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SOCIAL MEDIA IMPACT ON BRAND PERCEPTION AND CONSUMER BUYING DECISION IN THE LUXURY FASHION INDUSTRY
Social Media has risen to become one of the most important marketing platforms for most FMCG companies and the fashion industry too has greatly benefitted from the large consumer presence on social media and the limited costs incurred in reaching out to them (Delloitte, 2015). Consumer behavior has been a major driver in shifting the focus of luxury fashion brands from conventional marketing to progressive investing in social media marketing. The attempt of luxury fashion brands is to generate brand loyalty by bringing customers closer to the brands through social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram (Hilfer, 2015). Luxury fashion brands are subject to the challenges of maintaining brand exclusivity and integrity whilst attempting at incorporating social media marketing into the existing marketing mix (Brandwatch, 2015). The intriguing assumption that social media marketing will help the image of the luxury fashion brands could also be proven wrong as certain empirical claims of a devaluing impact in this case have also surfaced in the past (Brandwatch, 2015) (Ozeum & Tan, 2014).
1.2 Problem Definition
Luxury fashion brands have tried keeping pace with the marketing activities that have changed over time. They have also ensured that the rare factor in luxury fashion products is not lost through their efforts of popularizing or commercializing the brand. As such, social media poses an opportunity as well as a threat to the image of the luxury fashion brand in front of the consumers. Social media marketing does commonalize the brand and bring a prospective consumer much closer to the brand. This works for most industries but the luxury fashion industry has been established on the exclusivity and elite quality that the products endorse. As such, using social media for marketing luxury fashion products and doing so in the interest of the brand has become a serious challenge for the luxury fashion brands. Few brands have not made their presence felt on social media platforms in order to keep their product and market niche (Ilyashov, 2015). However, the increasing activities on social media, the cost effective marketing tool that it has become and the increasing presence of potential customers has made it imperative for luxury fashion brands to utilize social media and incorporate SMM into their marketing mix. Therefore, the purpose of this research paper is to alleviate these concerns by understanding whether a luxury fashion brand receives positive or negative promotions by extending its marketing activities to social media platforms.
1.3 Research Question
In order to understand the analyses to the problem stated above, answering the following research questions shall help in fulfilling the objective of this paper:
- How does social media marketing affect the perception and decision of consumers with respect to luxury fashion brands and products?
- Is social media marketing a positive or a negative contributing factor in helping the corporate aims and objectives of luxury fashion brands?
2.0 Literature Review
This review of literature makes use of empirical research to understand the theory of consumption values that will be used in order to understand the research topic. Also, extensive work has been done by academicians and scholars in understanding the role played by social media with respect to the luxury fashion industry. This research paper, however, seeks to answer those questions that have been left in ambiguity.
2.1 The Theory of Consumption Values
This theory primarily focuses on the buying decision of a prospective consumer. It tends to answer whether a customer buys or does not buy a certain product and then investigate further into the factors that influence such a buyer in taking this decision (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991). This theory has been used to understand how the social media marketing techniques of a luxury brand affects the buying intention, behavior and decision of a prospective customer. This theory shall explain how the social media presence of the luxury fashion brand affects the buying behavior of customers.
In order to align the social media marketing of luxury fashion brands with the consumer buying behavior, it is important to understand how initiatives taken by the luxury fashion brands in promoting their products on social media are identified by the consumers. It could either bring the customers closer to the brand or lead to erosion of the brand value and dignity. Even though this remains subjective depending on the way in which the brand promotes its brand and products on social media, a general idea of consumer perception and its effect on buying behavior can be analyzed through the research process. The theory of consumption values is one of the better models that explain the buying intention of consumers by dividing the value created by the product into five different value propositions namely functional, conditional, emotional, epistemic and social values.
The predominant value that a customer looks for in a product or a service is the need or desire that it satisfies and the purpose it fulfils. This is known as the functional value of the product. The functional value of a product constitutes the utility, performance, quality amongst other factors. The economic benefit theory comes closest to justifying the functional value of a product and holds the price and any other value attached as the most important decision making factor (Antonides & Raaij, 1998). The needs of the consumers are the major drivers in giving rise to buying intention. However, in the case of luxury fashion products, it is mostly the desires of consumers that these luxury brands seek to fulfill.
