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Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal

Corporate branding, emotional attachment and brand loyalty: the case of luxury fashion branding Jing Theng So, Andrew Grant Parsons, SheauFen Yap,

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Jing Theng So, Andrew Grant Parsons, SheauFen Yap, (2013) "Corporate branding, emotional attachment and brand loyalty: the case of luxury fashion branding", Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, Vol. 17 Issue: 4, pp.403-423, https://doi.org/10.1108/JFMM-03-2013-0032 Permanent link to this document:

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doi.org/10.1108/07363761311328928</a>

Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal Corporate branding, emotional attachment and brand loyalty:https://doi.org/10.1108/JFMM-03-2013-0032 Permanent link to this document: https://doi.org/10.1108/JFMM-03-2013-0032 Downloaded on: 30 October 2018, At: 01:53 (PT) References: this document contains references to 69 other documents. To copy this document: permissions@emeraldinsight.com The fulltext of this document has been downloaded 35406 times since 2013* Users who downloaded this article also downloaded: (2012),"The role of personality congruence, perceived quality and prestige on ready-to-wear brand loyalty", Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, Vol. 16 Iss 4 pp. 399-417 <a href="https://doi.org/10.1108/13612021211265818">https://doi.org/10.1108/13612021211265818</a> (2013),"The role of brand love in consumer-brand relationships", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 30 Iss 3 pp. 258-266 <a href="https://doi.org/10.1108/07363761311328928">https:// doi.org/10.1108/07363761311328928</a> Access to this document was granted through an Emerald subscription provided by emerald-srm:601935 [] For Authors If you would like to write for this, or any other Emerald publication, then please use our Emerald for Authors service information about how to choose which publication to write for and submission guidelines are available for all. Please visit www.emeraldinsight.com/authors for more information. About Emerald www.emeraldinsight.com Emerald is a global publisher linking research and practice to the benefit of society. The company manages a portfolio of more than 290 journals and over 2,350 books and book series volumes, as well as providing an extensive range of online products and additional customer resources and services. " id="pdf-obj-0-56" src="pdf-obj-0-56.jpg">

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Corporate branding, emotional attachment and brand loyalty: the case of luxury fashion branding

Jing Theng So

Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, and

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Andrew Grant Parsons and Sheau-Fen Yap

Department of Marketing, Advertising, Retailing, and Sales, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, Australia

Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this study is to develop and empirically test a theoretical framework that captures the impact of corporate branding on customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty in the luxury fashion market. Design/methodology/approach – Cross-sectional data were collected from 282 customers who purchased luxury brands. Structural equation modelling was used to test the hypotheses of the framework developed for the study. Findings – Findings found limited effect of corporate branding on customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty. Among the six corporate branding dimensions examined, only corporate association, functional benefits, and symbolic benefits were found to have a significant impact on emotional attachment. Further, the impact of corporate branding on brand loyalty was only evident through functional benefits and corporate associations. Practical implications – This study offers new empirical support for the proposition that corporate branding efforts have a role, thought limited, in building customer emotional attachment and loyalty towards luxury brands. As such, findings from this study can provide managers with a guide to managing their branding strategies so that customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty can be built in the most cost-effective manner. Originality/value – This is the first study to examine the relationship between corporate branding, emotional attachment, and brand loyalty in the luxury fashion context. The examination of the differential effects of corporate branding dimensions on emotional attachment and loyalty has contributed to a better understanding of the mechanism that underlies the operation of an effective corporate branding strategy.

Keywords Brand loyalty, Corporate branding, Emotional attachment, Structural equation modelling Paper type Research paper

Introduction

The consumption of luxury fashion brands is economically significant with the current market value of the luxury fashion industry estimated to be US$240 billion (Tungate, 2012). However, many luxury firms are not making significant profits (Chevalier and Mazzalovo, 2008). Globalization of the luxury industry and rapid technological advancements have presented luxury customers with many brand choices, leading to fierce competition among firms (Ryan, 2009). To successfully manage and compete with a luxury fashion brand, a firm needs to establish and maintain a strong brand

The authors are grateful for the important contributions of the anonymous reviewers and the Guest Editor of the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management in improving this manuscript.

