“Less sale, More tale…” Rapaport Magazine Article

Spacecode is the technology provider for GIA’s M2M Mine to Market Program. See coverage on the program following its launch in June 2017:

Less sale, More Tale. High-end jewelers like to focus on grading reports with shoppers, but sharing a diamond’s story is a surer way to draw customers in. Here’s everything you need to know about jewelry storytelling.

By Jennifer Heebner – August 2017 (Rapaport Magazine Print Edition)

Paola De Luca’s speech becomes impassioned when she talks about Alexandra Mor’s new Tagua jewelry collection. That’s because tagua seeds look similar to ivory and can be carved like it. And also because the typically diamond-devoted Mor enlists Bali craftsmen to sculpt pieces suitable for setting into precious metal. The result is a beautiful alternative to ivory in jewelry. It creates employment for artists in rural areas — especially those affected by the closure of factories illegally carving elephant tusks. It also appeals to a community of caring collectors happy to place their money in the hands of a like-minded individual.
“That is what the jewelry industry needs — stories that inspire emotions,” says De Luca, founder of The Futurist luxury forecasting agency.

SPICING UP THE CONVERSATION

Diamond grading reports and other technical jewelry information play an important role in sales, but they are not the only facts a seller can share. Enthusiasm tends to wane when the customer hears too many scientific terms about sparkle and not enough about a stone’s back story.

Stories about stones — like non-conflict diamonds mined in Canada, or rubies mined in Africa with proceeds that fund schools — coupled with truths about weight and treatments can inspire more compelling, sexier conversations. Robotically repeating memorized terms from a gemology book will more likely drive consumers to spend in industries like travel, which do a better job of romancing options.

“We are not just selling a product — we are communicating a feeling,” explains Brandee Dallow, a 20-year marketing and branding veteran in the diamond and jewelry industry, and the current president of the nonprofit Women’s Jewelry Association. “Every piece of jewelry tells a story, and it’s generally a happy, wonderful story, because jewelry acts as a reminder about a person, feeling or event.”

RIPPLE EFFECT

Better connecting with consumers through stories and encouraging them to share their own is a great way to increase engagement and possibly sales. That’s how Jackie Cohen came to found design company My Story Jewelry. Cohen had a custom necklace made to remind her of her adopted daughter, Julia, and when others inquired about it, she shared her journey to motherhood. These listeners — largely other women who often reciprocated with their own inspirational tales — multiplied until Cohen decided to make contemporary family-inspired styles her full-time job.

“Sharing my story with others created openness and honesty,” says Cohen.

Indeed, Dallow observes, “stories break down barriers and make people feel comfortable.”

THEY’VE COME A LONG WAY

A look at how the big brands are using the diamond journey to capture customers’ hearts and minds. Some of the industry’s biggest players know that romancing a diamond’s long journey to market can be a powerful aphrodisiac for in-store sales.

One way to tell a diamond’s story is to reveal its transformation from a rough to a polished stone. Both Helzberg’s My Diamond Story and Jared’s Chosen options provide consumers with documentation showing the diamonds in rough form and their journeys from cutting to setting in engagement rings. Helzberg also allows purchasers to log into the Gemological Science International (GSI) website to verify stones’ specifications, while Jared customers can view details about their Gemological Institute of America (GIA)-graded diamonds from the Chosen collection online.

‘ANOTHER LAYER OF ASSURANCE’

Meanwhile, the GIA’s Mine-to-Market program, or M2M — new this spring — allows retailers of all sizes to control the exact stories they want to tell, using a digital platform consumers can access with an app. Merchants can customize information to include GIA-provided proof of the match between rough and polished diamonds, as well as grading information, personalized text, video, and images of the design process for a finished piece.

The technology offers buyers “an authentic, personalized experience for complete confidence in their diamond purchase,” explains Matt Crimmin, GIA’s vice president of laboratory operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “For consumers concerned about supply chain transparency, M2M is a great opportunity to add another layer of assurance.”

Rio Tinto Diamonds is no stranger to storytelling, either, sharing its tales of diamond provenance and supply-chain integrity with both trade and consumer audiences. The mining giant uses social media, among other channels, to get its news out to markets worldwide. But it still envies the power of jewelers.

