Investigating the determinants of customer experience with affordable luxury sport car brands in Germany

  • Philipp Ralf Schnierle

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

In today’s marketplace, the consumption of luxury goods is at a peak due to increasing global wealth and low interest rates, resulting in a vast supply of goods and services to which customer experiences are more relevant than ever before. One of the most recent developments in this field shows that consumers no longer simply purchase a product or service based on the fact sheet; they are also interested in the experience around the product. Successful brands must develop and maintain individual images to sustain their competitive advantage and build brand equity that is beneficial for customers and firms. Ideally, these will lead to satisfaction and loyalty between a brand, its products, and its customers. Existing research about brand experience and brand equity has mainly focused on functional aspects, which seem to differ for high-value luxury goods. Most studies have focused on industries like retail and fashion brands, sampling university students or visitors to shopping malls, and some have even mixed different types of industries together. This underpins the need for research within a single luxury industry with actual luxury customers who have a solid background with brand experiences.
The purpose of this study was to explore the brand experience spectrum within the automotive industry in Germany, particularly in the affordable luxury sport car sector. Identifying the factors and components that constitute, influence, or leverage/drive a brand experience from their perspective was a clear aim of the study. To achieve this, the study collected data from indepth interviews with German (n=60) respondents who had experience with affordable and luxury sport cars. The conceptual framework was based on two empirically tested models guiding this exploratory consumer research. The first model to build on was the consumerbased brand equity model, empirically tested by Çifci et al. (2016) and Nam et al. (2011). The second conceptual framework was Lemon and Verhoef’s (2016) customer journey model consisting of relevant touchpoints along the following three stages: pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase.
The findings of the research demonstrate that, although the six brand equity concepts – brand awareness, physical quality, staff behaviour, self-congruence, brand identification, and lifestyle – are broadly applicable in understanding customer experience in the affordable luxury car industry, the content of these dimensions differs from that suggested by the previous authors. The research established that cognitive and affective (or symbolic) components build the foundation of customer brand experience and supports Çifci et al.’s (2016) and Nam et al.’s (2011) study results. The study also identified brand trust as an important and highly relevant concept for customer brand experience in the luxury automotive car industry. Brand trust influences customer satisfaction and loyalty, therefore improving and complementing the existing model. Furthermore, the study confirmed Lemon and Verhoef’s (2016) process model of the customer journey and experience; however, it suggested two different customer journeys depending on the customers’ previous experience (first-time and experienced buyers). The differences between the two groups and the relevance of the journey touchpoints within the three purchase stages vary significantly in terms and are distinct. Identified key touchpoints for both groups are the contact to a dealer as well as information gathering online. Differences have been found in the length of purchase stages and across the customer journey. The study highlights the importance of trust, identification, and product quality for customer brand experience. Moreover, the findings of this study complement the brand equity model of Çifci et al. (2016) by adding the new concept of trust, which is highly relevant. The current knowledge is complemented by a new understanding and mapping of the customer journey for luxury sports cars in Germany. This study can assist practitioners and managers by providing a compass indicating which touchpoints are relevant to which customer group. Social value can be achieved by encouraging interactions between brand and consumer (e.g. central product launch events) and through brand-oriented interactions among consumers (e.g. dealer events, clubs, or communities). Customers are motivated to express their distinctiveness through product experience and brand identification (belonging/distinction) and to develop a loyal link to brands.
Date of AwardAug 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorYuksel Ekinci (Supervisor) & Valentina Mintah (Supervisor)

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