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Changing the diamond narrative

13 April 2018

By Olivia Quiniquini   

 

The Diamond Producers Association (DPA) is out to update the reality of diamonds in the minds of consumers. Through its ‘Real is Rare. Real is a Diamond.’ communications platform, it is redefining the emotional value of diamonds among millennials, turning these into a meaningful symbol for authentic and sincere relationships. In an interview with JNA, DPA’s CEO Jean-Marc Lieberherr reveals the association’s initiatives and priorities.

In the 10-odd years since diamond category marketing ended, brand-building campaigns have given way to tactical, sales-oriented promotions geared at driving traffic to stores thereby turning diamonds into products rather than meaningful symbols. It is this emotional void, especially among millennials, that the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) seeks to fill.

“The DPA’s role is to create strong desire for diamonds among new generations by focusing on the emotional promise,” said DPA’s CEO Jean-Marc Lieberherr. Formed in 2015 by seven of the world’s leading diamond companies, DPA aims to sustain long-term consumer demand for diamonds and build consumer confidence in the product and the industry.

At the heart of DPA’s activities is its “Real is Rare. Real is a Diamond.” communications platform, which redefines diamonds for the 21st century as symbols celebrating real connections. The campaign taps into modern consumers’ search for authenticity and sincerity. “What is more authentic, genuine and precious than a billion-year-old diamond to celebrate the authenticity of your most precious relationship? This is the fundamental message of our campaign,” Lieberherr explained.

 

Diamond Producers Association CEO Jean-Marc Lieberherr

 

Millennial thrust

The US, India and China are DPA’s focus for the next two years. Within these countries, the campaign targets primarily millennial consumers. “In the US, they constitute the biggest generation, are a few years away from their full purchasing power and are dominating the biggest value segment, the bridal market. But we have not talked to them for the past 10 years. US consumers aged 18 to 34 have not been exposed to a diamond message,” Lieberherr remarked.

Millennials also drive 70 percent of diamond consumption in China. DPA is eyeing a slightly older segment of millennials and early Gen Y and X consumers though in India where discretionary income for diamond purchases comes later in life.

Citing consumer research, the DPA official said younger consumers’ desire for diamonds is more fragile and vulnerable than older generations’. “In the 10 years since diamond marketing effectively disappeared, many new alternatives to diamonds have emerged. Younger consumers look for meaningful ways to express themselves so we need to create a new diamond narrative that resonates with them culturally, socially and more importantly, emotionally,” he said.

The “Real is Rare. Real is a Diamond.” campaign aims to do just that by highlighting special moments of emotional connection specific to the realities of each market’s young couples.

Key activities

DPA started its US initiatives in 2016 and, last November, launched new video campaigns with a modern take on love and diamonds. The India campaign, which started last November, includes a video showcasing most Indian couples’ unique relationship journey that starts with marriage followed by the gradual discovery of love.

Around US$10 million of DPA’s 2018 budget of US$70 million is going towards its China campaign launching this July. Its research on Chinese millennials found that many aspire to a love that lasts and place greater value on everyday demonstrations of love than on grand gestures. But though they see diamonds as symbols of romance, many married couples do not wear their diamond rings. The role of diamonds should thus evolve from a tacit symbol to an active emotional role, from a one-off symbol of commitment to an everyday aspiration, and from the darkness of the drawer on to the finger and into the light.

According to Lieberherr, the platform will eventually expand beyond millennials. This September, DPA is introducing a campaign targeting the US female self-purchase market of 30- to 45-year-olds. He said, “‘Real is Rare. Real is a Diamond.’ is a universal platform. It initially focuses on romantic commitment and millennials because this is the core of the business, but is as relevant to any generation.”

In smaller markets, DPA is taking a PR and digital approach while partnering with local associations. It starts with France in April, followed by the UK in September before potentially expanding to the Middle East and some Asian countries, said Lieberherr.

