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Research Context The term User Generated Content (UGC) refers to a wide range of consumers' contributions shared through digital and social platforms. These contributions can take the form of blogs, articulated collections of images, homemade videos (or even “homemade advertising” campaigns) and various types of product reviews and product usage demonstrations (Berthon, Pitt, & Campbell, 2008; Fader & Winer, 2012). In a previous study, we reviewed the OECD (2007) official definition of UGC to encompass the evolving and more holistic nature of this phenomenon. We defined UGC as “content in the form of text, sound, visuals or videos, which has been created by or in collaboration with consumers and disseminated through social platforms across various digital and non-digital channels. UGC can be centered on a brand, product or service or revolve around a topic/issue of interest to the consumer. It can be either solicited as part of commercial or non-commercial initiatives or contributed spontaneously by the consumer” (Montecchi & Nobbs, 2012). Marketing managers are now facing a completely different landscape where the more traditional approaches to brand promotion “are giving way to a messy tangle of market-based communications consisting of multiple authors including customers, competitors, observers, employees, and interested collectives” (Muniz Jr. & Schau, 2011). In this context, UGC is a clear representation of how the balance of power and control has shifted from brands to consumers (Sheehan, 2010; Pires, Stanton, & Rita, 2006; Berthon, Pitt, Plangger, & Shapiro, 2012). Amongst the various sectors which have benefited from a constant growth of digital channels and consumers' online engagement, the luxury industry has shown some astonishing results. After an initial skepticism, major luxury organisations have embraced digital channels from both a distribution and marketing communications perspective, following the success of online pure-players such as Net-A-Porter. With online sales projected to grow steadily, luxury brands need to learn how to engage more effectively with a new generation of hyper-connected customers by re-addressing the balance of power and control they want to manage. Purpose of the Research By building on Smith, Fischer, & Yongjian (2012) framework for the analysis of UGC, this research aims to map the features of brand related UGC across three social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) with a particular focus on the luxury product/market context. Through the analysis of a sample of brand-related digital contributions, a set of customer profiles will be constructed to highlight further targeting opportunities for luxury brands. Three brands operating at global level (Louis Vuitton, Rolex and Burberry) will be selected as the context of this investigation since these generate a significant level of consumers' discussion and engagement on digital media. Methodology The research design is based on observational netnography and content analysis (Ertimur & Gilly, 2011; Kozinets, 2002). A sample of 100 consumers' contributions for each brand, published on each of the three selected platforms, will be analysed for a total of 900 pieces of UGC. The framework which will be used for the analysis is derived from the research conducted by Smith, Fischer, & Yongjian (2012). It allows researchers to explore the level of customers' self-presentation, the centrality of the brand in the content shared, whether there is an attempt to a brand-directed communication and associated responses and whether the content is more factual or emotional. The brand sentiment in each piece of content will also be measured. The results of this analysis will be used to construct a multi-dimensional set of customer profiles by building on the UGC typologies identified. This will provide luxury brands with an effective tool to enhance their market segmentation and targeting capabilities.
INTRODUCTION The term luxury usually defines not a category of products but a conceptual and symbolic set of dimensions. These dimensions comprise values that are strongly related to cultural elements and the wider socio-economic context (Vickers & Renand, 2003). Vickers and Renand (2003) recognised luxury goods as symbols of personal and social identity. Luxury is often used as a social marker, as a social stratification tool to reinforce a hierarchy (Okonkwo, 2010, Kapferer & Bastien, 2009). Due to the subjective nature of the luxury concepts and the complexity to define it, perceptions of luxury brands are not consistent across market segments and geographic locations (Phau & Prendergast, 2000), since they depend largely on each consumer's perception of indulgence. A common denominator between consumers in both Western and Eastern cultures is that the purchase of luxury brands serves to portray individuality and/or social standing (Nueno & Quelch, 1998; Vigneron & Johnson, 2004). Consumption of luxury brands is largely determined by social function attitudes (i.e. self-expression attitude and self-presentation attitude) as consumers express their individuality (e.g., need for uniqueness) and exhibits their social standing (e.g., self monitoring) through luxury brands (Wilcox et al., 2009). It is of growing importance for researchers and managers to understand how consumers' perceptions of value, influences buying criteria and behaviour (Tynan et al., 2010; Wiedmann, Hennigs, & Siebels, 2007). The perception of value by consumers is given a higher importance (Tynan et al., 2010) however the measurement of luxury value is not