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Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management Vol. 17 No. 4, 2013 pp. 403-423 r Emerald Group Publishing Limited

1361-2026

DOI 10.1108/JFMM-03-2013-0032

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identity (Okonkwo, 2007). In the luxury fashion market, a strong brand identity can be achieved through several factors including impeccable product craftsmanship, innovation, recognizable style, exclusivity, and/or premium pricing (Chevalier and Mazzalovo, 2008). From the customer’s perspective, these characteristics of the luxury brands deliver multi-faceted benefits such as social status, identify affirmation, and sense of belonging (Peng et al., 2011). Against this background, many luxury firms,

  • 404 including the top four conglomerates LVMH, Gucci Group NV, Prada, and Richemont

Group, have spent millions of dollars developing comprehensive corporate brand identities as part of their branding strategy (Chevalier and Mazzalovo, 2008), because a strong brand identity is fundamentally linked to a relevant, clear, and defined branding strategy. The implementation of a successful corporate branding strategy allows luxury firms to create distinguishable brands in return for customers’ preferences and loyalty (Chevalier and Mazzalovo, 2008; Okonkwo, 2007). Traditionally, luxury brand suppliers have differentiated their brand identities using high-status brand names (Choo et al., 2012). However, this branding strategy is less effective with today’s luxury customers because customers are placing more emphasis on the emotional value, such as closeness and involvement with brands, when making their purchase decisions (Bain & Co., 2005; Choo et al., 2012). These emotional values give premium customers a complete and memorable ownership experience during brand consumption (Brun et al., 2008) hence engaging with the customers at the emotional level is a crucial factor for success in the luxury fashion industry (Kapferer and Bastien, 2009). Luxury firms are gradually shifting their corporate branding focus from “building social status” to “customer emotional attachment” in an effort to cultivate enduring loyalty (Cailleux et al., 2009). Customer’s emotional attachment is a central premise that underlies strong customer-brand relationships (Orth et al., 2010; Thomson et al., 2005). While emotional attachment has some conceptual resemblance to other marketing constructs such as brand love (Carroll and Ahuvia, 2006) and brand attitude strength (Park et al., 2010), emotional attachment is a distinct construct that provides added value because it commands a higher, sustainable level of loyalty (Park et al., 2010). The role of customer emotional attachment in driving sustainable customer loyalty has been well documented within the marketing literature (Park et al., 2010; Thomson et al., 2005). However, the impact of corporate branding strategy on customer emotional attachment and (subsequent) loyalty has yet to be examined and empirically substantiated in the luxury fashion setting. Typically studies have taken the management perspective in investigating the luxury fashion brand (Kapferer and Bastien, 2009; Keller, 2009; Moore and Birtwistle, 2004); for example, analysis of the historical forces that gave rise to Prada, Burberry, and Gucci’s strong market position today (Moore and Birtwistle, 2004, 2005; Moore and Doyle, 2010). Others have focused on the current challenges management face in implementing a successful luxury brand (e.g. Kapferer and Bastien, 2009; Keller, 2009). While previous studies have contributed much to the current understanding about the management practice in the luxury fashion industry, the effectiveness of corporate branding strategies on the customer- brand relationship, in particular customer emotional attachment towards luxury brands remains unexplored. Addressing this research gap, this study extends prior literature through the development of a theoretical framework that captures the impact of luxury corporate branding strategy on customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty. In particular, the proposed model has a few advantages over past literature that has examined loyalty within the luxury fashion setting. First, this model

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considers the multiple effects of luxury corporate branding on premium shoppers by conceptualizing corporate branding as a multi-dimensional construct. Second, this model proposes that luxury corporate branding can influence customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty, which has not been considered in past literature. Collectively, this study makes a significant contribution to the luxury fashion branding literature as it examines the mechanism that underlies the operation of an effective corporate branding strategy. Given that firms are investing significantly in their corporate branding strategy, it is imperative for managers to understand the extent whereby corporate branding strategy influences a customer’s emotional attachment and brand loyalty. This study also assists luxury fashion brand managers in resource allocation by prioritizing resources to the dimensions of corporate branding that have a greater impact on customer emotional attachment so that loyalty can be built in the most cost-efficient manner. In the next section, we briefly review the literature on corporate branding, paying particular attention to the luxury fashion sector. We also provide an introduction to the concept of emotional attachment. Following this we develop a conceptual framework incorporating corporate branding, emotional attachment, and brand loyalty. In doing so, we construct a series of hypotheses. Next we present a study that examines customers of luxury fashion brands in the Klang Valley, Malaysia, which is a concentrated area of luxury goods and stores – ideal for a targeted study in this sector. We conclude with a discussion of the findings and the implications for luxury fashion marketers and management.