“Retailers are the chief storytellers [and] hold the greatest power in the consumer experience,” maintains Rio Tinto marketing manager Marie Chiam. “Retailers control the depth of a story that creates an authentic emotional connection beyond the product.”

BEYOND THE BRAND

At Brilliant Earth, which has built its 12-year-old business on a foundation of ethical sourcing and traceable countries of origin, video stories from customers tell the most memorable tales. A recent one shared on social media was from a newly engaged couple with dogs. The fiancé proposed to his bride-to-be with a video of their two canines falling in love and getting married, presenting her with an engagement ring and popping the question in the closing credits.

Genuine stories like these, and telling them where customers naturally connect with family and friends, help to make brands more believable. For Brilliant Earth and its largely millennial client base, that place is online.

“Real images of proposals with real couples and authentic love stories convey the heart of a brand — not just what it says it can do,” observes Kathryn Money, the company’s vice president of strategy and merchandising.

GETTING IN TOUCH WITH EMOTIONS

Others who have taken to sharing engagement stories include jeweler members of the American Gem Society (AGS), which touts stringent ethics and education criteria. The move connects customers to the “emotions behind buying a ring,” notes AGS CEO Katherine Bodoh.

Not surprisingly, Charles Stanley, president of Forevermark US, also sees great value in a good story. That’s why his brand continues to create campaigns celebrating consumers’ personal narratives. For holiday season 2017, shoppers can expect a new merchandise concept with ads highlighting ethically obtained Forevermark diamonds in the lives of the women who cherish them.

“The concept is a celebration of women through diamonds, acknowledging her as a unique and multifaceted individual and focusing on her story,” he explains.

RINGING TRUE

Stories of real-life couples give the bridal market a boost, and creative tech is making it easier to share the experience. When selling bridal jewelry, stories and clever technology may be the most important tools jewelers have. And as Brilliant Earth demonstrates, consumer anecdotes reinforce a brand to other shoppers.

“Stories go beyond the functionality of a product to create meaning and help customers grasp the value of the token they will wear for the rest of their lives,” notes the company’s Kathryn Money.

Severine Ferrari, publisher and editor-in-chief of online magazine Engagement 101, is another veteran in the arena of sharing real-life couples’ stories. Her publication has posted user-recorded videos of engagements for the last 10 years, on both her website and social media, to reveal the emotion of those moments.

KEEPING IT INTERACTIVE

For this pre-marriage crowd, the technology aspect extends to researching designs and prices online. This is where many merchants fail: not providing ring prices, and not answering shoppers’ questions quickly enough. Ferrari says readers are always reaching out to her for ring information they can’t easily obtain from stores and brands. “It happens every day,” she says.

Longtime innovator Chi Hunyh is a champion of jewelry technology. His Momento Diamond brand, which debuted in 2015, features engagement rings with tiny near-field communication (NFC) chips embedded in them, allowing purchasers to record messages, videos and images. These are then accessible via the Momento NFC App. Although sales were shelved shortly after introduction because Android was the only system to have NFC technology, that situation was rectified this summer when Apple added it to iOS. To celebrate, Hunyh put Momento back on the market with free NFC-embedded phone cases for iPhone 6 and 6S models; the 7 series phones already have NFC readers built in, though they can’t write to a chip.

By using Hunyh’s app, two Momento users can share stored media with the tap of a phone. “NFC was designed to be used as a trigger,” he says. “But my technology is interactive, so you can send and receive messages.”

VISUAL AIDS

Other innovations include the Ring Cam — which launched in 2014 and allows consumers to record proposals through tiny cameras inside ring boxes — and the Holojem platform, which came out this spring and lets shoppers virtually try on custom pieces before purchase.

Jewelers Mutual created Holojem to help retailers reduce physical inventory and offer more engaging in-store experiences. The interactive program lets them bring possible designs to life in 3D, providing a wow factor that custom-loving millennials can digitally share.

So far, Holojem is a hit, according to Tina Olm, director of commercial lines underwriting for the company. One jeweler has already used it with a shopper who brought in just a vague idea for a desired design. The retailer pulled up a similar piece in the platform, made a few modifications, and closed the sale before the shopper left the store. The merchant was quick to share the victory with Olm, crediting “the ability to share his custom design through the Holojem platform as the main reason for the sale,” she says.

Article as appears in Rapaport Magazine, August, 2017