The social value of a product holds a lot of relevance when luxury fashion products are subject of the case. This is mainly because these products carry an image of superiority, economic strength and social recognition and the same is lent to the consumers that buy these products. This, however, does not involve customers that follow luxury fashion products on social media pages but do not actually own any of them. However, the social value of a product is the social class or hierarchy the individuals with similar possessions are clustered or bundled into.
The consumer buying behavior as is being analyzed through the concept of social media marketing is to a large extent dependent on the peer groups and family circles that people are part of. The financial and educational strength of an individual is a major contributor in shaping his preference for products and influencing his buying decision. The professional environment of individuals, in modern-day society, requires them to act, behave and function in a way as is commanded by the social hierarchies and the social value of the product is at times the most important factor shaping buying decisions and intentions of such buyers (Schiffman & Kanuk, 1997). It has been empirically observed that the social media pages are frequently and closely followed by people of similar attitudes, behaviors and social circles (Schiffman & Kanuk, 1997).
One of the main reasons behind the extent to which social media influences people is due to the emotional value it creates. The reason behind brands promoting their products extensively on social media is that such marketing builds up an emotional value (either positive or negative) in the minds of the prospective consumer. Emotions such as excitement, satisfaction and loyalty initiate purchases whereas those of anger and guilt tend to distance consumers from brands and companies (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991).
One of the most important value propositions in a product that the modern-day consumer seems to be very interested in is the epistemic value. The feeling of newness or innovativeness that a product passes on to the consumer shapes the buying intention to a great extent. Social media platforms are utilized as low-cost means to market and promote the innovative features that products today are being launched into the market with. The switching behavior in such consumers is prominent whereas brand loyalty does not have a role to play in influencing decisions (Katz & Lazarsfeld, 1955). The innovativeness in products is a very important facilitator and this study shall investigate further as to how the epistemic value is conveyed to the target market by companies and brands in order to drive sales at a premium price.
This value is not tapped by social media platforms as this is subjective thereby differing from person to person and case to case (Kalafatis, Ledden, & Mathioudakis, 2010). However, social media presence for brands is important in order for it to be able to stem conditional value prospects in consumers. Time and place have been regarded as the most important determinants in creating the conditional value for a product.
The theory of consumption values is relevant only to understand the way in which consumers are influenced by different values that a particular product provides to them. This theory will be used in this research paper by aligning the same with social media and the role that is played by social media in building any or all of these values and hence, affecting the consumers’ buying behavior, brand perceptions and purchase decisions. This research is focused primarily at understanding how social media pages and platforms and the activity of luxury brands therein shapes the perception of consumers and attracts or repels them from a particular luxury brand and product.
2.2 Luxury, Luxury Products and Luxury Brands
Luxury is defined as anything that provides comfort rather than fulfilling a need and is difficult to obtain often when discussed in financial terms. Luxury products are ones that are made to last for a considerably longer time and carry the image of exclusivity for which a premium is charged by luxury brands (Kapferer & Bastien, 2012). Luxury products have been used to create social distinctions in society and draw hierarchies. In context of this research paper, luxury has been interpreted from a Western culture perspective and speaks about the present-day ongoing in the luxury fashion industry.
As far as this research is concerned, luxury fashion customers are not restricted to just the ones that buy luxury fashion products but also those that follow these brands and their products on social media. Even though a part of these customers aren’t exactly buyers, they can be termed potential buyers that do fall under the target population of such brands.
2.2.1 Social Media
Social media can broadly be defined as a collection of Internet-based applications that brings people together by creating and exchanging user generated content (Jahn, Kunz, & Meyer, 2012). In this context, a luxury fashion brand is bound to bring together people who have similar interests thereby using social media as a platform for these customers to openly communicate and express themselves.
2.2.2 Application of Social Media in Luxury Fashion Industry
Luxury brands have crafted their brand image solely on their own and the customers have been mere spectators and receivers wherein they have been subject to the marketing practices of these luxury brands (Jahn, Kunz, & Meyer, 2012). Social media as transformed a one-way communication process into a two-way communication process wherein consumers don’t just communicate with the brand but within themselves too (Kim & Ko, 2010). Due to these factors that the social media concept has embedded in its core working methodologies, consumer behavior and perception towards luxury fashion brands is being greatly influenced.
