticulous respect for local traditions in the brand’s market penetration strategy, with a desire for a product to be “Made for India” 
  • Celebrations and festivals: Festivals and celebrations play a significant role in the lives of Indians, often accompanied by exchanges of luxurious gifts. As an example, gold sales during the Diwali and Akshaya Tritiya festivals amount to between 40 to 60 tons of gold, while sales for the 12 million weddings per year represent 50% of the annual gold demand.
  • Spirituality and well-being: Spirituality is deeply rooted in Indian culture, and many consumers seek luxury products that promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Brands that incorporate elements of spirituality, such as meditation practices, natural ingredients, and ancestral techniques, can generate strong interest among Indian consumers seeking harmony and balance in their daily lives.

"It is important to keep in mind that Indian culture is very strong and extremely rich. Since the country gained independence from the British, Indians take great pride in promoting their own culture and uniqueness."

A Managing Director at a Swiss watch company in India.

Understanding cultural nuances is key

UK, Japan, and India luxury markets represent diverse and unique characteristics. Understanding their cultural differences and consumer expectations is essential to maximize growth and success opportunities in these markets. Through this SBP project, these six EHL students have successfully provided an in-depth understanding and analysis of the luxury markets in the United Kingdom, Japan, and India. S-by-Salanitro is now poised to adapt and thrive in diverse cultural environments and pave the way for a new chapter in its history of luxury.

Yu Kerguignas_SBP Students-2This article was written in collaboration with BOSC Students: Adrien ALETTI, Max GRÄBNER, Janice NSAMBU, Laurianne PACHE, Marion SALLESE, and Adrien STERN).

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Assistant Professor at EHL Hospitality Business School