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Literature review

Corporate branding

Corporate branding is a holistic brand management approach adopted by firms to craft a unique corporate identity (Abratt and Kleyn, 2011). The concept of corporate branding has gained popularity in the marketing literature as corporate brands are said to add value to the products and services offered by the company (Harris and de

Chernatony, 2001). A strong brand offers intangible values that are difficult for competitors to imitate. As such, a strongly cultivated corporate brand provides the firm with a sustainable competitive advantage that drives loyalty (Harris and de Chernatony, 2001; Hatch and Schultz, 2003). The core concept of corporate branding is to adopt a monolithic brand name representing all products of the company when communicating with stakeholders such as customers, employees, and shareholders (Xie and Boggs, 2006), and a successful corporate brand is underpinned by clear corporate missions and values defined by the senior management to guide the operations of all organizational departments (Harris and de Chernatony, 2001; Abratt and Kleyn, 2011). With the specified strategic perspective, members of the organization then act in conformity to achieve the desired brand identity (Pillai, 2012). A company’s effort in achieving the desired corporate brand identity can be manifested through various corporate branding dimensions. However, there is no agreement in the literature on the dimensions that constitute corporate branding. Abratt and Kleyn (2011) suggest four aspects of corporate branding that are crucial to the development of a strong brand identity. These are visual identity, brand promise, brand personality, and brand communication. On the other hand, Harris and de Chernatony (2001) argue that brand vision and culture, positioning, personality, relationships, and presentation are key components of corporate branding that builds brand identity. According to Souiden et al. (2006), corporate branding encompasses the

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four inter-related dimensions of corporate name, image, reputation, and loyalty. Another comprehensive view on the dimensionality of corporate brand is captured in Anisimova’s (2007) multi-dimensional framework where corporate brand is conceptualized as comprising five key dimensions: corporate association, corporate activities, corporate values, corporate personalities, and corporate benefits. In this study, the conceptualization of corporate branding proposed by Anisimova (2007) is

  • 406 adopted for two reasons. First, the multi-attribute framework enables capturing

of the comprehensive effect of corporate branding in cultivating customer emotional attachment and loyalty. Second, Anisimova (2007) conducted rigorous tests on the scales reflecting corporate branding, thus providing a validated and reliable instrument to measure corporate branding dimensions.

Corporate branding in the luxury fashion industry

In the luxury fashion context, corporate branding strategy has been the long-standing business practice used to bolster corporate reputation, build customer loyalty, and charge a premium price (Chevalier and Mazzalovo, 2008). A well-known brand identity is considered a fundamental part of the luxury value proposition (Fionda and Moore, 2009). As such, every component of corporate branding is aimed towards the development of a luxury brand identity that entails elements of aspiring corporate association, favourable brand personality, and premium brand image (Chevalier and Mazzalovo, 2008; Okonkwo, 2007). These are achieved through the consistent control and appropriate investment strategy by individuals from top managerial levels (Moore and Birtwistle, 2004). As a first step, the luxury brand product has to be of exceptional quality with innovative designs that exceed customer expectations. In addition to the tangible product, luxury brands typically deliver intangible benefits to customers through an identifiable logo or symbol (Okonkwo, 2007). The brand signage assists luxury brands in portraying the personality and values of the creators which evokes favourable brand associations and aspirational images among customers (Keller, 2009). For these strong intrinsic and extrinsic values, luxury and prestige brands are able to charge a premium price for their products (Okonkwo, 2007). Besides acting as a cue for superior product value, premium pricing also reinforces the notion of brand exclusivity by making luxury goods appear out of reach to most shoppers (Kapferer and Bastien, 2009). With the importance of exclusivity and prestige in the luxury fashion market, manufacturing and distribution of luxury products is always carefully controlled and highly selective to limit their accessibility to customers (Fionda and Moore, 2009). For maximum control, many luxury brands have their own flagship stores to showcase their latest product range. In addition, luxury flagship stores can further enhance a firm’s status as a credible luxury brand and strengthen the customer-brand relationship (Moore et al., 2010). The luxury environment of the flagship store and services provided by frontline employees during point-of-sales can enrich the shopping experiences of wealthy customers (Brun et al., 2008). The location is also indicative of the status. In London, for example, the flagship stores of Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Ralph Lauren are on the high fashion New Bond Street, with Prada literally down the road in Old Bond Street. Gucci and Giorgio Armani take advantage of the Knightsbridge connection with locations in Sloane Street, and Burberry takes a premium spot in London’s Regent Street. Another key element to building a luxury brand is powerful marketing communications (Fionda and Moore, 2009). The use of relevant advertising through celebrity endorsement, public relationship, and events are

