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Consistent and constant monitoring of a luxury brand equity is a salient priority for marketers. Marketing Science Institute defines brand equity as "the set of associations and behaviors on part of the brand's customers, channel members, and Parent Corporation that permits the brand to earn greater volume or greater margins than it could without the brand name and that gives the brand a strong, sustainable, and differentiated advantage over competitors (Çerri, 2012). Positive consumer associates and behaviors toward a luxury brand can be achieved through effective application of social media or/and advertising.
The outcome of the consumer response on a luxury brand depends on a brand knowledge a consumer possesses (Keller, 1993). Keller (1993) defines brand equity as "the deferential effect of brand knowledge on consumer response to the marketing of a brand." Brand knowledge is associated with a memory model that consists of two constructs: (1) brand awareness (which includes a brand recall and recognition performance by a consumer) and (2) brand image (which includes brand associations related to the brand that consumer retail in memory) (Çerri, 2012). The lowest level of brand awareness is brand recognition which reflects consumer's familiarity with a brand name. The ultimate level of awareness is brand dominance when consumer provides a specific brand name at a recall task (Aaker, 1991). Brand image is a vital construct in creating a meaning for a brand in consumers' minds (Keller, 1993). Berry (2000) describes a brand image as "the consumer's snapshot impression of the brand and its associations." Effective marketing strategies via advertising can potentially benefit a brand and create a positive brand image.
Aaker and Joachimsthaler (2000) discuss three potential benefits that are associated with a consumer-based properties - functional, experiental and self-expressive. Functional benefits relate to the performance of a product. Experiental benefits is connected to the emotional state of a consumer during the purchase or using it. Self-expressive benefits represent a symbolic feature that reflect consumer’s wishes of how he/she wants to be seen while using a brand (Keller, 1993). Self-expressive benefits of a brand are vital for developing long-term consumer relationship.
A luxury brand presence on social media platforms needs to be carefully formulated in order to have a consistent message of a brand. Any intangible activities as in advertising or social media presence could have strong influence of a luxury brand awareness, consumer's ability to recognize and recall a brand (Berry, 2000). One of the techniques that is widely applied to advertise luxury goods is personification. Turner (1987) defines personification as a message characteristic - an option that can be added to a message. Personification is considered to be a powerful and persuasive tool in advertising because it taps into the human cognitive bias referred to as anthropomorphism (Marjorie et al., 2011). Anthropomorphism is a tendency to attribute human qualities to things (Ricoeur, 1977). Research demonstrates that personification can encourage consumers to anthropomorphize, and build strong emotional ties with a brand (Aaker, 1997). If a positive emotional response is build toward a brand, then brand liking can increase.
With the variety of product categories on the market and consumer personalities, how can a luxury brand create an appropriate message that would appeal to a brand's designated market? For brands to create effective marketing strategies it is vital to develop a better understanding of the consumer goals that must be satisfied. The research in advertising presents implications for personality- or product -based functional matching effects (Alwitt, 1991). There are two basic constructs that describe the functional relationship between consumer's personality (personality-based functional matching effect: self-monitoring) and product type (product-based functional matching effect: utilitarian, social identity) .
Self-monitoring construct (personality-based functional matching effect) depends on consumers' personality and their level of self-monitoring in terms of sensitivity and responsiveness to social and situational cues (Snyder, 1987). High self-monitoring individuals are highly sensitive to societal feedback and highly aware of the social consequences of their behavior (Snyder, 1987). High self-monitoring consumer strive to establish their public/social identity, and therefore tend to purchase goods that have attracting and popular packaging. They are drawn to socially-adjustive advertisements focusing on social images. Low self-monitoring individuals are less dependent on the social situations. They tend to purchase goods that reflect and express their inner personality, and are attracted to advertisements that are value-expressive and utilitarian focusing on a product quality (DeBono & Packer, 1991).
Product-based functional matching effect is based on product differences and consumers' preferences. Products are designed so that they can fulfill consumers' various goal (Slama and Singley, 1996). For advertisement to be appealing and persuasive toward a designated market, marketers need to differentiate what product types and functions the market is in favor of. Basically there are two types of product functions: the social identity function products and utilitarian function product (Shavitt, 1990). Individuals will favor advertisements that favor a message that is appealing to them. When advertising the social identity brands, the thoughts of image and brand meaning are critical to the message being communicated. Whereas for the utilitarian function brands, the message focus is on the product quality and performance (Nelson et al., 1997).
Major leading fashion luxury brands have created social media platforms to enhance their brands image. Social media has become an "It" trend to expose to potential consumer base, and is used as a communication tool to expand brand perception and eventually purchase intention of the consumers for fashion luxury goods (Phan, 2011). Some consider it to be a great investment, and consistently communicate a brand's image to the social media users either via Facebook, Twitter, chat forums, web blogs, youtube.com, or applications for smart phones etc. Some research demonstrate that a primary user of the social media is the young adults (under 40 years), who have been suing the new communication technologies for all their life-spam and are familiar with it (Phan, 2011).
Being a relatively new phenomena on the business arena, social media has started to be widely accepted by fashion luxury brands. Some major fashion brands have delayed the launch of their social media channels whether due to the fear of brand overexposure or having engagement issue with the social media applications between their 50+ demographics consumers and their response to using challenging social media tools (Phan, 2011). Although current research indicates usage by the 50+ demographics has been increasing in social media channels. Fashion luxury brands become more aware of how to engage this age group as in what communication strategy needs to be applied, and what advertising is appropriate.
