Ballpoint killed the fountain.
Overseas manufacturing devalued the ballpoint.
Typewriters – and then computers – supplanted handwriting.
What a terrible climate if you’re selling pens!
But what if you aren’t really selling pens?
What if you’re selling class? Fame? The slow elegance of a simpler time? The unmistakeable cachet of a top-of-the-line writing instrument? Something that calls for luxury marketing?
Well, then you’d raise your prices, and put them everywhere.
And that’s exactly what Montblanc did…
Who Wants a Pen? (Other than Grandpa!)
Up until the ‘90s a beautiful pen was something to acquire once or twice in a lifetime – maybe your graduation from college, or after retiring from 30 years of faithful service to an employer.
These gifts remained popular, even after the rise of technology-aided writing – but often, the gracious nod of thanks would be more dutiful than delighted. Kids these days – they just don’t appreciate a really nice pen!
And even fewer of them would even know where to begin re-filling a fountain-tip…
This means that companies like Montblanc had to either take their luxury marketing in a creative new direction, or watch their sales figures plummet.
Montblanc, one of the world’s preeminent makers of beautiful writing tools, decided that the first option was the way to go… their favorite product needed a facelift!
Using Celebrities to Invoke Old-School Glamor
There were a few phases to the Montblanc “make pens worthy of the investment again” plan of attack, and they hit on all the 4 Ps of Marketing:
Product – They started by choosing a very particular deep shade of red for the base of every Montblanc pen casing. Then they added a serial number to the top metal ring of each and every pen they made. This made it very clear whether you had a real Montblanc, or some cheap knock-off.
Price – They upped the ante a little on their pricing. The pen had to be expensive, but still within the reach of their target market: professionals, and people who want to be seen as professionals. This means that a Montblanc pen had to be an investment; not like a new car, but definitely like something luxurious that you buy just because.
Place – Montblanc established a massive distribution network, spanning the globe and backed up by a network of repair shops and licensed retailers. None of those licensees are allowed to sell Montblanc pens without signing a very firm agreement about partnering with a repair shop and offering extensive warranties.
Promotion – Montblanc’s most recent luxury marketing campaigns are infused with the rose-tinted nostalgia of the golden age of cinema. Their website is a thing of beauty, calling on the majesty and glamor of old Hollywood to impart casual elegance to their lines of beautiful pens (remember, you can only get the cachet of glamorous divas and misunderstood, brooding geniuses if you have the real thing – no substitute will do!).
All of these elements combined very effectively for Montblanc, allowing them to not only revitalize interest in their dominant product, but also introduce new lines at even higher price points to satisfy the demand for exclusivity.
These aren’t for Everyone, but They Might be Right for You
Montblanc has become a gigantic, sprawling international brand. They have specialty boutiques in more than 70 countries, and many more licensed retailers in department and timepiece stores around the globe.
Most importantly, Montblanc has happy customers paying up to a thousand dollars for a pen. Entire discussion boards exist for tracking, comparing and generally talking about their products. They are collector’s items, and beautiful, sought after gifts.
By making their products expensive, luxurious, star-struck and just a little mysterious (why do you need an expensive pen? If you don’t know, you don’t deserve one!), but also relatively easy to acquire, Montblanc is the brand that not everyone can have, but you can!
Montblanc’s parent company had their highest profits ever in 2010, and that’s thanks in large part to their signature pen collections. This is a far cry from a few years ago, when a bright-eyed university graduate would look up painfully and squeeze out a “Thanks, Grandma!” while inwardly just wishing they could have had the cash. That gift is now one that will bestow benefits for years to come, highlighting the success, glamor and gravitas of the owner.
It might even make a collector out of them, guaranteeing a lifetime of high-value purchases!
Quality + Nostalgia = A Pen Fit for a King
Nostalgia is a powerful selling point, but it isn’t the only way you can apply this idea to raising your own prices. Remember, Montblanc tweaked all of the 4 Ps to create their new campaign.
Everything, the price (high), product (unique, authentic, branded), place (everywhere, but with important, quality-oriented restrictions) and promotion (the men and women who championed a life of expensive luxury and deep creativity and talent) worked together to appeal to the desires and self-image of their target market.
They did this by appealing to the level just above their customer on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A Montblanc pen owner is well entrenched and not lacking for love or belonging – the pen speaks to their need for the esteem of others, and the actualization of their own ideal self.
Whatever attributes and qualities a user of your product or service idealizes, and speaks to their core values and deepest conception of self, can be worked into your messaging.
When you offer someone the opportunity to notch up a level, you can easily justify a higher price, and they can easily why they’re happy to pay.
So, where is your target customer in the Hierarchy of Needs?
If they’ve achieved Level 2 (safety) then messaging that speaks to family and love and intimacy will hit them hard. If they’re at Level 3 and have the love and belonging that makes us happy, then speaking to luxury, confidence and achievement will go a long way to making your high-end product or service look like a great investment.
How do you know which level they’re at? Well you’ve figured out who your ONE person is, right? Then you can easily determine which elements they’ve achieved in their life, and which they’re still working towards.
Then all you need to do is create an offer (combination of Product, Place, Price and Promotion) that will get them there. Not easy, but definitely worth it!
Getting from one level to the next in the hierarchy is tremendously satisfying for all of us, and if you can provide the opportunity to do that for your customer, your premium prices will be nothing compared to the feelings of joy and satisfaction they will get in exchange.