Market growth

According to Lieberherr, the ultimate indicator of DPA initiatives’ success is market growth and an increase in the polished price of diamonds. The association however is but a catalyst and change agent that works for and with the diamond industry. “Our role is to bring new ideas, create a momentum and work with the trade, retailers and brands in a dynamic ecosystem to make the industry successful,” he explained.

The DPA official noted that a billion dollars is invested in the US in jewellery marketing, 70 percent of which occurs from October to December to drive sales. “If we could harness this budget and work with advertisers to have some consistency in messaging, it can uplift the whole category,” he said.

Bringing about market growth will however take time, and DPA is in it for the long haul. “We are working at category level. The nature of our work has to be long-term since we are changing perceptions and embedding the desire for diamonds in consumers’ psyche,” Lieberherr continued, pointing to the sustained momentum of the “Diamonds are Forever” campaign over seven decades.

The DPA slogan is however not purposely a rejoinder to the synthetic diamond sector, which wasn’t on the radar when work on the campaign started, Lieberherr said. “Since we linked our promise to the origin of the diamond, it has become a de facto differentiator from synthetic diamonds. But this was never the intent in the first place,” he added.

 

The "Real is Rare. Real is a Diamond." communications platform equates diamonds with the authenticity and sincerity millennials seek in their lives and their relationships

 

Current realities

Creating a new narrative for diamonds is of utmost importance, Lieberherr said. “Some media, consumers and NGOs are quick to paint an outdated picture of the industry. Blood diamonds, Sierra Leone – it is not today’s reality. Those conflicts are gone. Some pockets of issues are being worked out but that is true to any industry impacting 10 million people worldwide. The new narrative is the positive contribution of the diamond trade – livelihood, community growth, women empowerment. That is the new reality,” he explained, adding that DPA relies on paid programmes to get these positive stories out.

Education, of consumers and sales associates alike, is also a priority. A DPA survey revealed that 60 percent of US consumers think diamonds are a hundred years old and can be found in the mountains. “The fact that diamonds were born hundreds of kilometres beneath the earth’s surface and rose up due to volcanic eruptions 400 million years ago is such a romantic story to consumers whose phones have a life expectancy of six months. A diamond is the absolute symbol of stability,” Lieberherr contended.

On the retail front, he cites the need to go beyond the 4Cs. DPA will work with chains to integrate its diamond narrative in their training modules and create better stories at store level. It will also complement existing training modules and offer its own too. “In the US and Europe, we’re considering mobile-based training for independents. By establishing direct communication with sales associates, we can push diamond facts, perhaps a Diamond Story of the Day they can tell their clients,” he said.

 

DPA officials with leaders and stakeholders of the diamond industry at a trade session on its upcoming China campaign, which aims to increase diamonds' emotional significance among Chinese millennial couples who value everyday demonstrations of love over grand gestures

 

Agent of change

Mandated with supporting the development of the diamond industry, DPA also takes the lead in addressing pressing issues affecting the trade at large, Lieberherr revealed. For instance, it brought industry associations together to agree on and circulate a primer on diamond terminology.

Ensuring the integrity of the diamond pipeline is another DPA concern. It is working with Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a leader in equipment testing, to assess diamond testing equipment. This will help manufacturers make informed purchasing decisions and provide customers with accurate information. Tested equipment will be furnished with a UL report certifying their claims.

With DPA taking up the cudgels for the industry on matters of marketing, policing and market development, Lieberherr asks only for industry engagement. Since no one knows more about consumers than retailers, he welcomes feedback on the market’s reaction to DPA’s message.

“Real is Rare. Real is a Diamond." can be the rallying cry of the diamond industry, according to Lieberherr. “If everyone can focus on the message in their own manner, it becomes common property. Everyone can drive this diamond message of authenticity, meaning and emotional significance, as a complement to all the other messages of luxury and status. Collaboration is essential for our industry to be successful," he said.