LEADERS, THINKERS & CREATORS. “Authenticity Is The New Luxury​”: Interview with Dr Martina Olbertova

What led you to create a company focused on reconnecting with ‘meaning’? What is your mission in business?

Over the last decade, working as a strategy consultant in branding and marketing, I started observing the fundamental disconnect between the value we intend to create and what we actually do. The difference is usually a vast one. There seem to be many gaps in business today as brands and organisations are still mostly managed in silos, which fragment their inner value and perceived meaning. This creates an overall market climate of meaninglessness — in brand communication, product development or customer experiences.

Tell us about your vision for the future of brands, in luxury or otherwise?

My vision is to educate and guide business leaders on how to manage their brands as the dynamic ecosystems of cultural value that they really are. The measurement-obsessed, short-termism driven, left-brained business management paradigm took the life and soul out of brands. But when it comes to luxury, this soul — the essence — is the core asset of your brand. If you lose it or don’t keep it up to speed with how the society is evolving, your value as a brand will decrease.

How is meaning connected to luxury? What is their mutual relationship?

We now live in the age of abundance: we have plenty of things to desire, but not enough of what we truly need — not enough of what feeds our souls, makes us feel alive and makes our lives meaningful. We have an excess of data and information, but we are starved out for true meaning — for the kind of things that truly matter in life and increase their value in time.

And how is this connected to your personal philosophies about luxury as a mindset and approach to living?

Luxury should help us transcend our immediate reality. It should help us connect back to our essence to feel truly alive. I am now contemplating a new luxury experiential business based on the principles of travel, exploration, seeking and cultural immersion where the transcendence of human spirit and connecting back to our soul should happen almost as a by-product of living truly and fully in the moment. When we are fully present, wonderful things can happen. Besides, there is no other time than now. The whole past-present-future continuum is just a series of nows, a series of moments that we tie together based on what meaning we choose to assign to them. We are in control of what kind of life we live. But luxury can amplify our lives by heightening our senses and making us more perceptive to beauty, more sensitive to what’s truly important.

What do you wish people knew about luxury as it relates to meaning?

Luxury is all about meaning: the very essence of luxury is based on the inflation of its symbolic value over the functional value of its goods and services. Luxury costs more simply because it means more.

The understanding of luxury and the perception of its definition have changed vastly over centuries, and especially in the recent past. Some would say, it has lost its luster and is now too accessible. What do you think of these changes? What are the bad parts and the good parts?

The essence of what luxury even means today is changing. We are seeing a shift from the excess, rarity and opulence — which were the signifiers of luxury in the past — more towards minimalism, essence and the new essentials that have become scarce in our increasingly complex and lonesome lives in the 21st-century: time, space, clean air, leisure, experiences, inner peace, mindfulness and a genuine human connection.

When it comes to meaning in luxury, how can luxury brands and consumers connect to ‘meaning’ in these evolutionary times and how luxury is conveyed and consumed?

Many years ago, when the CEO of Rolex was asked how the watch market was responding to changes and what that meant for Rolex, he responded: “Rolex is not in the wristwatch business. We are in the luxury goods business.” And he was completely right. Luxury brands are in the business of symbolic meaning, not physical goods and services. This is just one of the many ways to make this point more apparent to luxury consumers and the broader audience of marketers. You cannot optimise your way into creation. The job of luxury isn’t to cut costs and optimise, it is to create and inflate its symbolic value and make people feel better about themselves.

How important do you think it is to have more women working in higher positions in the field of luxury and why?

Very important. But in my case, the argument isn’t strictly about representation and equity, it is fundamentally about value. We see things differently as women because we look for different things in the things we look at. Women are wired for context, culture and empathy. Our brains function a bit differently than men’s brains, we are biologically wired for different things and therefore look for different things in terms of value and fulfilment in work and in life. Women bring in the important piece that’s been largely missing in business so far and it is all about contextual and cultural thinking. We see the connections between things that men don’t. This is of paramount value to brands — and especially luxury brands due to their superior symbolic value — as brands are really nothing else than complex cultural systems of meaning. When you start seeing things from this multidimensional perspective as they actually occur in real life and not in linear processes and excel spreadsheets, you realize what has been missing the whole time. It’s the role of emotions, desires and values of brands that we as people can identify with based on expressing our own individual identity and sense of personal uniqueness. And that is essentially the entire business of brands as brands are in the business of meaning exchange. Women have the sensitivity towards creating long-term value.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

How diverse, deep and meaningful it really is. I am helping people see things they would not normally see and that would remain invisible to them. Culture is the missing piece of knowledge in business. It’s what ties your customers and brands together and creates the environment for the value to be created and to be consumed. By discovering new connections between things that remain hidden to the naked eye, identifying patterns and seeing the world in context, I can help people expand their minds and see things from a new perspective. And that is invaluable. As when you see things, you cannot unsee them. New knowledge and insight permanently stay with you and reshape who you are and how you act in the world. That is the epitome of growth. It’s tremendously satisfying for me to see people grow and helping them to reach their full potential.

What was the best advice you received, in business or in life?

Always follow the value and never forgo your own integrity for a temporary benefit. It is not worth it, I promise you. This is why I am so vocal about the importance of creating long-term value over short-term profit, which has brought me all the way to luxury. Luxury brands are in the business of crafting superior value that is, by definition, long-term. If you have more to lose than to gain, extract yourself from the situation immediately. If you have a lot to gain and not much to lose then go full speed ahead. It can only surprise you. The worst-case scenario is you learn something new about yourself and others that you didn’t know before that you could use to capitalise on in your next experience or venture. Having a clear perspective like this allows me to quickly sort my priorities, assess potential risks and make better decisions in business and in life.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a new book on the future of luxury in the age of personal identity, which I am looking to get published in 2020/2021. The book is inspired by the learnings in The Luxury Report but it will dive deeper into how the luxury, heritage and legacy brands can craft authentic meaning to stay engaging to their audiences, culturally relevant and profitable in the 21st century.

You can download The Luxury Report here.

This article originally appeared in Eat Love Savor International Luxury Magazine in January 2020.


Contact details: www.meaning.global

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Founder & CEO Meaning.Global. Social scientist, writer, strategist and semiotician exploring the nature of consciousness, cognition, social and cultural change.

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