The launch of Apple’s 18-Karat Rose Gold edition of the Watch, with the price tag of $USD 12,000, and supported by a stylish 12-page spread in Vogue magazine has signaled to many the company’s expansion into the luxury segment.
The hiring of Angela Ahrendts from the British luxury brand Burberry was considered the first move in the same direction.
But can the Apple Watch be positioned a luxury product? Are the high price tag, beautiful design, quality materials, and an emphasis on personal style enough to position Apple as a luxury brand?
The Fashion Brand: A Definition
In one of my previous articles on luxury marketing, I summarized the difference between premium and luxury brands. Is is time to highlight, for those involved in luxury marketing, the difference between fashion and luxury brands.
A clarification is needed before we continue.
The word “fashion” in the context of this analysis does not refer to brands in the fashion industry (clothing and accessories, jewelry, makeup, etc). Those brands can belong to any category, including luxury (Burberry, Prada, and Hermès for example).
A fashion brand offers products, in any category, that follow a popular trend or style. Most mobile phones are fashion objects that become obsolete once a new design/technology gains traction (usually in less than a year).
Luxury Versus Fashion Brands: Key Differences
It is very important for any marketer managing a brand at the borderline between fashion and luxury to properly answer the question: “Should I follow a luxury or a fashion brand strategy?”
Luxury brands should be managed fundamentally different than ordinary, premium and fashion ones, due to differences in product characteristics and target audience.
The chart below summarizes the key differences between a fashion and a luxury brand.
|Changes frequently and drastically depending on the current popular trend.||Iconic design that changes very rarely as an evolution, not drastic departure from the initial concept.|
|Broad price range, depending on the brand positioning within its category.||Inaccessible to most, price acts as a selection tool that limits the access to the brand.|
|A very common strategy, in particular at the end of the season, when the product is no longer in fashion.||Not advisable, the high price increases product desirability.|
|Seeking endorsement from current trend setters in entertainment and sports is a very common strategy.||Not advisable, as luxury brands transcend the current trends and celebrities.|
|Can be broad-one product for each segment targeted.||Very narrow-a flagship product and only few variations.|
Country of Manufacture
|Usually manufactured in low-cost countries, to allow for price flexibility at the end of the season.Manufacturing country is not important in purchase decision.||Country of manufacture is part of the brand myth. Brand should not relocate manufacturing facilities to lower cost countries. Country of manufacture is very important in the purchase decision.|
|Immediate. The goods have to be delivered in time to capture the latest trend.||Not urgent. The wait for the product to be built/created/fully matured contributes to the overall luxury experience.|
As seen above there are many differences between fashion and luxury products. High quality materials, state of the art manufacturing, and high prices are not enough credentials to justify the “luxury” label.
Can a Technology Company Offer a Luxury Product?
Technology companies, such as Apple, will face an impossible task in their quest to break the luxury barrier. Technology is probably the fashionable, ever changing category, where products become obsolete not long after purchase.
The Apple Watch is no exception. Luxury watches a passed on from generation to generation and increase in value, whereas the Watch will become irrelevant once a thinner, bigger, more performing model will be released next year.