How to Stimulate Demand in a Relationship Recession

March 13, 2009

bulgariThe worldwide luxury goods market, once thought immune to the ebbs and flows of economic fluctuations, is likely to enter a recession in 2009, according to Bain & Company’s Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study. Francesco Trapani, CEO of Bulgari, insists that he will not risk the company’s image for opulence and exclusivity by slashing prices.

“This isn’t a business where you reduce prices to sell more. That is totally wrong.” 

Similarly, Robert Siragusa, president of Maurice Lacroix USA, the American arm of the famous Swiss maker of watches, which retail for up to $10,000 says:

“Things go in cycles in life and business, up and down. You have to look at the top of the hill rather than the bottom, and how you get to the top.”


I suggest that you think of yourself this way. You are a luxury good that is available in a Relationship Recession. You may have to be smart about your marketing, but you do not need to give yourself away to a low bidder looking for a hookup, with no interest in further contact. As a strategy expert with a background in business, I often apply the principles I’ve used in my work to other areas of my life, including relationships. No matter what your goal is in life, it makes sense to plan for it and execute your plan in the most efficient way possible to achieve the desired result. That is the definition of strategy.

Relationships do occur in the hookup culture, but the current environment is hostile to relationships and commitment. There are significant “market forces” in place that have created a Relationship Recession. If you want to be successful in finding a relationship, you need to go about it strategically. Sometimes I hear that having a strategy about dating or relationships is tantamount to “playing games.” I think that’s crazy. First, this is not about playing at anything, it’s about relating to another person in a real way. Second, we all employ strategies every day. When you avoid the freeway at rush hour, you are planning your actions in light of the supply and demand of freeway use at a particular time of day. When you work late on a project, you are strategically assessing the expected outcome if you finish your work, vs. the result if you blow it off.

Being strategic means being prepared. It’s smart. It means you can stop wasting time, and put your efforts towards realistic outcomes. In a Relationship Recession, the supply of women who seek relationships far outstrips the demand for those women. Guys are less likely to spend their emotional resources when the real transaction cost of sex is plummeting, or has hit rock bottom. They take each day as it comes, seeking short-term gratification in the form of casual hookups. 

Recently, however, I have sensed a real shift in the conversation. I am feeling cautiously bullish about relationships, and I predict that the market will improve soon, with the number of relationships growing at a slow but steady rate. In the media, on Hooking Up Smart, and in my conversations with young women and men, I have detected a malaise, a sort of hookup fatigue. Men in particular have expressed for the first time how tedious, even boring, hooking up can be, with its awkwardness, its drunkenness and its mediocre sex. While there’s no doubt that casual sex can be exciting and fun, it loses much of its appeal when it’s the Daily Special every single day. 

Selling luxury, on the other hand, is primarily about fulfilling the dreams and desires of the consumer.  Luxury provides the consumer with a sense of emotional well-being.  In order to create demand, you must convince the buyer that the experience you are offering will enhance his life.  You need to find a way to convey the concept that with his investment in a relationship, he gains membership to an elite group. To create the perception of exclusivity, it is essential that distribution is restrictive. 

That means that you are not readily available to all customers!  You have not been giving out free samples right and left.  You are not playing “hard to get,” you are “hard to get.”  One mistake often made in the marketing of luxury items is “marking down” to clear inventory.  But as the CEO of Bulgari stated, the most luxurious items in the world never go on sale.  Neither should you.  You are secure in the value of your worth and your affections.  A worthy guy will be privileged to win you.  No discounting allowed.

Your Luxury Market Strategy

Young people today don’t even know what romance is.  When asked in studies, they usually describe a chaste activity like having a long talk, or looking at the stars.  They don’t think that romance has anything to do with sex.  It is not surprising, then, that most girls today have had very little experience with romance.  But they’ve seen enough movies and read enough chick lit to know that ideally, romance should precede sex.  (Guys don’t see chick flicks unless on a date, and since no one dates anymore, they no longer are reaping the benefits of those crucial lessons.)  Guys do understand, however, that girls are different than they are, and want different things from a relationship.  It will be your job to teach them what it is that you want, and what you are prepared to give in return. 

The first order of business is to reduce the supply of casual sex in the marketplace.  

No more “marking down” to “clear inventory.” As fewer girls provide no-strings attached sex (decreasing the supply), the demand for sex will rise and the price will follow. Obviously, that will not happen overnight. But the sooner you start demanding the respect you deserve, the sooner you will meet someone who is actually willing to provide it. Where to start? 

Start changing the ground rules by changing the messages you are sending to guys about hooking up:

  • In a group of guys, try to be equally charming with each of them.  Be friendly and approachable.  Do not single one out for particular attention, which will be interpreted as an invitation to hook up.  Don’t make it too easy for a boy.  If he wants to get with you, he has to pursue you and risk rejection.
  • Be friends first.  Get to know him.  He will not object unless he has no interest in getting to know you, in which case, you are better off not hooking up with him because you will never hear from him again.  If he is willing to be friends, then the two of you will have an opportunity to experience trust, caring and respect.  It’s OK to hook up as friends as you are getting to know each other, but be wary of “friends with benefits” arrangements.  Girls often report that once they start hooking up, they lose the friend part and the boy gets all the benefits.
  • Demonstrate that you are able to appreciate what he has to give.  Do not make demands for more.  Just as you are not obliged to provide sex, he is not obliged to provide a relationship.  Being “low maintenance” provides two important benefits.  It lets him experience how good it feels to be appreciated, trusted and accepted by a girl.  And it shows his friends that his being in a relationship with you would not be a drag on him and deprive them of his company.  But don’t confuse being low maintenance with having low standards.  It’s all about being reasonable.


Remember, few guys will own up to wanting to fall in love.  In fact, he may have made a decision to avoid it at all costs.  Your job is to create cracks for him to fall through.  Give him time to experience your company without the pressure of added demands.  Live a full and independent life of your own.  You must not overwhelm him with your needs. One whiff of desperation from you and he’ll disappear immediately. 

The key here is to create a dynamic where neither of you is indebted to the other.  When you are together, it will be because you both choose to be.  So chill out and be patient.  Let him experience at his own pace what a real connection feels like.