Unpacking the following: The divide between Aspirational and Purchase Oriented consumers of luxury brands

Going back to the Financial Times summary of the Altagamma and McKinsey & Co report which highlighted that the social media channels of luxury brands don’t have direct influence on sales it’s time to consider the second of the more “abstract” queries from my first response to the Altagamma and McKinsey & Co study.

Today I am looking at No.4 of my list: Is this the divide between aspirational and purchase oriented consumers of luxury brands?

Just to refresh: although the Facebook Likebase and Twitter Followerbase of these brands may be sizeable, according to the Altagamma and McKinsey & Co study this does not directly influence or translate into sales for the luxury brands.

If we juxtapose this conclusion with the the findings of ComScore and Facebook’s white paper The Power of Like Europe: How Social Marketing Works for Retail Brands which looked at how European retailers are using Facebook to increase their profile and brand awareness and drive purchases; this report found that tretailers saw significant value in terms of brand awareness, reach to new consumer audiences, visits to their websites and purchases.

Perhaps one other factor in the different returns luxury brands vs fashion retailers are seeing is the demographics of the connections being made by their social following? Perhaps in addition to the expected customer types, there are other demographics in the social following of brands?

What happens when demographics is more than just the traditional indicators (age, location…)?

Luxury brands are the ultimate in aspirational marketing . They represent the epitome of quality for specific products to consumers and the connection with a brand goes beyond purchase value into emotional and social currency (and perhaps even beyond that…).

In the Luxury Society ‘s summary of the 2012 BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Brands rankings, one point made was about the connection consumers form with brands:

“This year, we saw the growing importance of meaning,” continued Eileen Campbell. “For years we’ve known that consumers seek more from brands than just functional benefits. They’ve long formed emotional bonds with the brands they choose. But increasingly, we’re seeing those connections reserved for brands that consumers can be proud to call their friends.”

Source: What the 2012 BrandZ™ Top 100 Means for Luxury

Consider this:

  • A Purchase Oriented Consumer is, like water, going to find the level that enables them to purchase the goods they want online
  • An Aspirational Consumer is probably less likely to navigate to a functional sales funnel (even if such funnels existed to facilated their purchases), since the connection is more likely to be an emotional one than a connection resulting from a direct and functional imperative.
  • An Aspirational Consumer of the brand may not be purchase-focused at all. They are part of a culture that maintains and propogates the brand’s myth, social currency and image as something to aspire to, not necessarily something to own.

Both types are consuming the brand:

  • Purchase oriented consumers are buying into the brand through physical purchases, which can be measured in revenue
  • Aspiration oriented consumers are buying into and propogating the brand’s mythology

And both are essential to the health and future longevity of the brand.

Who are the aspiration-oriented consumers of luxury brands?

Without access to the back-end reporting for these brands that’s hard to pin-point exactly, plus it may shift from brand to brand. However there will be some common consumer characters in the social followings of luxury brands:

They are the influencers

Hubspot’s post Why you need social media followers who won’t ever buy discusses the value of influencers to brands:

If you can build up a large following for your business in social media, you probably have a few influencers among the bunch. While these influencers may follow but never buy from you, remember that these people are called influencers for a reason. They can introduce you to co-marketing partnerships, put in a good word with investors, and provide introductions to other influencers, bloggers, and experts in your industry.

Source: Hubspot’s Why you need social media followers who won’t ever buy

Influencers are the small quantity of followers who wield real influence over people beyond their immediate connections (think bloggers, stylists, journalists and more).

They are the referrers

Apart from influencers/tastemakers who can propogate the brand to the audience on the influencer’s own channels, aspiration oriented consumers can also be referrers:
Indirect exposure to your followers’ personal networks can be an invaluable source of business. Okay, so Frank the Facebook fan may never actually purchase your industrial vacuum cleaner for his teeny tiny small business office. But when his buddy, landlord Lenny, is searching for a new onefor the apartment building he owns, Facebook fan Frank might just refer you some highly qualified business.

These are the followers that buy into and propogate the brand’s value and mythology amongst their direct connections. They are the brand’s own followers who become (unpaid) propogating agents for the brand and luxury mythology amongst their direct connections.

They are the tomorrow people

Amongst other things, they are the consumers of tomorrow and they may also be the designers of tomorrow.

Leaving aside the students (tomorrow’s designers and the primogenitors of future luxury brands), consider how many followers have connected to luxury brands as a result of the inclusion and representation of that brand in popular culture.

This is particularly evident in tween and young adult focussed shows like Gossip Girl (and shows like Pretty Little Liars which style on more affordable fashions). There is a definite grooming process going on in terms of luxury fashion and the tween/young adult market.

Apart from show sites making select lines available on thier own sites, sites like celebstyle.com, www.gossipgirlfashion.net and fashionofpll.tumblr.com profile and curate the costumes from each show. They outline the designers, the prices, where to purchase from and even looks for less. How many GG watchers have discovered Marc Jacobs thanks to Blair’s wardrobe?

The younger viewers of these shows are effectively being socialised into the aspirational brand mythology and are potentially being groomed for future purchases when they hit the age, independence and income allowing it. They are the future consumers of many of these brands.

And the visibility of brand goes beyond shows as celebrity dressing trends continue:

I think in a few years each brand will have a face associated with it, something where some money has been exchanged to use the likeness of a celebrity, and the stars will wear the brand from shoes to hats. Celebrity dressing will purely be product placement, openly and outwardly.

Source: Quote from Carol Brodie in Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

Tween/Young Adult consumers should be part of the social following of luxury brands although they may not yet be in a position to purchase them.

This demographic is highly social online. Pew Internet reported in May 2012:

Fully 95% of all teens ages 12-17 are now online and 80% of those online teens are users of social media sites.

Source: Pew Internet Social Networking (full detail)

They are also likely to have social profiles on Facebook (and other social sites):

In total, 59% of teen social media users have an account on just one site, while 41% have accounts on multiple sites. Among teens with one social media profile, 89% maintain that one account on Facebook while the remainder is spread among a number of sites. And for teens with multiple accounts, fully 99% have an account on Facebook. Put another way, account ownership for the vast majority of teen social media users boils down to either “Facebook only” or “Facebook plus another site or sites.

Source: Pew Internet Facebook dominates teen social media in Teens, kindness and cruelty on social networks (November 2011)

And they are also active second screen viewers – they can potentially research and connect with brands who they discover through the show…while watching the show…

Given these characteristics and the brands own activities to expose younger consumers to their offerings, brand social channels should have a share of this audience in their social following of luxury brands. They are the future consumers of the brand, after all:

  • Whether they become purchase-oriented or aspiration-oriented consumers will be interesting to see.
  • There is always the possibility that by the time these markets matures, the social channel offerings available to and utilised by brands may have shifted too and there will always be attrition from one medium to the next.


As will my post Don’t mess with the classics: a different purchase ecosystem for luxury goods I think that the likebase/social following connecting with luxury brands on channels like Facebook are doing so for a wide range of reasons, beyond simply purchase focused.

It’s likely that the range of reasons and imperatives to connect with luxury brands socially are different to the reasons/imperatives driving the social following of high street retailers, where there may be a more functional and direct imperative(s) to purchase.

Perhaps there is a connection ecosystem as well as a purchase ecosystem? Perhaps the value of the social channels in driving luxury fashion purchases needs to be seen across the whole connective and purchase ecosystems and with a longer scope than other retailers? And perhaps the KPIs need to be more than sales focussed (e.g. trends/spikes of connections around non-retail milestones/events)?

One Response to “Unpacking the following: The divide between Aspirational and Purchase Oriented consumers of luxury brands”
  1. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.

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