Since social media is a very broad concept analysis of which in its entirety is beyond the scope of this paper, this research paper focuses mostly on the two widespread social media platforms that are known to affect the luxury fashion industry predominantly namely Facebook and Instagram. Luxury fashion brands and consumers are known to frequent these social media platforms extensively. If messaging applications like Whatsapp are ignored, Facebook and Instagram are the most prominent social media platforms in the world.
Not only do these social media platforms boast of highest number of users, there are easily adaptable by luxury fashion brands and are preferred within the fashion industry (Morrison, 2015). Through the survey conducted, it was found that Facebook and Instagram are the most preferred options for consumers as far as luxury fashion brands were concerned. Facebook has 1.59 billion active users and is the most popular social media platform in the world and is expected to grow and retain its rank amongst the social network sites. Even though Instagram has just 400 million active users monthly, the nature of the application has ensured that it becomes the most popular choice for luxury brands to reveal and market their collections and events (Scott, 2015). Considering the framework of storytelling, use of photos and videos and attractive demographics, these two social media platforms have been selected as the most relevant ones in order to base this research upon. In the context of this research paper, the term ‘social media’ implies Facebook and Instagram only.
Social media has become such a predominant part of people’s perceptions, decisions and even lives that almost every luxury fashion brand has its presence in at least one of the social media platforms. However, it is still unclear as to how useful these social media pages have been to the brand and the image it has. The uncertainty regarding the outcome of such pages can be attributed to the fact that many of these luxury fashion brands do have a page but do not make use of it in the right sense to promote the brand (Okonkwo, 2010). The way in which a social media page is managed affects the image of the luxury brand to a great extent. If strategically managed, a well-planned social media strategy can promote the brand and products in the right sense whereas poor marketing on these pages can lead to self-cannibalization.
Primary as well as secondary research has been used in order to understand consumer buying behavior and purchase decision in relevance to the social media presence and activities of luxury brands. The author of this research paper is part of an educational course that requires her to understand the luxury fashion market in the contemporary sense and social media happens to be one of the most important marketing and promotion platforms for every company in modern-day globalized world. As such, this topic has been chosen to lend valuable insights into the way in which a prospective consumer interprets and perceives a particular luxury brand owing to the latter’s social media presence and marketing activities. On-ground research has been done and the findings have been coupled with literature retrieved from various data sources such as books, magazine, electronic journals, articles in periodicals and websites. Having carefully understood each of the four theories that explain consumer behavior, the theory of consumption values has been found to be the most comprehensive one that adheres to the objective of this paper. The data collected from the primary research has been put together to draw conclusions that happen to be the final outcome of this research paper.
3.1 Secondary Research
Secondary research has been done in order to understand the concepts of ‘luxury’, ‘social media’ and ‘impact of social media on luxury brands’. Empirical work done by researchers and scholar with respect to the luxury fashion market and social media and the dependability of the former on the latter has been used in the literature review. The theory of consumption values (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991) has been used in order to understand the social media impacts towards consumer brand perception and buying intention. The different facets of the theory of consumption values have been used to devise the online questionnaire and to understand how much of the decision making process is influenced by each value proposition as professed by Sheth (1991).
3.2 Primary Research
Primary research has been done by means of an online survey wherein the questions have been attributed to the different facets of the theory of consumption values and the same has been aligned with the objective of the paper.
3.2.1 Sampling Strategy
The data has been collected from the young college-going population of the colleges in Nottingham. Therefore, the results and findings represent the responses from a select population in a target market. It has been ensured that 100 people have taken the online survey and the findings have been based on the data collected therein. These questionnaires have been distributed in a strategic manner thereby gaining respondents that have either bought luxury fashion products or have been extensively active on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in following luxury brands and their products. Even though the questionnaire has been floated online, it has been ensured that the respondents belong to a target age group and are affected by similar socio-cultural and economic aspects. Students of the Nottingham Trent University and the University of Westminster form a major part of the entire population of respondents. The sampling method ensures that the findings of this study can be held true for a student population under 30 years of age that has been exposed to the luxury fashion world and is part of a developed economy.
It has been found through the results of this survey that social media has a predominant impact in shaping the brand perceptions and buying decisions of consumers. 78% of the respondents were of the view that social media activities of a particular luxury brand help them in creating an image about the brand, one that has a lasting role to play in shaping their buying behavior. The negative outcomes of social media marketing have been highlighted in this research paper but the findings show that the positive outcomes of such marketing by luxury fashion brands far outweighs the negative ones and that the luxury fashion brands that strategically promote their brand and products on social media have only benefitted from the same.
