Why Rolls-Royce is investing in bespoke and experiential luxury

new Rolls-Royce Ghost © Leigh Banks

Last year, as the world paused for the pandemic, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars realised its most successful year for tailor-made orders. From its base at Goodwood in Sussex, the Bespoke division of artists and designers, engineers and crafts people worked alongside customers to create imaginative and complex personalised cars.

Luxury is an abstract and ever evolving concept. Tied intimately to place, time and culture, in its most simple form, it involves possessing something of great value and extreme rarity – a legacy piece passed through generations. In its more intellectual construct, it is about a unique experience, a feeling, a memory. Most often, it is a combination of all. Rolls-Royce is acutely aware of this. This is a company anchored on providing personal client relations and encouraging customers to invest not only in objects but the brand itself. We spoke with the regional director for Europe and Central Asia, Julian Jenkins, to see how Rolls-Royce intends to push this philosophy further.

Rolls-Royce design team working with the commissioned projects

The concept of bespoke symbolises the current landscape for consumer luxury, where there is and will be more and more demand for unique and personal experiences. Have you noticed a shift in consumer behaviour?

We’ve seen a marked transformation over recent years with a greater desire among our clients to create a legacy or signature item. Be it with wines, watches or fine art, they want to get as close as possible to the source. They are interested and engaged in terms of wanting to meet our designers and engineers. And we have been demonstrating the capabilities of the Rolls-Royce Bespoke team. This has been very important to our strategy.

Even before movements were restricted due to the pandemic, your team were utilising digital technologies – virtual reality, artificial intelligence, augmented reality – in the design, engagement and sales process. What are the advantages and limitations of working this way?

Technology enables us to offer our customers a vision. It also helps us see their passions, understand what they emotionally connect with, what brings them joy – all in the early stages of the commission. It helps start an interactive process.

Does this also involve using the Rolls-Royce ‘Whispers’ club, the customer app you launched a couple of years ago?

Our commissions are increasingly happening via encrypted digital messaging services on platforms such as WhatsApp and Signal. But yes, the Whispers platform has given us a great opportunity to engage directly with our customers. It allows for the flow of information. Also our clients have used Whispers successfully to network among themselves.

Wraith ‘Inspired By Earth’ takes its design cues from the entire Solar System, and our own planet, as seen from space.

You bravely unveiled one of your most important cars, the Ghost, in the midst of the pandemic. Technology must have been instrumental in communicating the car with potential buyers…

We are giving our clients a full virtual showroom experience – a virtual walk-around the car. Customers have been engaging with the designers, engineers and Rolls-Royce Bespoke team remotely, starting off the journey to create their personalised car. We are seeing more and more committing to sales even without physically seeing the car.

You could argue that Rolls-Royce is the ultimate customer-centric brand. Your whole ethos is anchored on providing personal client relations and encouraging customers to invest in objects that are designed for them.

Absolutely. Customer centricity is central to our core values and integral to what we do. Rolls-Royce is a very stable organisation with individuals who stay here for extended periods. These are therefore intimate and long-term relationships that we’ve built with our clients. They discuss their latest business deals, tell me about an upcoming anniversary, arrange to bring their kids along to Goodwood. Our relationship goes far beyond purchasing a car, and we look to add value by fostering this. Therefore, for our customers to buy a car online is second nature. They trust us.

The digital sphere may be practical, but what many of us have realised during the pandemic is how much we require humans interaction. Going forward, do you see your client relationship being a partnership between the two?

Our policy is to integrate the two but crucially making it seamless. We talk of the concept of ‘effortless servicing’ in Rolls-Royce, which translates to the customer not having to wait or plan. There is a natural evolution of the process starting with ideas generation, but thereafter physical samples and renderings will be on their way to the client. And our designers travel around the world and will call upon the clients when and if necessary

The ‘Dusk in Tokyo Collection’ of Phantom, Wraith, Dawn and Cullinan celebrates Japan’s capital city with the Spirit of Ecstasy in rose gold representing the setting of the sun

Do you see the Rolls-Royce Bespoke proposition growing even further?

Yes. Last year was our most successful year for Rolls-Royce Bespoke in the nature of the projects being undertaken. Some of these, I would suggest, has been partly because many of our customers have had the luxury of time more so than before the pandemic, and have been able to engage more with us.

Are you seeing unexpected commissions – after all this has been a reflective year for even the most affluent?

A recent client spent a lot of time on his commission not because he wanted to create a style, but because he wished for the car to capture his personality so he could leave it as a legacy for his sons. He is seeing the car not as a commodity, but as a timeless piece of art.

Yours is a lifestyle brand rather than a straightforward car company. In this context how important are brand partnerships to how you operate and what are the criteria?

Naturally we are selective in terms of partners. For us it is about being unique, being experiential, about information and skills. Part of the transformation we’re seeing with our customers is this move from being not only experience-based, but with an added layer of skills. Customers want to have a deeper understanding of Rolls-Royce.

Celebrated South African artist Esther Mahlangu showed a one-of-a-kind artwork for the front and center in the Phantom interior

As in the provenance of the brand?

Yes. Rolls-Royce hasn’t necessarily spoken about technology so much in the past, but increasingly our customers want to know about this aspect – setting up video calls to find out about the set-up of their cars. In terms of brand partnerships, this new element is impacting on who we choose to work with. It has evolved to be so much more than the ‘bucket list’ of brand partnerships. We are putting together events on self-improvement – meaning learning about the car, how to drive it better, dynamic course, off-roading with Cullinan.

How do you see the future?

Technology will certainly continue to play a big part of how we move forward and how we engage and communicate with our customers. This includes the timescale in which they want to interact – so the 24-hour on-call service is here to stay. As players in the prime luxury business, we need to interact with our customers on their terms. There is a big appetite for privacy, of course, and encrypted apps. ‘Effortless servicing’ is our keyword and we don’t take that lightly. Different markets have different needs – and culturally we are mindful – but there is a common thread and that is that they are passionate about the brand Rolls-Royce. (Interview by Nargess Banks)

Images: Rolls-Royce Ghost © Leigh Banks; Wraith ‘Inspired By Earth’, ‘Dusk in Tokyo Collection’, Esther Mahlangu’s artwork for the Phantom gallery, and ‘Neon Nights’ © Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

Spinach Branding is a specialist branding agency based in London. We work with established businesses and start-ups around the world to build and refine their brands. See how we work and get in touch to discuss your brand.

The Rolls-Royce Bespoke Collective developed a new and dynamic colour palette, named ‘Neon Nights’, in a limited run of just four of each colour
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