Prestige and luxury beauty branding isn’t the same. These terms are used interchangeably even though substantial difference exists between the two.
According to Professor Bernard Dubois and Sandor Czellar’s published paper in 2002 on luxury brands vs prestige brands, “Prestige is based on unique human accomplishment inherent to the brand whereas luxury refers to the benefit stemming from refinement, aesthetics and a sumptuous lifestyle.”
Luxury need not be prestige and vice versa even though the ideas usually are not mutually exclusive.
Luxury could be one of the prestige symbols but without the perception of/admiration for an objective achievement intrinsic to the brand, brand prestige cannot be sustained in the eyes of the consumers.
According to another paper published by Professor Franck Vigneron, California State University, Northridge, and Lester W Johnson, Swinburne University of Technology, “Prestige-seeking behavior is the result of multiple motivations, but in particular the motives of sociability and self-expression.” In sum, they define five values and their drivers for prestige seeking behavior. According to them, a prestige brand could be upmarket, premium or luxury in an increasing order of prestige.
I have combined Professor Dubois/Czellar’s research with that of Professor Franck Vigneron/Johnson’s research to create a new framework shown below, both describing and distinguishing between prestige and luxury brands.
Prestige Beauty Brand
Two Personal Values
Core Value for Prestige- Exceptional Quality
A prestige brand needs to be exceptional in performance. This exception has to be attributed to a unique human accomplishment.
Core Emotional Value for Prestige (consequence of core value for prestige)
A prestige brand should evoke the feelings of awe and admiration towards the brand as a consequence of the previously mentioned core value of exceptional/unique human accomplishment inherent to the brand.
Three InterPersonal Values-Symbols/Complement Core Value
The Veblen Effect-Perceived Conspicuous Value
This value relates to the public consumption of the luxury brand. Price can be a cue/symbol for prestige here. High price matters and the higher price could signal higher quality to the consumer.
The conspicuous consumption helps the consumer signal wealth, power, and status. This value appeals most to the status-conscious, conspicuous segment of the consumers. Also, this value is purely interpersonal, outward focused.
The Snob Effect-Perceived Unique Value
This prestige consumer is driven by scarcity, uniqueness, and rarity of the brand and wants to feel exclusive, separate from the rest. Price is an indicator/symbol of exclusivity and contributes to prestige. This consumer shuns the use of popular brands.
Interestingly, the above value is both interpersonal and personal. Interpersonal, since the whole idea of being exclusive and ahead/different from popular masses, drives this behavior. Personal, because the uniqueness and rarity of the brand/product is motivating to enhance self-expression.
Limited edition products and collections appeal to these consumers.
The Bandwagon Effect-Perceived Social Value
This value is driven by the need to belong, is quite an anti-thesis to the Snob Effect even though both are about improving self-image. Social value is with reference to a particular group, and hence, is more outward driven.
Consumers holding this value pay less attention to price as an indicator of prestige. They are influenced more by the effect the brand has on others. Masstige brands target consumers driven by social value. Brands like e.l.f., Glossier, The Ordinary, Fenty Beauty are a few examples of masstige brands.
Luxury Beauty Brand
Two Personal Values
Core Value for Luxury-Perfectionism in Quality
The consumer relies on their personal evaluation of the objective quality of the product. Quality in luxury is all about the perfect and indulgent experience. Luxury is about excess and more than you need.
Core Emotional Value for Luxury-Hedonism
The key emotions evoked by luxury are pleasure through comfort, refinement, and aesthetics, etc. Luxury is more concerned with one’s own thoughts and feelings.
Categories associated with luxury are more restricted than those for prestige.
Examples of Prestige and Luxury Beauty Brands
Example of Prestige Beauty Brand-La Mer
La Mer is an Estee Lauder brand, a leader in prestige beauty and claims to be the only company focused on prestige makeup, skincare, fragrance, and haircare. Their claim aligns with our thinking of La Mer as a prestige brand more than a luxury skincare line.
Core Values: Personal
Core Value of Exceptional Quality
Unique human accomplishment inherent to the brand is the Miracle Broth™.
It took the founder 6,000 experiments and 12 years of searching to come up with a fermentation process that transformed sea kelp and other pure ingredients into Miracle Broth™.
Core Emotional Value (Affect)
Awe and Admiration for exceptional Miracle Broth™ which lends the status symbol to the brand and the users.
Symbolic /Complement Values: Interpersonal
La Mer can leverage its prestige branding for launching masstige brands in new categories without diluting the master brand image. However, just because it can, it should not. All I am saying is that this option is available to the brand.
One of the strong values that La Mer can leverage out of the three inter-personal prestige symbols to complement its core positioning of exceptional quality. However, with increasing distribution, La Mer is better off focusing on the conspicuous than the snob value.
