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Enduring Issues on Branding, Essay Example

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Essay

One of the enduring issues on branding is the question over the contribution of branding process adopted in the fashion industry vs. the luxury brands

Introduction

Branding fashion and luxury goods needs a different approach. In the marketing industry, there has been a discussion about the strategies used by marketing departments to create brand essence on a particular market. As the clientele of fashion products (branded products in this case) and luxury goods is different, there is a separation of purpose and aspect. While a branded fashion product might be buyers’ desire, luxury goods appear as a dream. Therefore, the branding strategy should enhance the superiority of the luxury goods and add some perceived value to the product that way. Branded fashion items branding campaigns would keep the desire going, while luxury items marketing would make dreams come true. (Guedes and Soares, 2005)

The below study would compare Zara’s and Louis Vuitton’s branding strategies, to highlight the importance of targeting the right audience and sending the right customer messages in order to activate buying triggers. Reviewing customers’ buying preferences and buying motivations on both the branded fashion and luxury markets.Kapferer (2010) confirms that there is a democratization movement in the luxury market. He also notes that there are unclear frontiers on the market between premium fashion brands and luxury retailers. The key source of this confusion is based on qualities and price.

Fashion Brands

The importance of branding fashion products is well known by marketing experts for satisfying the demands of the current market, since the 1950-s.(Evans, 2008) Creating the right messages and branding the product would require communication through images featuring people buyers can connect with. (Aaker, 1996)

A fashion brand is a label identified with a personal style and certain benefits for the customer. When fashion brands create special edition collections, this attracts customers with a prestige-seeking behavior. When the motivations for buying one particular design, for example because of the designer’s name, the same motivations are present when a customer chooses to buy a luxury item. In this case, the separation of the functional aspect and the dream is present. While fashion brands are more like commodity with a personal connection to the image, luxury items deliver more than functionality; they provide emotions, dreams and a social sign. It is also important to note that the identification is present in both fashion brand targeting and luxury item branding; however, while buying a fashion label item the customer would accept that they belong to an average or better than average group, luxury item buyers get the sense of superiority and distinction.

The Branding Process of the Fashion Industry

The branding processes of the fashion industry can be broken down to different segments and attributes. Identifying potential customers’ self-concept is important when creating a branding campaign. Azevedo and Farhangmehr (2005, p. 3.) proved the hypothesis that “Consumers will have a more favorable response (in terms of attitude towards the ad, attitude toward the brand and purchasing intention) toward a print ad of a brand with a personality congruent with their (ideal) self-concept. Therefore, the higher the involvement of the customer with the brand personality is the more likely they are to develop a brand-preference. When creating a brand identity, it needs to consist of personality, characteristics, benefits and attributes. (Guedes and Soares, 2005, p. 4.) Aaker (2007), however, simplifies the system and confirms the three steps of creating a brand. These are brand image, brand identity and brand position. According to Haimede (2011), a brand is a promisefor quality and value for the end user. Successful branding needs to have a strong identity and good positioning. (Haimede, p. 6.) In some cases, however, there is an overlap between fashion brands and luxury brands’ customer base.

The brand identity prism confirms that there are various other aspects of brand identity. The different aspects are personality, physique, culture, self-image, reflection and relationship. (Kapferer, 2010)

It is important to focus on one particular style when targeting particular customers. The 3C model should be used when making the initial brand decision. Taking into consideration the company, customer and culture and matching the image of the brand on every level would create a successful strategy. The VIP mix (value, identity and product) should be used when positioning the fashion label on the market. Providing value above functionality is the strength of fashion industry marketing. Adding an identity to the different styles and designs would create a connection between the customer and the product, developing brand-awareness, and finally brand preference.

Creating a message behind the brand is the process of creating an image in customers’ head. Fashion brands need to make a statement about quality, as well as a tangible representation of the brand. The marketing mix for fashion items is broken down to seven different stages: the sender (brand), encoding and ideas, message, media or communication channel, noise (other communication from various senders), decoding (customers’ interpretation of the message) and the receiver (customer).

Examining the brand positioning strategies, it is evident that the benefit and purpose are the most significant aspects influencing customers. In the fashion industry, benefits work on a personal level; in fashion label brands the message is identification with a group of people, with feelings, lifestyle choices and style. (Holt et al.,2004) Creating brand personality is important. However, looking at luxury brands, such as Louis Vuitton, the message is not belonging, but “standing out”. Becoming superior is the most important motivation of customers buying luxury items. The process of creating a brand image, brand identity, positioning work different in the two overlapping industries.