81% of the respondents were of the view that the social media page of a luxury fashion brand increases brand loyalty and enhances consumer buying by bringing the consumer closer to the brand, its products and every emotional and social impact that it creates. This proximity to the luxury fashion brand is created because luxury fashion brands often reveal insights of their brands, underlying stories and behind the scenes footage on social media to intrigue buyers. The collaborations of these brands with various events, excerpts from famous celebrities and brand ambassador programs are all extensively featured on social media thereby giving insights into the luxury brand that is otherwise missing from traditional marketing platforms such as television, newspapers, advertisements, billboards and sponsorships.
The major findings from the survey were:
- Facebook and Instagram are the most frequented social media platforms wherein consumers tend to follow activities of luxury fashion brands
- 80% of the respondents followed at least one social media page on either Facebook or Instagram
- 89% of the respondents preferred images and videos to text with respect to social media marketing for luxury fashion brands
- 37% of the respondents looked up to the emotional value of buying a luxury fashion product whereas 29% of the respondents felt that the social value created by the luxury brand on social media shaped their buying decisions
- 63% of the respondents felt that social media marketing brought the consumers closer to the brand whereas 27% felt that it did not affect their value for the brand
- 45% of the respondents felt that Burberry was the luxury brand they were most educated about whereas only 3% of the respondents claimed to have information about Saint Laurent. Burberry has excelled in the field of social media marketing whereas Saint Laurent has had very little social media presence
The different questions asked as part of the primary survey helped in understanding different facets of the social media influence that was felt by consumers with respect to luxury fashion brands. It was found, through the survey, that users found images and videos highly engaging and influential as opposed to text mostly because the products and the aesthetics can be promoted best in the visual sense. It was also analyzed that consumers are not just interested in the products and their features but the surrounding activities that encapsulate the luxury brand. In order to ensure that a consumer is loyal to a brand through social media activity, it is important that a lot more is promoted on social media. Consumers are interested in knowing the values that the brand stands for and the background activities that go on. This can be aligned to the theory of consumption values wherein the emotional value of a product rates as a more important facilitator to consumer perception as compared to the functional value of the product.
The assumption made early on in this research paper that a luxury brand might lose its sense of exclusivity by promoting its brand online does not hold true, if the results of the survey are to be believed. Only 11 per cent of the respondents felt that social media advertising makes a luxury fashion brand lose its exclusivity. The modern-day globalized world presents a market wherein every consumer willing to pay a predefined price is able to own a product he/she desires or needs. This is in contrast to a few decades earlier wherein luxury items and goods were believed to be reserved for the upper sections of the society and economic prowess was the sole determinant to decide ownership of luxury items. In order to remain profitable and grow with the growing market, the luxury fashion brands find it imperative to target a wider section of the market and this gives the power to the consumers to choose the products. The results of the survey have proven that bringing the brand closer to a consumer helps its image and turns the prospective consumer into a brand-loyal consumer.
Social media marketing educates the consumers about the brand from time to time and keeps them updated about the ongoing in the luxury fashion market. Almost the entire group of respondents was of the view that their knowledge and understanding about certain luxury fashion brands stems from their pursuits on social media. The respondents have very little or no idea about those luxury brands that have not opted for social media marketing whereas they were updated on trends, collections, products and fashion lines for brands that had extensive social media presence. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram create a present fan base while paving the way to find takers in future as the contemporary society is influenced by social media to a great extent. This is a positive influence that social media creates with respect to the brand perceptions of prospective consumers with respect to luxury fashion brands.
Most of the respondents in the survey were of the view that luxury brands should indulge in social media marketing as it only helps the brand gain customer trust, loyalty and appeal to a larger consumer base. Apart from being informative, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram bring together people of similar tastes and preferences in luxury products even though they are from different ethnicities, nationalities and backgrounds. Being a part of such a community is often perceived as quite attractive by many consumers who wish to keep themselves updated with social media ongoing in the luxury brand segment solely to be a part of a certain social group. This highlights the social value of a luxury brand and product that the theory of consumption values professes (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991).