La Mer very rightly sells at luxury SPAs (the likes of Nordstrom, Blue Mercury, Neiman Marcus, and SAKS 5th Avenue), along with luxury department stores generating prestige for status-seeking consumers.
Recommendations for LaMer
-La Mer is currently focused on the core personal value of exceptional quality reflected in the Miracle Broth™. La Mer could better educate on the process, intricacies of creating the Miracle Broth™, and describe the final product with utmost detail taking the consumer on a journey inspiring awe and admiration.
-Selling at spas, La Mer does appeal to the conspicuous, status-conscious consumer. It could explore opening a flagship spa, much like the apple store in 5th avenue, right in the middle of a high-end and high visibility location adding to the brand’s prestige value or create a highly visible La Mer spa within department stores like Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom for example.
The consumer journey through the spa should inspire awe and admiration for the exceptional quality of products due to the unique fermentation process of Miracle Broth™ along with evoking the feeling of an elevated status due to both the visibility of the spa in the prestigious location and the perceived prestige in the eyes of the staff and other visitors.
-Alternatively, or in conjunction, La Mer could complement the conspicuous positioning by choosing the snob value as a prestige symbol, especially for the new product launches and limited collections, to both sell to existing consumers motivated by this value as well as acquire new consumers, who are mainly motivated by the need to be unique and exclusive.
(Social Media) Content
-Social media posts currently speak about individual product benefits without the common string of the core value of awe-inspiring human accomplishment, the creation of the Miracle Broth™, and extraordinary products as a result.
-La Mer could create a BRIEFCASE content marketing strategy to launch a coherent creative and educational campaign around the core value of exceptional quality with details of the extraordinary fermentation process and the final products’ performance complemented by either conspicuousness or snob value.
-Also, should keep a balance between call to action posts and purely brand health posts focused on reinforcing the brand prestige.
Example of Luxury Beauty Brand-La Prairie
“La Prairie is the leader in luxury skincare, fulfilling a quest for timeless beauty through the highest standards of advanced technology combined with exquisite formulations and elegant packaging — elevating skincare to art.”
Core Values: Personal
Core Value of Quality-Indulgent Perfectionism
The brand celebrates its heritage of path to rejuvenation, is committed to absolute perfection, claims to be an aspirational and most exclusive skincare brand that uses precious ingredients.
Core Emotional Affect-Hedonistic
An indulgent brand with exquisite packaging and linked to art by partnering with Art Basel, the world’s premier art shows for Modern and contemporary art, situated in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong.”
Browse through La Prairie’s website and be immersed in a timeless, luxurious experience of a brand that pays utmost and luxe attention to every detail.
Recommendations for LA Prairie
-La Prairie should continue the excellent job of staying consistent with its luxury, elevating science to an art, positioning. The website, packaging, and social media are in perfect sync and evoke the same sense of indulgence and perfectionism through perceived product quality and aesthetics.
Content (Social Media)
-Continue to avoid any call to action for purchase on social media.
-Continue the precious collections and continue partnering with modern and contemporary artists/galleries.
Luxury and prestige beauty branding are not the same.
I combined research done by Professor Dubois/Czellar and Professor Vigneron/Johnson to create a framework for analyzing luxury vs. prestige beauty seeking behavior drivers.
Prestige and luxury beauty have their core driving values, which could be complemented with symbolic values or cues.
In the case of prestige beauty, the core value is the unique human accomplishment inherent to the brand and reflected in its exceptional quality. This core value evokes the core emotion of awe and admiration for the brand.
The core value and resultant emotion could be complemented by three prestige symbols-conspicuous, snob and the social value. High price does matter for conspicuous and snob value. In contrast, it is of lesser importance to the consumer seeking social value.
The core driving value for luxury brands is perfectionism in quality, evoking hedonistic emotions through comfort, indulgence, and aesthetics.
There is usually an overlap of prestige with luxury, but brands are better off focusing on one over the other.
Luxury is a narrower, top-notch category versus prestige, which could have multiple tiers like masstige.
We also saw through the examples of La Mer and La Prairie the critical differences between branding and marketing for a prestige beauty brand and a luxury beauty brand.
Let’s make this a living article. If you own, work with, or are involved with a luxury or a prestige beauty brand, please share your comments below to refine and turn this article into an ultimate guide for luxury and prestige beauty branding.
ROHIT BANOTA, Founder of StorySaves, has transformed dozens into envied beauty brands for sharp and profitable growth, kickstarted from day 1 with “strategic brand story” and “story-led brand strategy” & powered by digital.
He has over 17 years of marketing and business experience growing consumer packaged brands including with startups and MNCs like P&G Beauty and Grooming in North America, Europe and rest of the world.
Want to Know Your Brand Story Score?
Join top 5% of Brands