Fashion items require three USP-s. (Aaker, 1996, 2007)  These are: Unique Style Persona, Unique Selling Proposition and Unique Service Personality. These USP-s lead to Unique Strategic Positioning, or branding and creating a message to target the right customers. Positioning within the luxury and fashion industries works similarly; the unique design, image style, staff, retail stores, display, the product, brand image and the “brand Ambassador” are all present. However, while the goal of fashion industry is to make customers want to belong to a favorable group of people sharing the same taste, characteristics and beliefs, as well as similar personality traits, in luxury brands, the “Brand Ambassador” is selected based on status and power, and the dream the product ownership delivers is based on being unique, sophisticated, privileged and standing out from common groups.

When measuring brand equity (Aaker, 1996) the Brand Equity Ten method would be used. Comparing customer behavior and branding methods using the five measures set by Aaker would provide the researchers with a clear overview of the differences in branding fashion or luxury items. These are: loyalty measures, perceived quality/leadership measures, associations/differentiation measures, awareness measures and market behavior measures.

In the next chapter of the essay, the authors would review the branding strategy of Zara; in particular; the messages it delivers. There is a message delivered by the “place” (stores) assuming that the retailer sells luxury items, however, the costs of the brand are lower than Louis Vuitton’s. This creates a confusion on the market and an overlap of customer preferences. Sending the same messages through the branding process as luxury stores and adding prestige as a value to the products might result in movement of the market; some people wanting to look unique and considering “mass prestige” as an option for becoming privileged. (Mendoza, 2010)

Luxury has two different faces: a sociological and a psychological. (Hameide, 2011)  These two faces add extra perceived value to the products, and that is the reason why luxury items sell for extraordinarily high prices. For the purchasers of luxury items, functionality has a lower relevance, and living the “dream” has a higher one. The dream created throughout the branding process would make paying a higher price worth.

When communicating the fashion image, there are four main aspects determining the targeting; the profile of the consumer, their lifestyle, the product value and the aesthetical aspects. Also, “A successful brand has a strong identity (mentally and physically), is innovative, consistent,

competitively positioned, and holds a matching positive image in the customer´s mind.” (Hameide, 2011)  In case of branding luxury items, the value and the messages of the lifestyle are the most important aspects. A brand, according to Aaker (2007) is the combination of all the feelings, perceptions, emotions and experiences. The image of the store also needs to communicate the same brand essence; the geographic location of the store, interior and exterior design, as well as other visual aspects need to be taken into consideration. That is one of the reasons it is important to examine Zara’s strategy of brand image communication and comparing it to a luxury item retailer’s to see whether the company is looking to target some of the luxury item customers through its brand image, or the stores’ appearances are simply a result of communicating the wrong messages. For comparing fashion industry and luxury branding, Aaker’s approach seems to be the most relevant (2007), as it builds on the creation process of brand identity; taking into consideration all internal and external aspects creating the brand; brand image, brand identity and brand position.

Evaluation of Fashion and Luxury Brands Branding Strategies

Zara

Zara is positioned on the higher end of the mass market. It is a premium mass brand; on the borderline between being a mass retailer and a luxury store. That is why there is often a confusion among customers. Although the fashion items are available for the public, they are higher priced than some of the competition. Therefore, the choice of designing sophisticated-looking stores adds a perceived value to the brand and justifies the price. After evaluating the fashion industry market, it is evident which strategy the company has used. They are using similar branding methods as luxury retailers; the appearance of the store, professionalism of the staff and the service adds the sense of being privileged to the product package. Zara tends to connect with customers on an emotional level and the significance of functionality, price and quality is lower than the feeling.

Due to the confusion on the market regarding luxury, it is important to review the difference between luxury brands and premium brands. (Kapferer, 2010) With Zara being a premium mass market label, delivering sensations, positive emotions, it is easy to make a mistake and position it wrongly.(IBS Research Center, Online) A luxury brand is a collection of emotions associated with owning the item, perceptions and values.(Kapferer, 2010; Slide 22) (See the comparison table of significance of price and functional benefits on premium and luxury markets).Luxury brands tell a story, use the heritage to create connection and distinguish customers from the mass market.