From the results of the survey, it was found out that one of the key reasons social media helped luxury fashion brands was that it brought the exclusivity of the brand closer to the lives of the consumers (Jahn, Kunz, & Meyer, 2012). Some luxury brands have even failed in marketing their brand properly mainly because they have restricted the social media promotion to a one-way communication tool and have not realized the importance of consumers’ opinions when voiced on a social media platform. It was found that 75% of the respondents believed that they were more attracted to the brand when it allowed them to comment and have a say on their platforms. Brand responsiveness towards positive and negative feedback from consumers helped shape the buying intentions of consumers in a positive way as they felt they belonged to the brand family as long as they were heard.
The theory of consumption values when applied to the results of the data collected gives us clear insights into the way in which social media marketing helps in shaping brand perceptions of luxury fashion products. As can be seen from the results, only 45% of the respondents were interested in the functional value of the products. Most of the respondents were influenced by the social image of the brand and the social recognition that the brand would bring to them if their products were to be bought. Also, it was established that social media marketing when done strategically has a positive influence and there are little or no negative impacts. Neither is there any erosion of the brand exclusivity. In fact, luxury fashion products, by making their brands available on social media platforms, entice potential customers towards their product line by highlighting the emotional value of luxury fashion products. With luxury fashion products, it was found that the epistemic value held little or no relevance as innovation was not necessarily an attribute buyers looked for. The conditional value cannot be explained by the scope of this research but it was found that many of the prospective customers followed social media pages of luxury fashion brands to watch out for discounts and end-of-season sales. Hence, it can be concluded from the findings of this research that the emotional value and social value of luxury fashion products influences the buyers predominantly and that these values are highlighted on social media platforms by luxury fashion brands that have managed to use this tool as an effective marketing weapon.
The objective of this research paper was to analyze the impact that social media platforms have on the consumers’ brand perception of luxury fashion brands. For this purpose, Facebook and Instagram were the two popular social media platforms that were considered. Secondary as well as primary research was used in order to answer the research question. This research paper is an exploratory study that tries finding out whether social media promotions erode the exclusivity of luxury brands or bring consumers closer to the brand thereby creating a positive impact.
The primary research constituted an online survey that was conducted by means of a questionnaire that received 100 respondents most of which were young college going people that either followed social media pages of luxury brands or/and had bought luxury fashion products before. The findings from this study were that social media promotion has a positive impact on the image of the brand as it encourages two-way communication and enhances brand loyalty and trustworthiness whilst educating and informing consumers from time to time. This economic means of promotion helped in popularizing a brand and few felt that a brand lost its exclusivity due to its social media presence. It was also found that the social media marketing of a particular luxury fashion brand revolves around highlighting the emotional and social value of the product and the brand whereas the functional value hardly makes a very big difference to prospective buyers.
This study also revealed that even for luxury fashion brands, one of the biggest drivers for sales and customer loyalty happened to be the interaction between consumers and the brand. Social media happens to be a facilitating tool that engages user interaction with the brands and this enhances customer loyalty. However, it was found that only those brands that strategically promoted their brand and products on social media found it helpful whereas the brands that did not allocate proper resources faced negative repercussions.
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- Below 30
- Above 30
- Have you bought any luxury fashion products?
- Do you follow any social media pages for a luxury fashion brand?
- I don’t know
- Which social media platform do you use most often for following luxury fashion brands online?
- What type of content do you prefer to see on the social media page of luxury fashion brand?
- What attracts you to a luxury fashion product when the same is promoted on a social media platform?
- The quality and comfort it provides
- The happiness it brings into one’s life
- The way in which people socially perceive the product
- The innovative features as and when promoted
- The matter of chance when I see a product I need being marketed
- Rank (from 1 to 7 with 1 being the most preferred option) which of the following features attracts you the most in the social media page of luxury fashion brand.
- Information about the company
- Interesting updates about the brand, upcoming events and the product line
- Visual Content that has more personal touch and invokes emotions
- Ability to interact with the community of users
- Updates about discounts and sales
- Innovations in product and behind the scenes footage of the brand and its processes
- Please indicate whether you agree with the following or not in respect to your view of the social media presence of a luxury fashion brand.
- It brings me closer to the brand (Y/N)
- It enhances brand loyalty (Y/N)
- It creates desire by educating customers on frequent events (Y/N)
- It makes the brand more trustworthy (Y/N)
- Which of the following luxury brands (choose any number) are you most updated about?
- Saint Laurent
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