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popular marketing communication techniques used by firms to generate awareness and establish a premium brand image (Fionda and Moore, 2009). Despite the extensive application of corporate branding in the luxury fashion industry, limited studies have been dedicated to examine the effectiveness of these branding strategies (Reyneke et al., 2011). Rather, previous research studying the marketing of luxury brands tend to focus on the management perspective (Pillai, 2012). The evolution of luxury firms such as Gucci and Prada have been analysed (Moore and Birtwistle, 2005; Moore and Doyle, 2010), while other research areas within luxury branding have included the key dimensions necessary to maintain the success of a luxury fashion brand (Fionda and Moore, 2009; Keller, 2009), business approaches and positioning strategies to manage a luxury brand (Kapferer and Bastien, 2009; Truong et al., 2009), and descriptions of the current challenges faced by managers in the luxury market (Matthiesen, 2005; Reyneke et al., 2011). While these areas of inquiry are all important and worthy of exploration, recent evidence suggests that the luxury market is currently experiencing a paradigm shift and practitioners must place emphasis on building customer emotional involvement to drive loyalty (Cailleux et al., 2009). As the luxury market grows more competitive and wealthy customers become less brand loyal, managers can no longer rely on prestige brand image alone in retaining their customers (Choo et al., 2012). Instead, luxury firms are moving towards the notion of building strong customer-brand relationships through emotional involvement and attachment, for sustainable loyalty (Choo et al., 2012; Kapferer and Bastien, 2009). Proponents of the emotional attachment concept claim that customers’ evangelical enthusiasm can only be attained if marketers demonstrate genuine understanding of their customers’ lifestyles, dreams, and ambitions, to convince customers that their brands are life enriching (Thompson et al., 2006). When marketers successfully engage in telling stories that are relevant, aspiring, and captivating, brands form stronger connections with their customers (Thompson et al., 2006). Despite the explicit potential and importance for firms to cultivate customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty through corporate branding efforts, to date, no empirical study has validated the relationship between these concepts, though there have been calls for studies to uncover the antecedents that drive customer emotional attachment to brands (e.g. Grisaffe and Nguyen, 2011; Park et al., 2010). Our study aims to address this gap by putting forward a conceptual model that captures the comprehensive effect of corporate branding attributes on customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty within the luxury fashion brand setting.

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Customer emotional attachment

Customer emotional attachment is a critical construct in the marketing literature as it describes the strength of the bond customers have with the brand. This bond subsequently affects their behaviour and in turn fosters firm profitability and customer lifetime value (Thomson et al., 2005). The concept of emotional attachment was borrowed from psychology’s attachment theory originating with Bowlby (1982). Pioneering studies on emotional attachment asserted that an individual’s desire to form strong attachment to particular others serves as a basic human need – see Bowlby (1982) for a discussion. Building on Bowlby’s work, researchers over the years have found evidence that customers can form emotional attachments to a variety of objects such as gifts (Mick and DeMoss, 1990), collectibles (Slater, 2001), and – importantly for this study – brands (Park et al., 2010; Schouten and McAlexander, 1995). Although a customer’s attachment to an object may not be as strong in intensity as the

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attachment formed in a human-human relationship, the fundamental properties and behavioural effects of emotional attachment are presumed to be quite similar. Thomson et al. (2005) argue that a customer’s emotional attachment is underpinned by brand love, brand affection, and brand connection. These characteristics of emotional attachment seem to suggest that customers with a stronger emotional attachment are likely to be committed to a brand and stay in a long-term relationship

  • 408 with the firm (Thomson et al., 2005). Indeed, the practical value of emotional

attachment in marketing has recently been shown by Park et al. (2010) where they found emotional attachment to be a better predictor of actual purchase, brand purchase share, and brand need, than brand attitude. Next, we develop a conceptual model of corporate branding, emotional attachment, and brand loyalty, for the luxury fashion sector.

Conceptual framework

Figure 1 depicts the full conceptual framework to be validated in this study. As shown in Figure 1, corporate branding efforts are conceptualized as comprising five primary dimensions – corporate associations, corporate activities, corporate values, corporate personalities, and corporate benefits. These are hypothesized to have an impact on customer emotional attachment, which in turn has an impact on customer brand loyalty, as well as having a direct impact upon loyalty. In total, seven sets of hypotheses are specified in this framework. The following sections provide the theoretical support for the hypothesized relationships.