Some of the most active fashion brands - Burberry, Dolce and Gabanna, Gucci - are actually underperforming in brand liking and purchase intentions. Although Burberry has an active social media presence with a mobile application that actively engages brand users via on-line questionnaires, live broadcasting of its fashion show in 3-D screens, the brand is still perceived as an old-fashioned brand (Phan, 2011). Research findings show that purchase intention is directly correlated with a brand liking, and building a social media is significant only on a long-term condition with a complete integration with a brand' overall business strategy.
In the emerging markets social media is an essential way to create a luxury brand experience and connect with consumers, especially with a fashion luxury consumer. After the creation of a distribution channel, brand experience becomes a crucial tool to reach out to a brand's target demographics, educate the customer by telling brand stories, and eventually build a long-term relationship with them.
Advertisements render culturally charged hues of a designated market/demographics that need to be fully understood by advertisers to create powerful and meaningful advertising campaigns (Zarzosa and Luna-Nevarez, 2011). The market for luxury goods has not been sufficiently researched in the consumer behavior literature, which makes it even more difficult for luxury brand marketers to find effective advertising applications to appeal to changing customer preferences and attitudes (Shrum, 2003). Advertisers of luxury goods need to search for alternative ways to appeal to a new emerging demographics of the population "Generation X" and "Generation Y" in addition to their traditional segment as in baby Boomers (Shrum, 2003). "Generation X" and "Generation Y" is a rapidly growing segment that grew-up in a media-saturated and brand-conscious world. The way this age group respond to the advertisements are different from their parents, but it is still challenging for advertisers to understand how new age group acquire and consumer luxury goods (Shrum, 2003).
Luxury brands put efforts in capturing the "Urban" market, a fast growing market of a young population (under 40 years) (Shrum, 2003). "Urban" market is a diverse population with differences in attitudes, motivations and influences. To access this group brands attempt to expand their position by introducing brand extensions so that overall brand equity is increased (Shrum, 2003). Some of the non-traditional marketing tools are being used to reach out to the young market, which includes product placements, music, videos, song lyrics and celebrity usage (Shrum, 2003).
Celebrity endorsed products render celebrities' characteristics. Till (1992) proposed associative learning theory explaining the process the influences of celebrity's unique attributes transferred to brands. To form an associative link between a brand and a celebrity could be beneficial to a brand image. For those brands that are unfamiliar, a celebrity association can have positive effects. This association establishes a high perception for the brand, in case if the celebrity's status is highly preferred in public. An adverse effect can be formed if a brand is endorsed by a celebrity with a negative public image. Marketers need to be careful in what celebrity they choose for a brand endorsement. Preconceived notions have been created in public toward a celebrity, and future misbehavior can damage the brand image.
To express their identity consumers seek to customize the products they purchase. Product customization provides customers with options for self-expression. mass customization gave a rise to various innovative formats, social media applications, for self-expression. Companies like Starbucks is leader in mass customization giving more than 50,000 possible combination in a beverage creation. By giving a consumer options, a brand attempts to engage a consumer and allow him/her to reflect an identity.
Social media is a direct avenue of expressing one's feelings, emotions, and personal preferences in all life aspects. By creating Facebook account or Twitter a person can engage in forming a fan group where he/she can widely express opinions and share common interests. A persons' social identity can be enriched by using these social media platforms. Mobile and Internet technologies expand customization offerings for consumers. Today one can customize one's preferences in choosing a favorite radio station, or music band to listen to.
Luxury brands serve as means to self expression. Research demonstrate several contexts for self expression for brand consumption. Luxury brands have a symbolic meaning of status and achievement (Langer, 1997). Consuming luxury brands, a consumer demonstrates his/her wealth. Veblen (1899) defines this kind of consumption a conspicuous consumption. Group affiliation is another means for self-expression. When choosing a brand, a consumer expresses his/her preferences and self identity (Vigneron and Johnson, 2004).
For fashion luxury consumer a brand is associated with human characteristics. Keller (2009) describes five brand personality dimensions as in sincerity (for example down-to-earth, honest, wholesome and cheerful), excitement (for example daring, spirited, imaginative and up-to-date), competence (for example reliable, intelligent and successful), sophistication (for example upper class and charming) and ruggedness (for example outdoorsy and tough). Anthropomorphizing a brand is another term to describe feelings in consumers’ mind toward a brand in terms of human characteristics. Biel (1992) points out that by attaching distinctive personal qualities to a brand effect consumers’ perceived credibility toward a brand. The research shows that products that are presented as human are evaluated much higher than those that lack human characteristics (Aggarwal, 2004).
Introduction of social media has allowed consumers to use it as alternative ways to express themselves. Social media is a relatively new phenomenon that needs to be further explored by luxury brands and strategically integrated with brands' overall business strategy.
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Yuliya Suleymanova is a Doctor of Education in Leadership Candidate and Researcher. She is an accomplished college professor with 18 years of instructional experience, teaching Psychology at the Kamchatka State Teachers’ University in Russia, at the School of Fashion Marketing & Design at the Art Institute of Seattle for 12 years, and now at the Year Up program at the Seattle Central College where she leads Business Technology Management Classes.