agreed amongst scholars and practitioners. Vigneron and Johnson (2004) proposed a structure of the luxury concept and presented the “brand luxury index” framework. Wiedmann et al. (2007) offered a conceptual model of luxury value perceptions highlighting four dimensions, namely: social, personal, functional, and financial values. Tynan et al. (2010) have adapted the earlier work by Smith and Colgate (2007) on generic value framework and suggested a conceptual model based on the following concepts: utilitarian, symbolic/ expressive, experiential/hedonic, relational, and cost/ sacrifice value. With the emergence of new concepts and levels of luxury, the measurement of value becomes even harder. According to Unity Marketing (2006) “…‘old luxury' was about the attributes, qualities and features of the product and much of its appeal was derived from status and prestige. The new luxury consumer defines the category from their point of view. Today's new luxury consumers focus on the experience of luxury embodied in the goods and services they buy, not in the ownership itself.” Robins and Ricca (2012) propose an alternative perspective on the established ‘new' vs. ‘old' luxury dichotomy. According to the authors, the more brands define themselves as belonging to the world of luxury, the more the concept becomes meaningless as luxury becomes ‘massified'. They introduce the concept of Meta-Luxury as a new form of luxury that escapes the cliché of luxury and establishes the “luxury beyond luxury”. In these complex scenarios, luxury brands are on a constant quest to remain relevant and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage. According to Beverland (2004) marketers now need to use “a complex combination of dedication to product quality, a strong set of values, tacit understanding of marketing, a focus on detail, and strategic emergence” in order to effectively manage luxury brands. With the recent focus on co-creation of value, luxury brand management has evolved to include dialogue and complex interactions between the brand owner, employee, customers and other social groups and communities (Tynan et al. 2010) making success factors harder to track. Purpose This paper aims to conceptualize a measurement tool that could be used in the evaluation and classification of a luxury brand's performance and to assess how these dimensions evolve as the brand moves from mature towards more emerging luxury markets. This paper seeks to make a contribution, by providing a systematic review of the definitions of a luxury brand provided by various authors. It seeks to establish patterns and inconsistencies and to summarise them in a performance measurement matrix (the LPM framework) which can be used to identify growth strategies and to support future managerial developments. Design/methodology/approach The methodological approach followed in this paper was to systematically review the academic literature on luxury brands and to reduce the numerous factors cited as components and identifiers of luxury brands to a more manageable number of macro-themes. Through the analysis of the dimensions identified (with a further distinction between ‘new' and ‘old' luxury brands), the researchers intended to clarify the key elements of success that impact on brands competitiveness, leading to the definition of the items in the scale. In order to validate the elements, a survey was implemented to identify the most crucial indicators by building on the results of the systematic review. The aim of the survey was to clarify detailed criteria for each of the dimensions in order to construct an effective measurement scale. The scale was tested on four luxury brands selected amongst those perceived as ‘old' / traditional luxury and ‘new'/emergent luxury. Findings Amongst academics and practitioners there is no common agreement or clear parameters that delineate what luxury is or the strategies such brands employ. This leads to confusion in the definition of the elements that constitute a luxury brand as well as in the brand management process. This paper proposes an alternative measurement scale to the Brand Luxury Index Scale developed by Vigneron and Johnson by focusing on a strategic overview of the performance of luxury brands in the UK market. It attempts to evaluate the performances of key luxury players by using a value-curve approach (Kim and Mauborgne, 2005) as a measurement tool. The value curve is a both a diagnostic and an action tool which captures the current state of play in the market space. The different constituents of the proposed Luxury Performance Matrix (LPM) should be considered when measuring the performance of a luxury brand and its capacity for value creation. The visual representation of the LPM model, allows marketers and brand managers to easily evaluate what aspects and strategic directions should be prioritized. It also allows to capture the brand's performance across the key competitive factors of the industry and to determine which factors need to be raised above competition as way to increase competitiveness in the marketplace. The Luxury Performance Matrix proposed in this paper represents a major contribution to the measurement and evaluation of the competitive performances of established and ‘new' luxury brands, in mature and emerging markets. Originality/value The proposed matrix will allow luxury brand managers to assess the current presence in the marketplace and develop more in-depth understanding of the brand's performance. The findings provide valuable strategic insights for luxury brands operating across emerging and established product/market contexts.
