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The authenticity of luxury brands as percieved by the consumer (Part.1)

Authenticity represents a cornerstone for luxury branding. But how do consumers actually form authenticity judgements and what dimensions do they base them on? Research conducted by Prof. Felicitas Morhart and Prof. Lucia Malär sheds light on the meaning of authenticity.

Felicitas Morhart

By Felicitas Morhart12 octobre 2021

The Dior Spring/Summer 2022 collection presented at Paris Fashion Week recalled the youth revolution of the 1960s (Nhu Xuan Hua, Dior)

A brand’s perceived authenticity is of great importance for its success. Research conducted by Felicitas Morhart and Lucia Malär (professors at HEC Lausanne) sheds light on the meaning of authenticity in the realm of luxury brands as well as the challenges luxury brands face if they want to stay relevant as source for self-authentication in consumers’ quest for genuine consumption experiences. But how do consumers actually form authenticity judgements and what dimensions do they base them on?

Today, consumers increasingly appreciate values linked to a firm’s transparency in communicating. Indeed, in our increasingly virtual and thus artificial world, people appreciate and are driven by the actual values of brands. Consumers strive for real consumption experiences in their quest for increasing authenticity in a world of shallowness and hyperreality. Nevertheless, increasing globalisation and industrial limitations in the luxury sector are risking erosion and thus challenging authenticity in the luxury segment.

Approaches to authenticity judgements

The quality of the craftsmanship of a product influences the authenticity associated with the brand (Dior)

Before analysing the challenges brought by authenticity judgements for brands, it is crucial to understand how they are actually shaped in consumers’ minds. The first approach is Indexical Cues. Theyrefer to details that enable a distinction between “real” and “fake” luxury objects. For example, a built in “made in France” tag for LVMH products represents such an indexical cue. Secondly, a personally constructed phenomenoninfluences judgements, namely, Iconic Cues. That is, consumers may accept something as authentic if it matches their idea of what the real thing looks like in their mind. This is typically influenced by marketing communication. Lastly, Existential cues, describing information pieces relating observers to their own reality, thus connecting them to their “true selves”. Taking Louis Vuitton as an example, its brand name and ultimately French brand personality might evoke feelings of pride for a French consumer. In this sense, the brand’s values play a major role to make consumers feel true to themselves by consuming the brand. Hence, these three approaches show that consumer’s perceptions of authenticity can be based on factual evidence, beliefs and personal consciousness.

Dimensions of brand authenticity

Consumer’s perceptions of authenticity can be based on factual evidence, beliefs and personal consciousness

Felicitas Morhart, prof. at HEC Lausanne and founder of the Swiss Center for Luxury Research

Analysing how individuals form authenticity appraisals is, however, not enough for firms to understand how to tackle the challenges involved. For this reason, four dimensions that manifest customers’ perceptions of brand authenticity have been examined. The first, Continuity, stands for a brand’s timelessness and its ability to survive trends. A brand is thought of as continuous by consumers if it stays true to its heritage. The second, Credibility, refers to a brand’s honesty and transparency towards consumers, thus being perceived as trustworthy. Credibility can be earned through a high-quality commitment of products. Integrity, as the third dimension, denotes a brand’s moral purity, meaning it is led by intrinsically motivated and passionate people, putting the creation of value for their customers before profits. This underlines the moral connotation of a brand’s authenticity in consumers’ minds. The fourth and last is Symbolism, referring to the ability of brands to help customers be true to themselves by offering self-relevant assets such as values and role models, creating a source of identification for consumers. This last aspect is of major importance for consumers nowadays.

Porsche's expansion introducing a more family-friendly car may have an impact on its authenticity for some sports car fans (Shutterstock)

In conclusion, we could say that the more authentic a brand is perceived in terms of continuity, integrity, credibility and symbolism, the more emotionally attached consumers are to this brand, and the more likely they are to choose this brand over a less authentic equivalent.

In part 2, the arising management challenges as well as ways to handle the complex notions of authenticity for the success of future luxury brands will be discussed.

References

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