Intimacy & exclusivity on a 2.32 billion users platform
Intimacy & exclusivity on a 2.32 billion users platform
Role – researcher
Research methods – 1:1 interviews, focus groups, expert interviews
As the smartphone penetration in rises Western Europe (258.1 millions users in 2017), so does the quantity of people that can be reached through mobile apps. A priceless opportunity for luxury companies since, whilst they aim to project exclusivity, a part of their value lies in general awareness of the brand.
By retaining an exceptionally high level of attention, involving the user through interactivity and globally not being perceived as disrupting the initial purpose of a mobile phone, notable studies have even shown mobile apps allow a positive persuasive influence on the consumer and augment their interest in the brand (Bellman et al., 2011).
However – mobile apps can enhance a luxury brand’s image as much as they can dilute it, depending on how it is tailored and used. For instance, Mahyari (2013) noted that failure to project exclusivity in a context where mobile apps are easily and widely accessible can lead to a degraded perception of the brand.
Reduced screen size on mobiles and the fact that there are used in multiple contexts during the day, also makes consumers’ perception of a brand in a mobile environment difficult to predict. The same uncertainty applies in determining consumers’ reaction to advertising on a device as personal as the mobile phone.
So, how exactly can luxury brands leverage mobile apps to elevate their brands?
Identify how absolute and accessible luxury companies can convey an optimised brand image in a mobile app environment.
Understand why absolute and accessible create apps and what they expect from these apps.
Build an accurate and comprehensive insight into consumers’ behaviour and expectations in terms of in-app branding.
Outline targeted and implementable recommendations to optimise in-app branding for both brands and consumers.
This research focused on understanding the motivations, interpretations, and behaviours of the stakeholders involved in in-app branding – implying multiple realities and perspectives.
Plus, the very observation of these realities and perspectives entailed a degree of interpretation on my part, as researcher.
The core of this research residing in an analysis of various human perceptions, opinions and behaviours, justified a subjectivist approach relying on qualitative data. In opposition, an objectivist procedure, relying on quantitative and extensive data, and operating the “control and simplification necessary for measurement” (Djebarni et al., 2014 p38), would limit the depth of the resulting understanding and recommendations.
Identifying the strategic motivations and objectives driving luxury brands’ to build mobile apps
I used two case studies – particularly relevant for new research topics for which only a few theories exist/are applicable (Eisenhardt, 1989; Rowley, 2002): one with a renowned hotel chain, the other with a private jets company.
The questions to both brands were semi-structured – to combine structure, richness of data and flexibility while allowing comparison. To avoid restricting the answers unnecessarily, I mostly used open-ended leading questions.
Customers’ usage and expectations towards luxury branded apps
Focus groups, relying on the communication and interaction amongst participants to produce data (Kitzinger, 1995), seemed best suited to investigate this second question. Because individual participants don’t have to answer every question posed, they tend to be more spontaneous – generating more accurate, richer data.
Also, since individuals often have difficulties projecting themselves beyond what already exists, the opportunity for participants to build upon each other’s points limited this effect in a way that individual interviews couldn’t.
To increase the validity, credibility and reliability of the results, each luxury type – absolute (e.g. Prada) and accessible (e.g. Swarowski) – was represented by both an 18-34 years of age group and a 35-55 years of age group. This age-based segmentation was justified by the significant drop in smartphone penetration rate and mobile app usage between 18-34 and 35-55.
The sample was made of:
– one group of Absolute luxury consumers, aged 18-34
– one group of Absolute luxury consumers, aged 35-55
– one group of Accessible luxury consumers, aged 18-34
– one group of Accessible luxury consumers, aged 35-55
The participants have been selected in such a way to have a similar socio-economic background, a comparable level of confidence and trust each other (Stevens, 1996) – with regards to the validity and accuracy of the results, and to encourage openness and communication .
What do luxury brands hope to get from building mobile apps?
Enhancing Brand Image via Channel diversification
Both participants viewed their mobile app as an opportunity to grow and secure their consumer base. As an “additional lead source”, it could attract new customers. By providing an additional choice of platform, it could help retaining existing ones. Indeed, channel diversification allows brands to tailor the way their service is delivered based on the consumer’s situation (e.g. on-the-move, searching for immediate information versus at home, simply browsing the brand’s offer). This versatility tends to promote enriched user experience of the brand, enhancing their perception of that brand.
Additionally, both brands planned to use diversification to optimise the service delivered by the app. In particular, this service optimisation aimed to improve the user’s decision-making and purchasing processes. For instance, brand A aimed for the app to easily and seamlessly provide accurate quotations for their services, and to “reduce friction in the quoting process” while brand B intended to give its “users a chance to personalize their experience”.
Hence, a large part of the brands’ motivations to build a mobile app rooted in channel diversification.
Enhancing Brand Image via Brand differenciation
Both participants also aimed for a positive differentiation of their brand from their competitors, by projecting technological advancement and an ability to “move on with the times”. For instance, brand A mentioned that “being among the first players in the industry to build an app” was one of the main motivations to create their own.
