The Identity of Luxury Brands
The objective of this paper is to apply the concept of brand identity to the luxury segment and to demonstrate its suitability as a framework for the creation of luxury brands.
1. Benefits of Identity-Driven Luxury Brand Management
Above all, luxury brands need to master the creation of luxury-specific symbolic meaning as this marks the major difference between the premium and luxury segment. Companies who have nothing to believe in and who have nothing else to communicate apart from their product features can only remain premium. This distinguishing feature is represented on the one hand by Lexus, which concentrates on comfort and other functional characteristics – and on the other hand by Rolls-Royce, which is rich in history and shrouded in mystery. Emotional benefits also become ever more essential for brand differentiation because an increasing number of people are engaging in symbolic consumption and may choose a product mainly due to the congruity between their personality and the symbolic personality of the product (Vigneron and Johnson, 2004). There is a large repertoire of excellent premium brands with a strong product-orientation and excellent engineering that have the potential to become luxury brands. But often it seems hard for these companies to leave the ground of hard-headed facts in exchange for an enigmatic and almost esoteric world of brand symbolism where products are equipped with luxury-specific emotions and even an “aura”. However, especially the combination of functional and specific symbolic benefits is the key from the premium into the luxury segment.
2. The Concept of Brand Identity
Brand management often still relies on “traditional” positioning by a few major characteristics, which were found out by market surveys to be especially relevant for the consumers’ purchasing decision. However, today this approach is not enough to create unique symbolic benefits especially in the lifestyle and luxury segments. The relatively new concept behind positioning, namely the concept of brand identity, is suitable for that purpose. Similar to human identity, brands are also ascribed as having an identity. The brand identity corresponds with the intra-company self-perception of a brand, which determines precisely how the brand should appear to external target groups (Aaker, 1996). In contrast to mass-market positioning, the brand identity is not the result of market research, but represents above all the companies’ inner vision and convictions. A luxury brand does not define and constantly adapt itself according to consumer surveys, but it is identity-driven and proud – and walks out into the world to connect to like-minded individuals. As the opposite pole of the brand identity, the brand image corresponds with the public perception of the brand by its target groups and is the result of its marketing measures and other consumer experiences with the brand. The elements of brand identity can be roughly divided into two main components: The physical-functional and the abstract-emotional components (Esch, 2010).
The Brand Identity Framework
2.1. The Physical-Functional Component
The physical-functional component covers the product-related consumer associations with a brand and can be further distinguished into the sub-components brand attributes and brand benefits. Brand attributes include the functional characteristics of a brand’s products, for example, the double-stitched seam or the big logo of a Louis Vuitton bag. The brand attributes imply functional and psychosocial brand benefits such as the longevity of a Louis Vuitton bag also because of its double-stitched seam or the possibility to demonstrate status because of its prominent logo.
1.2. The Emotional-Abstract Component
The emotional-abstract component of brand identity coves the non-functional characteristics of a brand and can be further distinguished into brand tonality and brand symbols. Because non-functional associations of luxury brands refer to a large extent to human personality traits, the brand tonality corresponds largely with the concept of brand personality. The key idea of personality-driven brand management is to think of a brand as a person. According to Aaker (1997, p. 347), the brand personality refers “to the set of human characteristics associated with a brand.” Louis Vuitton, for instance, can be seen as an elegant, glamorous and unapproachable lady. Because the functional benefits of many products on the market today have become increasingly equivalent and exchangeable, the focus of brand differentiation is shifting increasingly to symbolic benefits (Kapferer, 2008). The shift of the focus in brand differentiation towards symbolic benefits goes along with an increased interest in the brand personality concept as it offers a systematic approach to creating symbolic benefits (Esch, 2010). This concept is especially suitable for the luxury segment, because there is no other product category where symbolic benefits have a similar relevance, and which often even exceed the functional product benefits. Brand symbols can be described as mental images of a brand, which represent and help to convey the emotional as well as the functional associations to consumers. For instance, Louis Vuitton also uses its Monogram Canvas pattern to convey an elegant style.
The subsequent section gives an overview about the functional component of the luxury brand identity.
Source (an excerpt from): Heine, K., Phan, M., Waldschmidt, V. (2014) Identity-based Luxury Brand Management. In: Berghaus, B., Müller-Stewens, G. & Reinecke, S. (2014) The Management of Luxury. Kogan Page: London, pp. 83-98.