Emotional attachment and brand loyalty

Brand loyalty reflects a customer’s commitment to remain in a long-term relationship with a brand (Reichheld, 1996) whereas emotional attachment denotes a customer’s feeling of connection, affection, and passion towards a brand (Thomson et al., 2005). A customer’s emotional attachment is underpinned by three primary forces including

Figure 1.

The hypothesized model of corporate branding, emotional attachment, and brand loyalty

Corporate H2b Associations H2a Corporate H3b Activities H3a H4b Corporate Values H4a Emotional H1 Brand Attachment
Corporate
H2b
Associations
H2a
Corporate
H3b
Activities
H3a
H4b
Corporate
Values
H4a
Emotional
H1
Brand
Attachment
Loyalty
H5a
Corporate
Personalities
H5b
H6a
H6b
Functional
Benefits
H7a
H7b
Symbolical
Benefits

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customer’s self-connection with the brand, feeling of warmth towards the brand, and having an intense liking for the brand (Thomson et al., 2005). Therefore it is argued that a higher level of emotional attachment is likely to increase a customer’s emotional dependency on the brand. As customers become more connected to a brand, they are likely to maintain close proximity with the brand because the presence of the attachment object offers feelings of comfort, happiness, and security (Park et al., 2010; Thomson et al., 2005). Thus, it is hypothesized that a customer who has a higher level of emotional attachment towards the brand is willing to commit being in a long-term relationship with the brand:

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H1. The higher the level of a customer’s emotional attachment, the greater their brand loyalty.

Corporate associations and emotional attachment Corporate associations refer to a customer’s evaluation of a brand that is determined by the knowledge stored in their memory, based on past brand-customer interactions (Romaniuk and Gaillard, 2007). With this brand knowledge, corporate associations serve as crucial information cues for customers when judging a firm’s credibility and the perceived product quality during brand selection (Souiden et al., 2006). Favourable corporate associations encourage customers to trust that the brand will meet their expectations through fulfilling brand promises (Souiden et al., 2006). When customers perceive the firm to be a reliable partner, they are willing to increase their emotional dependability on the brands (Mikulincer, 1998). This is likely to increase the attachment bond customers have with their brands. In addition, a trustworthy partner also encourages customers to view their customer-brand relationship in a long-term perspective as they have confidence in the firm’s ability to meet their needs in the future (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Thus, it is posited that the more favourably a customer view corporate associations, the greater will be their emotional attachment and (subsequently, for H1) their brand loyalty:

H2a. The more positively customers’ perceive corporate associations, the greater their emotional attachment.

H2b. The more positively customers’ perceive corporate associations, the greater their brand loyalty.

Corporate activities and emotional attachment

Corporate activities represent all initiatives made by the firm to actively engage customers with the brands. These corporate initiatives, such as the use of metaphorical advertisements and corporate social responsibility behaviour, are aimed at enhancing the customers’ perceived brand image and brand reputation (Heath et al., 2006; Sen and Bhattacharaya, 2001). A favourable brand image encourages customers to view the brand as being a competent, credible, and reliable relationship partner (de Ruyter and Wetzels, 2000; Fournier, 1998; Valey, 2009). When a brand image is favourable, customers can become increasingly dependent on the brand as they believe their expectations could only be fulfilled by the trusted brand (Fournier, 1998). A higher level of brand dependency is likely to increase customer emotional attachment towards the brand (Park et al., 2010). Besides becoming more emotionally attached, a good corporate image also propels customers to be brand loyal. As customers believe that

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brands are able to demonstrate superior performance capabilities, they tend to reward these brands by staying in a long-term relationship (Fournier, 1998):

H3a. The more positively customers’ perceive corporate activities, the greater their emotional attachment.

  • 410 H3b. The more positively customers’ perceive corporate activities, the greater their

brand loyalty.

Corporate values and emotional attachment

Corporate values denote the core purpose of a firm which are guided by its mission and

vision (Urde, 2003). In turn, these strategic decisions help shape how the customers’ perceive brand identity (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003). Research suggests that customers identify themselves more strongly with brands that possess favourable identity (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003; Park et al., 2010). As customers get more involved with the brand through cognitive and emotion connections, customers are expected to become more emotionally attached to the brand. Similar to human-human relationships, customers look for positive characteristics in a brand before they decide to establish a customer-brand relationship (Fournier, 1998; Valey, 2009). Brands that are backed by strong corporate values are likely to be perceived as high-quality brand partners, which encourages customers to commit to a long-term relationship. Therefore, it is hypothesized that:

H4a. The more positively customers’ perceive corporate values, the greater their emotional attachment.

