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The Emotions of Luxury

How emotions related to "self" and brand "truth" create perceptions of luxury.

When asked about luxury brands, most consumers mention unique design, great quality, high cost, and limited distribution. For many people, these are the characteristics that separate luxury from mainstream products.

A different question is why consumers buy luxury products. Studies show that the appeal of luxury is primarily psychological. These psychological factors, especially emotion, are the focus of my research.

But consumers also are rational beings; they are aware that they can buy products at mass-market retailers which have aesthetics and features similar to luxury brands but are a lot cheaper.

So how does the mind manage these complex behavioral judgments? Is the rational mind more likely to choose the mass market while our emotional mind yearns for luxury? Is it that simple?

Neuroscience tells us that the emotions associated with our judgments guide us in making decisions. Emotions and feelings are components of rationality in that they reveal what is important to us. For example, we can be emotionally drawn to good design, and then rationally decide whether the exceptional qualities of luxury design are worth the additional price versus the "good enough" qualities of a mass-market alternative.

But neuroscience only reveals the process our minds use to make a decision, not why we make one choice versus the alternatives. Evidence suggests that the decisions to purchase a luxury product are overwhelmingly emotional. Purchase behavior is a direct result of how a consumer perceives that a brand delivers the emotional end-benefits of buying and owning.

Emotional End-Benefit: "Who I Am"

Emotional end-benefits impact the consumer’s concept of self and play an important role in motivation. A consumer purchase of luxury brands frequently is driven by perceptions about self-identity, ideal self, social comparison, and other "self" motivations.

Our concept of self is in a constant state of regeneration. Because luxury products have the power to change the consumer’s perception of who they are by altering the self, they deliver desired emotional end-benefits, including self-esteem and hedonic feelings, such as satisfaction and power.

Emotional End-Benefit: "How I Feel"

A different psychological motivation is found in consumers who have a deeper connection to luxury brands. This primarily exists in consumers who have greater financial means and involves high-end luxury brands.

For these consumers, luxury is an integral part of their lifestyle. They experience emotions of trust, security, contentment, and confidence. These emotions are evoked by perceptions that their luxury brands are authentic and timeless. For these consumers, it is not enough that a product is well designed and crafted with the best materials and workmanship. The luxury brands they treasure have the rare and intangible quality of truth.

Luxury brand truth is a visceral connection between the consumer and the brand. While this truth arises from a product’s design and features, it is primarily brought about by a deeper understanding of a brand’s essence. Truth is expressed in narrative and other communication which breathes life into the brand, evoking perceptions of authenticity and timelessness.

In this context of truth, authenticity means that a brand was created to satisfy a vision that expresses excellence in the product category; and that the brand remains faithful to that vision irrespective of shifts in market trends. Timelessness means that the brand will impart feelings of trust, security, contentment, and confidence over the life span of ownership.

It is interesting that consumer perceptions of luxury brand truth are not found exclusively in heritage brands with a long and distinguished past. Indeed, consumers identify some classic brands that have lost their veracity, having surrendered their authenticity and timelessness by embracing a style aesthetic or other factor that contradicts their perceived truth. On the other hand, a new brand can achieve truth when its underlying concept embodies the principles of authenticity and timelessness.

From the perspective of this consumer research on luxury, there are multiple dimensions of emotion which affect the luxury consumer. The broader market is motivated by emotions evoked by enhancing perceptions of the self through luxury products. Wealthier luxury market consumers are motivated by emotions associated with a brand’s core reason for being, perceived in terms of authenticity and timelessness. All of these dimensions create perceptions of luxury in the mind of the consumer.

© 2016 Peter Noel Murray, Ph.D.

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