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RJ June 2016 One to One: A life in diamonds 16 May 2016 By Sarah Jordan

Posted by Diamond Palace Jewellers on

RJ June 2016 One to One: A life in diamonds

16 May 2016 By Sarah Jordan

 

Forevermark chief executive Stephen Lussier talks to Sarah Jordan about

breaking into the branded world, telling stories and marketing diamonds with

a new campaign from the Diamond Producers Association

As executive vice­president of marketing for De Beers, chief executive of

Forevermark and chairman of the Diamond Producers Association, it’s safe to say

that Stephen Lussier has a front row seat to the tumultuous global diamond

market.

While his 30 years’ experience at De Beers has certainly led to an impressive

knowledge of the global industry, it has also nurtured a protective and almost

romantic stance when it comes to diamonds in general – something that seeps out

when we discuss synthetic and lab­grown diamonds.

If you’re buying an engagement ring and you’re spending significant

money on it, you are very interested in the diamond in the first

instance

Stephen Lussier, Forevermark

“I see some risk of creating consumer confusion if the industry mis­markets the

synthetic diamond,” he explains. “Maybe I’m biased, but when I think of what a

diamond is, I don’t think, ‘It’s crystallised carbon’. When people started desiring

diamonds 300 years ago, I’m not sure they even knew they were carbon; they just

knew that they were this extraordinary precious thing.”

He adds: “A diamond is something that is precious, rare and of enduring value. To

me, a synthetic doesn’t tick any of those boxes.”

In many ways, Lussier has made it his mission to protect the reputation and

credibility of diamonds, but, at the same time, shifts in global marketing, the rise of

social media, digital advertising and a consumer­branded focus have forced him to

balance sentiment with strategy.

This strategy plays out in Forevermark – De Beers’ diamond and finished jewellery

brand established a little over five years ago internationally, and 12 months ago in

the UK. Unlike other brands, Forevermark can be considered a diamond brand as

opposed to a jewellery brand that works with diamonds. It may seem like a subtle

distinction to a jeweller, but to the customer, it has the potential to be arresting in a

saturated market. If they have a choice between a diamond ring and a

Forevermark diamond ring with all the branded bells and whistles surrounding that,

which one are they likely to pick?

When asked if he thinks, realistically, that diamonds can become a brand in their

own right in the UK market, Lussier comments: “Yes, I think particularly with

diamonds of a certain size. If you’re buying an engagement ring and you’re

spending significant money on it, you are very interested in the diamond in the first

instance. And, if you look at the millennial consumer, they are very brand-

orientated compared with the generation before them. They’re used to brands

standing for a set of values and delivering consistent quality, but it is strange for

them to see that in a diamond.”

Here, Lussier highlights just how slow on the uptake the diamond industry has

been when it comes to branding. Speaking of how the UK trade can tackle this, he

adds: “I think what it requires is a different method of selling; you need to be able

to articulate the benefits of a diamond, which is the four Cs, but you also need to

articulate what it is about that diamond that makes it different, as a brand would

do. Once you do that, consumers understand very straightforwardly and respond

to it effectively, but it does require a change in the whole thought process for the

jeweller – and particularly the salesperson on the floor.”

To date, Forevermark is in 38 countries with around 1,800 points of sale. As well

as creating finished jewellery and red carpet pieces for special events, it is also

enjoying great success with its partnership model, supplying designers like Theo

Fennell with Forevermark diamonds.

Lussier notes: “The thing that makes the Forevermark brand unique is the

extraordinary level of flexibility that it offers people in the industry to work together

with us. We’re approaching a retail sales value just south of a billion dollars, so

inherently there’s something strong about the promise.”

Of course, consumer interest in diamonds rests on whether younger generations

will see diamonds as a covetable asset when they reach their peak spending

years. To do this, not only will diamond brands be required, but a global emphasis

on diamond marketing will be needed to spread the word.

To create that engagement and excitement, you need the stories,

because people share interesting stories; they don’t share your ad

Stephen Lussier, Forevermark

The Diamond Producers Association (DPA), made up of representatives from

ALROSA, De Beers, Dominion Diamond Corporation, Lucara Diamond

Corporation, Petra Diamonds and Gem Diamonds, has taken up this mantle, with

Lussier at the helm as chairman.

Lussier explains: “One of the Diamond Producers Association’s missions is to

make sure that we can build the foundation of the basic desire and value

proposition of diamonds for each generation of consumers. And it’s probably better

done in that collective way than by individual brands focusing on their own

particular niche.”

To do this, the Diamond Producers Association has worked with Mother New York

– a millennial consumer specialist and creative agency – to create a category-

driven advertising campaign, which will be unveiled at the forthcoming JCK trade

show in Las Vegas.

“We hope to start with our first marketing activity in Q4 of this year in the US. We

will start there and then seek to build the resources for the organisation as we go,”

Lussier notes.

However, top­down instruction can’t change the industry overnight, so Lussier

admits it is up to retailers to focus on storytelling and accept that the world of

marketing now requires a different way of thinking. “If I go back 10 years, I could

dream up some idea in my office here, I could put a television campaign behind it

and if I told people to do it and if I was persuasive enough, they’d go out and do it.

Those days are gone. Now, the single most persuasive marketing communication

is that which you’ve heard from one of your peers and not from a company. To

create that engagement and level of excitement and shareability, you need the

stories, because people share interesting stories; they don’t share your ad.”

Aside from marketing concerns, the DPA has broader aims in terms of industry

viability, sales margins and responsible sourcing – the latter of which ties in

significantly to shifting consumer attitudes to traceability and ethical awareness.

Lussier comments: “If I had to point out one big change in the past five years, it

would clearly be the combination of transparency around diamond pricing and the

internet – the impact that this has had on the ability of the average jeweller to

make a decent margin selling diamonds in the way that they have historically can’t

be underestimated. It’s driving a fundamental shift in the nature of the diamond

sector that I think the industry is still finding its way through.”

Moving on to responsible sourcing, it’s clear that the issue is key for Lussier and

the wider DPA. Despite this, there’s a wariness of stepping on the toes of the RJC,

which Lussier describes as “the mechanism by which collectively the industry can

cover all products that a jewellery sells”. He explains: “One of the things that we

[the DPA] want to be careful of is not to replicate what is already there. I find in this

industry that there’s often a confusion of organisations all doing similar things and

none of them with enough money. We’re quite careful about making sure that we

don’t make good organisations redundant, and instead we work and support them

to achieve the same goals.”

This ‘there’s more to be done’ spirit is admirable in an industry where so many

have stopped asking the difficult questions. With a diamond marketing scheme

under way and Forevermark proving globally that diamonds alone can be a brand,

the question of where those diamonds come from will crop up more on the

shopfloor. Whether you have the answer is, at the moment at least, entirely up to

you.

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