H4b. The more positively customers’ perceive corporate values, the greater their brand loyalty.

Corporate personalities and emotional attachment

Corporate personalities reflect the set of human-like emotional characteristics associated with a brand (Aaker, 1997). Prior studies have acknowledged that customers see brands as capable of possessing personality traits (Orth et al., 2010). These corporate personalities can be manifested and enhanced through symbolic embodiments and employees’ behaviours (Abratt and Kleyn, 2011). A strong corporate personality entails elements of creativity, compassion, agility, and collaboration (Abratt and Kleyn, 2011). Brands that inherit positive corporate personalities are able to reduce the emotional risk that customers experience during brand purchases (Aaker and Biel, 1993). As a brand encourages the feeling of comfort and security, customers are expected to increase brand reliance which enhances their likelihood of cultivating an emotional attachment to the brand (Fournier, 1998). Similarly, customers have a higher tendency to trust a brand that has greater credibility (Aaker, 1997). When customers have trust in a brand, they have confidence in the brand to continually meet their expectation, hence are more willing to be brand loyal (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Thus it is posited that:

H5a. The more positively customers’ perceive corporate personalities, the greater their emotional attachment.

H5b. The more positively customers’ perceive corporate personalities, the greater their brand loyalty.

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Corporate benefits and emotional attachment

Consistent with other studies, this study adopts a multi-dimensional construct in conceptualizing corporate benefits (Anisimova, 2007; Okonkwo, 2007; Sweeney and Soutar, 2001). During high-involvement purchase decisions (e.g. durables, luxury products), customers derive two key corporate benefits – functional and symbolic – from their brand consumption (Okonkwo, 2007). Functional benefits pertain to the intrinsic value customers acquire from a product which serve to fulfil a customer’s immediate and practical needs (Sweeney and Soutar, 2001). When brands are seen as having superior utilitarian functioning, as compared to competing brands, they are perceived to be irreplaceable by the customers so are more resilient to competition (Fournier, 1998). As the brand becomes more prominently embedded in the customer’s mind, the propensity for the customer to be emotionally attached increases (Park et al., 2010). Also, customers’ biased perception towards the brand as irreplaceable further propels the customers to behave in a manner that supports a long relationship with the brand (Fournier, 1998). With that, it is hypothesized that:

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H6a. The more positively customers’ perceive functional benefits, the greater their emotional attachment.

H6b. The more positively customers’ perceive functional benefits the greater their brand loyalty.

Symbolic benefits, on the other hand, are an extrinsic value that corresponds to the non-product-related attributes which communicate a variety of brand meanings to consumers (Liang and Wang, 2004). These benefits serve to satisfy a customer’s social approval and self-expressive needs (Liang and Wang, 2004). When brands possess symbolic benefits that reflect customers’ actual or ideal self-concepts, customers can develop a sense of oneness with the brand whereby they establish an emotional connection with the brand (Fournier, 1998; Mala¨ r et al., 2011). As customers get more highly involved with the brand, they are more likely to develop emotional attachment towards the brand. Furthermore, customers are expected to support a relationship with brands that are more affirmatively embedded in their mind (Fournier, 1998). Therefore, it is hypothesized that:

H7a. The more positively customers’ perceive functional benefits, the greater their emotional attachment.

H7b. The more positively customers’ perceive functional benefits, the greater their brand loyalty.

Having hypothesized the conceptual model shown in Figure 1, we now turn to our empirical study. In the next section we describe the method used to test the conceptual model. We follow this with the analysis and results.

Method

Survey instrument

A self-completion questionnaire was developed. The questionnaire was five-pages long, in four sections. The first section contained questions that captured demographic variables, while the other sections consisted of questions measuring the concepts of

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corporate branding, emotional attachment, and brand loyalty. Items for all constructs, except demographic variables were assessed on a five-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. All measurement items were from previous studies that have indicated satisfactory reliability and validity. Table I details the measurement items and literature where the items were adopted for each construct. Although the scales used in this study were taken from existing studies, wording

  • 412 modifications were made to tailor scale items to fit the luxury fashion sector (see

Table I for further measurement details). The questionnaire structure and wording was pre-tested on a convenience sample of 30 undergraduate students from Monash University to improve on its consistency, readability, and clarity. Students’ participation in the pre-test was voluntary and the data collected from pre-test was not included in the main analysis. The preliminary measurement assessment indicated that the instrument was reliable, and hence, no major modifications were made.