In this vein, brand A also described their app as a “status symbol”. Indeed, mobile apps involve heavy costs, yet are not essential for a brand to thrive. Hence, companies that are able to afford these costs and are willing to invest in an app appear more established. The fact that only brand A saw their app as a symbol of status supports the idea that brand’s competitive environment shape their motivations and objectives for building an app. Indeed, an app is a differentiation factor for brand A as they still building their reputation, and their competitors are slowly adopting mobile apps. Brand B on the other hand has a worldwide reputation, and most of their direct competitors already have mobile apps. Hence, the participants’ respective competitive environments seem to be the origin of this divergence in motivations.
Additionally, brand B explained that their app aimed to unify their hotel chain’s brand image – until now, each geographic location had its own app -. This suggests that luxury brands may also create apps to help redefine their brand image and affirm it as a unique brand presence. Indeed, a unique and differentiated brand image is more memorable, more recognisable, and establishes a clear distinction between the brand’s offer and that of competitors. Hence, brand differentiation enhances brand image in that it allows to better capture and retain the audience’s interest.
Along with channel diversification, the brands studied hoped that brand differenciation would enhance their brand image in the eyes of their target audience, in turn attracting and retaining customers and driving sales.
How do luxury brands hope to benefit from luxury branded apps?
What do users need and expect from these apps?
Both types of luxury consumers highlighted they would rather visit a brand’s physical store or website rather than their mobile app. The main reasons for this were: the reduced screen size (making in-app interaction seem more tedious); and the participants’ feeling that they didn’t have a sufficient level of intimacy with the brand to download its app on their personal phone. Consequently, all participants agreed that for them to download and use a luxury app, it had to offer a clear, relevant purpose that created value for them
Efficient experience and luxury feel
Both luxury types expected ease of use, speed as well as an efficient, interactive, and personalised experience. All of these features share a characteristic: they facilitate the purpose of helping the user find the relevant information efficiently and interactively. Hence, it appears that both absolute and accessible luxury consumers expect a user experience that efficiently supports the purposeful content discussed above. These expectations particularly relate to the brands’ desire to project performance via channel diversification.
Both consumer groups also expected strong references to the brand’s identity, sensory effects and a relaxing experience. In their eyes, the combination of these factors promotes a luxury atmosphere within the app.
Absolute luxury consumer expectations
Besides from purposeful content and more than a simple luxury atmosphere, absolute luxury participants expected a superior luxury experience. The focus groups revealed this experience relies on three main elements: a sense of exclusivity; a feeling of intimacy with
Accessible luxury user
« Smart » experience
The strong focus that absolute luxury participants placed on brand intimacy, exclusivity and high-standard service was not found with accessible luxury consumers. Instead, the prevailing factors for this group were:A “cool” feel, provided by a rich sensory experience as well as a “fun and playful way of accessing information”;Purposeful innovation that optimizes efficiency and usability, making all tasks as intuitive and effortless as possible for the userInterestingly, these factors reflect the brands’ desire to convey modernity, suggesting an industry-wide trend.
Prior to this analysis, the main motivations behind the use of luxury branded apps amongst consumers appear to be passing time by browsing, and urgently searching purchase-related information while the user is out of the house or the office. Both absolute and accessible luxury consumers expect to find purposeful content; but where absolute luxury consumers tended to attach importance to a very sophisticated in-app experience, accessible luxury consumers seemed to favor a “smart” experience.
Absolute and accessible luxury brands’ audience is initially not inclined to download a brand’s app, they would rather visit their website or physical store. Hence, the app should focus on existing customers and non-consumers with an interest in the brand. A clear, attractive and advertised incentive to download the app is also strongly recommended.
Triggering a buying decision-making process
Post download, the brand still needs to
Additionally, initiating a two-way and tailored communication between the brand and the consumer creates a relationship between them. This both enforces a positive perception of the brand on the consumer’s part, and is a powerful way of driving purchase intentions. Hence, a high level of interactivity should be maintained on the app, especially at the interest-building stage
In order to efficiently capture the user’s interest, particular attention should be paid to tailoring the app to the targeted audience
Absolute luxury apps best generate interest by capitalizing on exclusivity, using access limitations (e.g. differentiating users who have already made a purchase or frequent buyers from the rest of users). While users with full access will feel privileged and motivated to explore the brand’s offer; the interest of users with restricted access will be peaked, most likely making them want to see “more”.
Accessible luxury apps on the other hand best drive interest by sustaining a “cool” dimension with a “smart” in-app experience. For instance, showing creativity by providing innovative ways of interacting with the app and accessing its information is particularly efficient. Making any promotions apparent and easily accessible is also a potent purchase incentive for this consumer type.
Shifting from intention to action
To transform purchase intention into action, efficiently guiding the customer, dismissing their potential hesitations, and comforting them in their choice
Further research recommendations
This research outlined the design implications of absolute and accessible luxury brands’ and consumers’ expectations regarding in-app branding. Further research investigating these implications with a technical, in-depth outlook may empower luxury brands by improving their ability to make informed design decisions.
Additionally, research focusing on prioritising absolute and accessible luxury consumers’ expectations regarding in-app branding may help luxury brands decide which features they should give priority to when designing the app within time or financial constraints.