Anthropologist, psychiatrist and world-renowned marketing guru Clotaire Rapaille upends much of what we believe about technology and luxury in his new book, “The Global Code.” According to Rapaille, technology, plastic and virtual experiences are the antithesis of what his extensive research has shown to be the codes for luxury.

  • Focus on what makes a property unique, especially any custom or handcrafted features.
  • When it comes to luxury, we simply cannot share.
  • Luxury is the counterforce to the machine.

Anthropologist, psychiatrist and world-renowned marketing guru Clotaire Rapaille upends much of what we believe about technology and luxury in his new book, “The Global Code.” According to Rapaille, technology, plastic and virtual experiences are the antithesis of what his extensive research has shown to be the codes for luxury.

According to Rapaille, codes are unconscious factors that trigger buying behavior. His book “The Culture Code” documented these buying codes in various countries. Due to jet travel and the internet, there are a whole new set of global codes emerging that drive luxury purchasing, especially in real estate.

All global luxury codes involve having something handcrafted, unique and customized exclusively for you.

“Humans express a strong reaction against the machine, mass production and a culture of disposable goods,” Rapaille explains.

“The unique value of luxury resides in the talent of an artisan working with patience, passion and commitment to create a unique piece — something you will want to transmit to the next generation … Luxury is not about money, but a mindset.”

To illustrate this point, Frank McKinney, the world’s most luxurious spec builder, emphasizes how every detail in each of his houses is customized for his clients.

Someone who pays $50 to $100 million dollars for a property expects the property to have a unique story attached to it and so should each element within the house.

For example, the doors to the library might have come from a church in Italy or the property might have a shark tank or a James Bond room. As Rapaille observes, “When it comes to luxury, we simply cannot share.”

Luxury is also timeless. It never goes out of fashion and is based on tradition refined to perfection. Examples include the little black dress, a diamond ring, good whiskey and finely made cigars.

The global codes for luxury

Rapaille’s research has uncovered the following codes for luxury. Use these codes in your marketing to reach the satellite tribe (the luxury trendsetters) and to increase the probability that they will transact with you.

No machines

Hatred for machines was the first big insight that Rapaille discovered in his quest to uncover the global code for luxury. Whereas the ubiquity of robots and technology might seem like progress, they do not connote luxury.

Technology, unlike true luxury, quickly becomes available and accessible to everybody, rather than a select few. Moreover, while people feel addicted to their machines, they would like to free themselves — luxury is the counterforce to the machine.

Time is luxury

The recent headlines reporting the excessively long waits at TSA airport screening checkpoints illustrate just one of the factors that make airports the antithesis of luxury. You will be poked and prodded, possibly asked to disrobe, and once you are on the plane, no one is there to give you a hand stowing your bags.

The satellite tribe wants to be dropped off at the door to their private jet; their butler should carry their luggage (if they have any), and the entire process must take a minimum amount of time.

One-step: The butler

Although few people can afford a butler, Rapaille says that a butler is the opposite of a machine. Your voice is recognized, the butler knows exactly what you want, and you don’t have to ask. As Rapaille observes: “Everything is one-step and done by hand — a hand that knows you.”

Rapaille explains that this is a major factor underlying the explosive growth of bread and breakfasts and Airbnb. You are invited into someone’s home, they know your name, and their role is to make sure you have the best possible stay with them. It’s a completely personalized, one-stop experience.

The Ritz-Carlton is a prime example of a major hotel chain that has adopted this approach. With Rapaille’s help, they came up with their service promise that says, “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

They believe that one should never have to ask for something, and if they do, it should be remembered whenever that person checks in at any of their properties worldwide.

Handcrafted, tailor-made, just for you

The satellite tribe wants to feel unique, experience unique situations and use unique products. People pay dearly for a touch of the hand at a spa, for hand-crafted products or for what is customized for their unique taste.

Permission to buy

People with new money are often uncertain as to whether they belong.

Rapaille described Americans as being shy, in that the newly rich feel uncertain about flaunting their wealth. Instead, Americans have to “earn their stripes.” (One of the American codes for luxury is “civilian stripes.”) In other words, they believe they must work their way up the food chain.

Brands such as Rolls Royce have recognized this phenomenon and designed their models to appeal to different aspirational levels.

Americans are more likely to purchase the smaller, more discreet Rolls Ghost or Wraith models. In contrast, the Phantom is “psychologically too big, too ostentatious and too in your face” for most shy Americans. This is not the case for people from China, India, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East, who want to show off their wealth.

Implications for the luxury real estate market

How do these codes translate into actionable items when you are working with luxury clients? Here are three recommendations:

1. Know where your client is in the luxury hierarchy and adapt your language accordingly

For example, if you’re dealing with the court, avoid discussing money or trying to sell them anything. Instead, keep your conversation focused on the arts and their favorite charitable causes.

2. When you are marketing a luxury property, focus on what makes it unique, especially any custom or handcrafted features

When you market a property, weave these factors into the property’s story.

3. Buyers from Africa, Asia and the Middle East want to show off their wealth

Make sure that the properties you show them will allow them ample opportunity to do so.

Rapaille sums it up like this, “Luxury has a higher purpose: the achievement of real global value and the elevation of the mundane into a higher and more educated level of beauty, sophistication and talent.”

Bernice Ross, CEO of, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Learn about her training programs at and

Email Bernice Ross.

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