Zara uses marketing messages for branding, such as exclusivity, premium quality and professionalism. It does benefit from the market’s confusion and the terms used today, such as “new luxury” and “mass prestige”. Frontiers became unclear in the 21st Century. Some authors state that Zara is one of the fashion brands endangering luxury. (Kapferer, 2010) Although the word “luxury” in the 20th Century suggested superior quality, materials and design, as well as excellent craftsmanship, today it is more like a determinant of price and status. (Aaker, 2007)

Louis Vuitton

According to Kapferer (2010), luxury items are desirable because of their exclusivity and the status they create, with little emphasis on the function. Therefore, the feeling to walk into a Louis Vuitton store in the middle of the town is an added value included in the price of the product. However, the significance of exclusivity and superiority is the main message of the branding procehss. Luxury provides social elevation, self-distinction through a dream. (Kapferer, 2010)

Louis Vuitton builds on well-known effects related to luxury goods. (Han et al. 2010) Husic and Cicic (2008) concludes that the following effects are at work in the luxury fashion industry: The Veblen effect (perceived conspicuous value), the Snob effect (perceived unique value), the Bandwagon Effect, (perceived social value), the Hedonic effect (perceived emotional value) and the perfectionism effect (perceived quality value). It is important to note that as luxury brands are creating dreams to sell and not functional items, there is a high significance of the above perceived values in the case of Louis Vuitton.

Conclusions

Comparing the two branding strategies of Zara and Louis Vuitton, it is evident that there are some significant similarities and also some differences based on the prominence of different brand image aspects. While functionality and quality are still important for customers of Zara, the perceived value completely overthrows these considerations, as well as the price aspect when looking at the target market of Louis Vuitton. Still, the most important difference the authors have found between the two brands is that while one brand promotes belonging to a “premium” group of people (Zara), Louis Vuitton builds on heritage, perceived value and the sense of superiority. (Hameide, 2011) Although both brands operate on an emotional level to connect the brand image and personality with customers’, the price aspect is the most important for those who select Zara over Louis Vuitton. Those are customers who prefer the highest possible quality (perceived value of quality) and still are considerate about the price. While, the customers of Louis Vuitton are more motivated to buy by the perceived social and emotional values.  (See Luxury, fashion, premium triangle; Kapferer, 2010)

One of the most interesting questions is whether there is a movement of the market in the fashion industry towards mass premium brands? It is well known that luxury item customers can be placed in two types: occasional buyers and regular customers. Regular luxury brand customers have the strongest brand preference, therefore, they are the most faithful to their choice of label. (Kapferer, 2010) Still, the confusion over luxury and the different terms related to it might create an unintentional movement of customers towards premium fashion brands. (They might think that the brand is really a luxury label, judging by the messages the store of Zara or the display delivers). That is the reason why there is a need for communicating and recreating brand essence constantly in the fashion industry. One of the strongest motivational aspects of luxury brands being distinction, there is a need for reinforcing this feeling in customers through branding strategies. (Barnham, 2010)

As the value of a luxury brand is based on the company’s total package and offering, (Aaker, 2007) the brand promise needs to be communicated through every channel. Communicating heritage is one of the most successful approaches of branding; creating stories, connecting with customers on the “dream” level. This way luxury brands can preserve their distinctive nature and avoid “price switchers” appearing among their customers.

Without consistency and innovation, it is hard to attract new customers, due to the relatively small niche. Communicating the same message through advertising, online stores, designer shops and iconic items, names, luxury brand “Ambassadors” and celebrity sponsorships, as well as fashion shows is the right approach to branding fashion products on both mass and privileged luxury markets. (Hameide, 2011)

References

Kapferer, J. (2010) The Luxury Strategy. HEC Paris.

Aaker, D. (2007) Brand Meaning. Prentice Hall.

Hameide, K. (2011)  Fashion Branding Unraveled. (2011) Fairchild Books.

Husic, M., Cicic, M. (2008) Luxury consumption factors. Journal of Fashion Marketing and   Management Vol. 13 No. 2, 2009. pp. 231-245

Guedes, G., Soares, P. (2005) Branding of Fashion Products: a Communication Process, a Marketing      Approach. Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005

Han, Y., Nunes, J., Drezer, X. (2010) Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand     Prominence. Journal of Marketing Vol. 74 (July 2010), 15–30

Mendoza, D. (2010) Commodity, Sign, and Spectacle: Retracing Baudrillard’sHyperreality. KRITIKE VOLUME FOUR,  NUMBER TWO

Barnham, C. (2009) Essence The structure and dynamics of the brand. International Journal of Market Research Vol. 51 Issue 5

Evans, M. (2008) Consumer Behaviour towards Fashion. European Journal of Marketing. 23.7

Holt, D., Quelch, J., Taylor, E. (2004) How Global Brands Compete. HARVARD BUSINESS   REVIEW. SEPTEMBER 2004

Aaker, D. (1996) Measuring Brand Equity Across Products and Markets. California Management    Review; Spring 1996; 38, 3; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 102

H&M vs. Zara: Competitive Growth Strategies. IBS Research Center. 307-136-1

Farhangmehr, M., Azevedo, A. (2005) Clothing Branding Strategies: Influence of Brand           Personality on Advertising Response. Article Designation: Scholarly JTATM Volume 4, Issue 3,Spring 2005

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