Launched in 2008 and 2010 respectively, Instagram and Pinterest are two of the fasted growing social media platforms with 220 million users combined (Leverage 2014, Techcrunch 2014, Loren & Swiderski 2012). Their success is due to their simplicity and a focus on visuals rather than text, furthermore they are described as platforms with strategic potential for fashion brands (Wired 2012). Despite this, many fashion brands have been slow to engage with them. However the Huffington Post (2012) suggests that the visual social media has a wide appeal with respect to both brand positioning and increasing awareness. Recent research by Mashable (2014) highlights that referral traffic and spend is higher from Pinterest users than Facebook users, and this contributes to the rationale for study. The aim of this reseach is twofold, firstly it is to explore the reasons for the utilisation of visual social media platforms within a fashion brands marketing planning cycle, and second it seeks to identify the strategic and operational ways in which fashion brands can use them. For the purpose of this paper only Instagram and Pinterest are investigated. Using a qualitative and inductive approach, the study will use in-depth elite interviews with 6 UK fashion brands (2 Luxury, 2 mid-market, 2 value) alongside content analysis of their platforms. This will enable the research to also consider how each platform can be harnessed at different levels of the market therefore contributing to the lack of empirical applied research in this area.
Anna Dello Russo has worked with H&M, the Sartorialist's Scott Schuman has written his second book and home-grown Susie Bubble has consulted for Gap, Armani and Selfridges to name a few. There is no doubt that these figures are key influencers in the world of fashion and they are turning their efforts and knowledge into fiscal benefits. Fashion blogs have become not only a form of user-generated content, a medium for communicating to the masses without any prior training or knowledge, but have also evolved to become a new marketing communications channel in their own right. Fashion writers are not only dictating content to esteemed fashion titles that were once only contributed to by the fashion journalist elite, but they are engaged as brand consultants with the aim of shaping the future direction of brands in terms of content, style and scope. When did all this power and influence happen and how can we measure it? This is the central question inherent to this study's focus. The dynamic nature of digital, online and social media activities means that most research is out of date or getting closer to ‘expiry' even as the ink dries on the page. To exemplify: research dated just three years ago still includes MySpace in a comprehensive list of online networks and social media sites (e.g. Mir and Zaheer, 2012) and ‘second life' as an innovation [albeit this has been experiencing somewhat of a renaissance within certain consumer sectors in recent times]. This aside, the point is thus: academic scholarship cannot keep up with the rapid rate of digital change in the landscape, but it continues to try, as does this humble study. A volume of research has recently contributed to the understanding of the influence of social media in the fashion sphere, predominately from an electronic word-of-mouth (e-wom) perspective, for example (Bronner and Hoog, 2013; Fang, 2014; Hennig-Thurau, 2004; Kulmala et al., 2013; Liu, 2006; Trusov et al., 2009) engagement with social media (e.g. Campbell et al, 2012; Dhaoui, 2014). This body of literature has supplied a solid foundation for understanding why user-generated content may be shared and under what circumstances and to whom. However, a limitation of these significant contributions are reasons for propensity to influence, that is, once it has been shared, distributed and circulated, how do we measure the impact of this influence? Yes we can use analytics to quickly demonstrate quantitative and numerical impact in terms of followers, traffic, interaction, sales and (not so quickly) the wider reach of blogs on PR for brands, brand-metrics and customer engagement. But what about the wider influential impact of key social media writers and opinion leaders, or those that follow and listen to them: how can we evaluate this impact of influence? How does it work? Why does it work with some over others? We seek to find answers around this notion of social influence and ask: why do people listen to bloggers? Do consumers of this information distinguish between platforms: do they prefer blogs? Twitter? Picture-content through Instagram or Pinterest? Is there a gender difference? Considering also the rise in ‘erasable' social media in the form of SnapChat, which lasts ten seconds before ‘self destructing': what impact are these having in terms of influence in particular sectors like fashion, how can brands harness this power and use it to build equity, target new consumers, increase sales and revenue? In other geographical domains, such as China, where social media constraints and censorship are notable, emerging applications like WeChat are increasing in popularity, first with consumers, but retail and fashion brands are also beginning to endorse them to facilitate a meaningful conversation with their customers through these innovations. We also aim to explore the current state of play regarding terminology for social media contributors – are they still bloggers even though they create content across-platform? (It would be unusual for example, for a popular and credible blogger to only have a blog and no twitter or Instagram activity). Is the term blogger naturally all-encompassing or is it a misnomer that we need to create new terminology to explain these phenomena? Cullen (2014) the fashion magazine editor of Elle Australia created