3. The Relationships between Luxury Characteristics and Brand Idenitity

3. The Relationships between Luxury Characteristics and Brand Idenitity

The constitutive characteristics of luxury products and brands form a part of the identity of luxury brands. Dependent on human identity, brands are also ascribed as having an identity. The brand identity comprises all brand associations that are intended by the company (Aaker 1996, p. 68). It corresponds with the intra-company self-perception of a brand, which determines precisely how the brand should appear to the external target groups. It builds the foundation for brand positioning, which relies only on the most relevant characteristics for brand differentiation. As shown in figure~\ref{fig:BrandIdentityConcept}, the brand image constitutes the anti-pole of the brand identity, corresponds with the public perception of a brand and is the result of marketing measures and other consumer experiences with a brand (Esch 2010, p. 90 et seq.; Kotler et al. 2009, p. 426).

The elements of common brand identity concepts can be divided into two main components. The first component covers the physical-functional, mainly product-related associations and the other component includes the abstract, emotional brand associations (Kapferer 2008, p. 171 et seqq.).

One of the major product-related associations luxury products have is a high degree of symbolic meaning. The symbolism of luxury products and brands covers a wide variety of emotional associations, which refer to a large extent to human personality traits (Vigneron and Johnson 2004, p. 490).Therefore, the emotional component of the luxury brand identity corresponds largely with the concept of brand personality, which is defined by Aaker (1997, p. 347) as "the set of human characteristics associated with a brand." The emotional component of the luxury brand identity and especially the luxury brand personality was analyzed in a study by Heine (2009b) (see also Heine andTrommsdorff 2010a, p. 458; see also Heine 2010e; Heine and Trommsdorff 2010c; Heine 2010d).

The physical-functional component of the luxury brand identity covers the associations between the brand’s products and the products’ attributes and benefits. As outlined above, luxury brands are defined by specific associations which are tied to their product characteristics.  Accordingly, luxury brands convey associations about a high level of price, quality, aesthetics, etc. Therefore, the constitutive characteristics of luxury products and brands determine the foundations of the physical-functional component of the luxury brand identity. At a minimum, each luxury brand aims at evoking at least these constitutive associations within their target group. They could be referred to as the "code of luxury’" that any luxury brand has to comply with (see also Kapferer and Bastien 2009b, p. 314).

According to the definition of luxury brands, a brand only qualifies as a luxury brand if it actually succeeds in evoking these associations in the minds of the consumers. As shown in figure 2, they have to transfer their intended brand identity into the minds of the consumers without it being distorted by other external influences, such as the marketing measures of competitors. Meeting this challenge requires great expertise in adequate marketing techniques. As many luxury brands are true masters in influencing consumer perceptions, Catry (2003, p. 10) refers to them appropriately enough as the "great pretenders’" (see one of the following chapters for an overview about the luxury marketing-mix strategies).

Figure 2: The Status of Brand Identity in Brand Management

Source: according to Esch 2010, p. 91