Potential response bias

Given that all measurements of this study were obtained from the same source

(i.e. shoppers) using a cross-sectional design, findings obtained from the data are exposed to the potential of common method variance (CMV) bias (Whitman and Woszczynski, 2004). To mitigate the potential effect of response bias, several

 

Construct

Items

Relevant literature for scale items

Corporate

Corporation with outstanding products

Anisimova (2007), Chevalier

associations

Successful company

and Mazzalovo (2008)

Corporate activities

Good corporate citizen Corporation at forefront of fashion Outlets create exclusivity experience

Anisimova (2007), Chevalier

Corporate values

Has a balanced luxury product portfolio Aims for product excellence

and Mazzalovo (2008) Anisimova (2007), Moore

Corporate

Strives to be the best Competent

and Birtwistle (2005) Anisimova (2007),

personalities

Sophisticated

Aaker (1997)

Functional benefits

Exciting Highly practical product

Anisimova (2007), Chevalier

Symbolic benefits

Durable products Expresses my self-personality Symbolizes my status Enhances my personal image Helps me get social approval

and Mazzalovo (2008) Anisimova (2007), Chevalier and Mazzalovo (2008)

Emotional

Love

Thomson et al. (2005)

attachment

Affectionate Passionate Delighted Connected Bonded Attached

Brand loyalty

Buy only this brand in this product category

Carroll and Ahuvia (2006)

Table I.

“Do without” rather than buy other brands

Resource of measurement and sample items

If this brand is not available, I will buy it another time

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procedural remedies were put in place, including careful selection of measurement items to ensure easy comprehension, limiting the length of the questionnaire to 15-20 minutes to avoid fatigue, and assuring respondents of their anonymity. In addition, CMV was tested using Harman’s single-factor test (Podsakoff et al., 2003). A principal component factor analysis with varimax rotation demonstrated that all self-report items revealed an eight-factor structure, with each factor accounting for o50 per cent of the co-variation, indicating that no general factor was observed. Therefore, CMV did not appear to be a significant problem in the present study.

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413

Sampling and data collection The Malaysian luxury goods market is fast growing, with a 44 per cent increase in constant value terms between years 2005 and 2010. Urbanization and growing middle- class income earners have fuelled Malaysians’ growing demand for luxury goods. For Malaysians, luxury brands represent the ultimate form of aspirational spending. However, Malaysian luxury consumers are becoming more demanding in their choice of luxury brands so competition within luxury retailing in Malaysia has intensified over the years (Euromonitor International, 2011). For this reason, Malaysia is chosen as the context of this study as it is important for luxury firms to find out whether corporate branding strategy is effective in building customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty, in order to capture the fast-growing luxury market in Malaysia. The data were collected from local luxury brand customers within Klang Valley in Malaysia, using random systematic mall-intercept. Klang Valley was selected as the sampling location because it has been labelled as the city for high-end fashion shopping where most luxury brands’ flagship stores can be found (Euromonitor International, 2011). Luxury retailers such as Louis Vuitton and Prada are strategically located in high-end shopping malls such as Starhill Gallery, The Pavilion, and Suria KLCC. A total of 315 surveys were collected at three high-end shopping malls. Since different locations and hours of a day may yield different mall shopper traffic, data collection was conducted periodically over three weeks at similar hours of the day at similar locations in malls to minimize any possible sample unit bias. The location chosen for questionnaire distribution in shopping malls was carefully selected so that different concentrations of age/ethnic/socio-economic groups were represented. Shoppers were intercepted in these shopping malls, screened for appropriateness, and the questionnaire administered on the spot. To satisfy the sampling conditions, shoppers had to be above 18 years of age and had purchased a luxury fashion brand in the past 12 months. Given the many luxury brands that currently exist in the market, this study specifically chose six popular brands (Louis Vuitton, Coach, Chanel, Burberry, Gucci, and Prada) from the luxury fashion brand list published by Forbes and Luxury Institute of New York to represent the luxury fashion market in this study. The product category selected as the focus of the survey was handbags. The choice of product was based on two reasons: first, handbags are the primary driver of brand sales for the luxury firm in Malaysia (Euromonitor International, 2011). Second, a handbag is a product that entails both functional and symbolical values hence it is a suitable product category for this empirical study (Hung et al., 2011).