a blogger award ceremony to honour the contribution of these fashion influencers and comments that: “We picked the ones that we felt have the most traction with our readers. It is very clear we are in a blogger boom right now and everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon and [the nominees] gave fashion this new relevance. They took fashion and democratized it, so rather than have to see what the designer wanted you to see [on the catwalk], they took the runway fashion and put it together in their own ways. They made it wearable, as they mixed it with other labels and all those things that make an outfit work for real life.” This quote serves to illuminate an example of the commercial impact of fashion bloggers in the fashion sector and the relevance that influential opinion leaders believe they can have on their readership. Thus, we seek, through our research, to interrogate existing literature on social media, marketing, consumption and consumer psychological theories in the context of fashion influence with the aim of contributing to understanding in this fast-evolving transformative sector. Social media has been defined as: ‘A group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content. (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010, .61). Within this context, social media applications exist to facilitate user interaction, and include blogs, content communities, discussion boards and chat rooms, product and/or service review sites, virtual worlds, and social networking sites (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010; Mangold and Faulds, 2009). In this paper we focus on social networking, which refers to applications, such as Facebook and Twitter, Instagram/Pinterest and more disposable aps like Snapchat. Essentially, we take an all-embracing approach to understanding social media, as this is simply how it is used by consumers, in the virtual landscape (for example, users do not distinguish between platforms, they simply use the most appropriate means to communicate their content at that time). We aim to contribute a perspective that is original by investigating existing literature in two territories: social media influence and Social Impact Theory, which we will use as a theoretical perspective to explore the influence of social media on fashion. A Theoretical Lens: Social Influence Theory (SIT) After dismissing other theoretical frameworks for our study's focus including: Uses and Gratifications theory; Involvement and Motivation, the choice to focus on Social Impact Theory (SIT) (Latane, 1981) was rationalized by the centrality of influence as a construct, to the characteristics of the theory. SIT (Latane, 1981) maintains, “as the number of people increases the impact on the target individual's attitude and behavior enhances”. As influence is inherent to our aim, this theory, albeit being created almost two decades before the concept of social media, may have transferable qualities that may aid comprehension of understanding into the complexities associated with understanding the influence of social media in the fashion sector. This seemingly large leap from a traditional application of the theory to the virtual world is made more plausible by at least one previous study, that has started to also recognize the value of this framework for understanding online activity for example, Mir and Zaheer (2012) who use SIT in the contexts of social media and banking. The theory has not however, been used thus far in the realm of fashion and social media, thus, a study of this kind aims to contribute to knowledge in this field. Social impact has been defined by the founding father of the theory as: ‘Any of the great variety of changes in physiological states and subjective feelings, motives and emotions, cognitions and beliefs, values and behavior, that occur in an individual, human, or animal, as a result of the real, implied or imagined presence or actions of other individuals'. (Latané, 1981, p. 343) Latané (1981) created social impact theory to validate his hypothesis about how influence works, which led to the identification of three factors that make up social impact theory: 1) Strength: How important is the influencing group to the target of the influence; 2) Immediacy: How close in proximity and in time is the influencing group to the target of the influence; 3) Number: How many people are in the influencing group. Taking each one of these in turn, the leverage of these variables to a social media context seems obvious. Social media by its very nature encourages a ‘pull' approach to groups or communities (hence the ‘strength' variable); the ‘immediacy' of social media in the sense that messages can be communicated and responded to in real time, have been facilitated by social media capabilities. Finally, the third variable of SIT is ‘number'; in a virtual world, there is a real sense that there is no limit to the amount of people you can communicate with. To exemplify, we refer to Facebook with its 9 Billion plus users as an example of this reach, or Lady GaGa with her 44 Million plus followers on Twitter. This succinct insight into SIT theory provides a short rationale as to its applicability to a social media context, specifically the fashion sector. A more in-depth analysis of its use and application to this study will be developed for the final paper following data collection.
Social media has radically altered marketing's ecology of influence. Moreover, through the rise of visual social media platforms in recent years, marketers are facing new challenges. Adopting an exploratory approach, our study combines interviews and content analysis to explore the managerial perspectives to brand storytelling through visual content site Pinterest and to assess its potential as a strategic marketing communications tool.