AmEx Luxury Summit: Storytelling, Experiences Keys to Marketing Top Brands

By Beth Kormanik May 10, 2012, 2:29 PM EDT

The 10th American Express Publishing Luxury Summit met this week at the Breakers in Palm Beach.

Photo: Lila Photo

With a national vocabulary that now includes phrases like “the 1 percent” and “the 99 percent,” it might seem like a difficult time to market to consumers of luxury goods. However, the 250 invite-only attendees of the 10th American Express Publishing Luxury Summit this week exuded optimism as they shared new marketing strategies and discussed the changing face of luxury, according to vice president of communication, Jill Davison, who oversaw the production of the event.

“We wanted to address a realistic picture of the environment for marketers,” Davison said. “It’s really important for them to understand what’s happening in a national and global context. They are focusing on a group of individuals who are affected psychologically by what’s happening in the world.”

The summit, which met Sunday through Tuesday at The Breakers in Palm Beach, brought that context in with speakers representing luxury brands across several sectors, as well as journalists and political commentators. Participating brands included Audi, Channel, Estée Lauder, Marriott, and Patrón Spirits.

One key takeaway was that luxury today is about engaging with customers through experiences, storytelling, and social media, Davison said, as well as providing “luxury they can believe in.”

The summit provided one of its own unforgettable experiences: a Monday lunch sponsored by South African Tourism and prepared by Xoli Ndoyiya, Nelson Mandela's personal chef since 1991, and Anna Trapido, a food historian and author. As guests ate, they narrated the menu of dishes important to Mandela’s life. The starters included umphokoqo, maize meal and amasi soured milk, chicken wing and tshakalaka relish, dombolo bread in the style of Winnie Mandela, and butternut soup that was served at the wedding of Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel.

The choice of entrées were lamb bredie with roti bread and mint raita, a dish smuggled to Mandela when he was imprisoned, or umngqusho, Mabel Mandela’s corn and bean mélange topped with wild mushrooms. Dessert was koeksister and fruit, which combined a syrup-infused fritter by Betsie Verwoerd (wife of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd) with Ndoyiya’s dried fruit compote.

Beyond the keynotes and panels, events included an opening cocktail reception in the hotel’s Mediterranean courtyard followed by dinner at The Circle restaurant and a Monday dinner at the hotel’s Beach Club with a Grey Goose-sponsored after-party outside. Small-group activities included a cooking demonstration at Cafe Boulud, a golf clinic with American Express Publishing president and C.E.O. Ed Kelly, test drives of Hyundai’s new luxury-model Equus, and a speed-networking session.

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