Analysis and results

Survey response

In total, 315 questionnaires were collected but only 282 completed questionnaires were usable. Some questionnaires were discarded on the grounds of: incomplete response;

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responses with little variance; patterns of responses showed the respondent did not understand the content and/or instructions; and outliers. A w 2 -test performed on the data collected showed no significant differences in response between early and late respondents in terms of gender, age, and ethnicity hence non-response bias is unlikely to be an issue for the study (Armstrong and Overton, 1977). Demographically, the samples were predominantly females (79 per cent). This was to be expected as luxury

  • 414 fashion is predominantly targeted towards female shoppers. The largest group of

the respondents (45 per cent) was aged between 24 and 35 years old. Approximately 45 per cent of the respondents were professionals earning middle to high income and 62 per cent of them possess at least tertiary education. The demographic characteristic of our sample (higher incomes, tertiary education, professional) fits with the general luxury consumer profile in Malaysia (Euromonitor International, 2011).

Structural equation modelling (SEM)

The proposed research framework was assessed using SEM. The maximum likelihood estimation procedure using AMOS 20.0 was adopted as the method of analysis. A two-step approach as recommended by Anderson and Gerbing (1988) was applied. The measurement was first validated through a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) prior to estimating the full SEM. Upon establishing the model fit, the significance,

direction, and size of each structural parameter were estimated.

Measurement reliability and validity

As recommended by Anderson and Gerbing (1988), a CFA was employed to evaluate

the psychometric properties of the scales. The CFA was first performed for individual constructs (i.e. emotional attachment and brand loyalty) and the dimensions of corporate branding separately. All scales were then combined to form a full measurement model. An analysis of the measurement model with eight constructs

resulted in good model fit (w

2

¼ 408.93, w 2 /df ¼ 1.39, GFI ¼ 0.91, TLI ¼ 0.96, CFI ¼ 0.97,

RMSEA ¼ 0.04) (Hair et al., 2010). An acceptable ratio for w 2 /df value (i.e. o3) was

achieved (Hair et al., 2010). The fit indices for GFI, TLI, and CFI were all above the threshold of 0.90 for satisfactory model fit (Hu and Bentler, 1999). Further, the indicators of residuals were also found to be low (RMSEA ¼ 0.04). The convergent validity of the measurement model was assessed based on the statistical significance of factor loading, average variance extracted (AVE), and composite reliability (CR) (Fornell and Larcker, 1981). As shown in Table II, each factor loading of the reflective

Table II.

Reliability and validity

of measures

Construct

No. of items

Item loadings

Construct reliability

Variance extracted

Corporate associations

4

0.63-0.76**

0.81

0.52

Corporate activities

2

0.66-0.73**

0.65

0.49

Corporate values

2

0.83-0.87**

0.83

0.72

Corporate personalities

3

0.66-0.73**

0.75

0.50

Functional benefits

2

0.64-0.66**

0.59

0.42

Symbolic benefits

4

0.75-0.82**

0.86

0.60

Emotional attachment

7

0.62-0.82**

0.89

0.53

Brand loyalty

3

0.67-0.86**

0.83

0.63

Notes: Final measurement model: w 2 ¼ 408.93, w 2 /df ¼ 1.386, GFI ¼ 0.905, TLI ¼ 0.959, CFI ¼ 0.966, RMSEA ¼ 0.037. **po0.001

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indicators was significant at po0.05 and all loadings exceeded the recommended level of 0.50 (Bagozzi and Yi, 1988). All scales met the acceptable CR and AVE values of 0.70 and 0.50, respectively, except for corporate activities (CR ¼ 0.65, AVE ¼ 0.49) and functional benefit (CR ¼ 0.59, AVE ¼ 0.42) (Bagozzi and Yi, 1988; Fornell and Larcker, 1981). Both constructs have only two measurement items which might contribute to the low CR and AVE score. However, AVE is not the only diagnostic measure to assess convergent validity (Hatcher, 1994). Given that the factor loading for functional benefit and corporate activities achieved adequate evidence of convergent validity, these two constructs were retained for further analysis. Collectively, these tests indicated that the convergent validity of the adopted constructs was generally acceptable. Discriminant validity was assessed using a procedure advocated by Fornell and Larcker (1981) whereby discriminant validity is supported when the AVE of each construct exceeds the corresponding squared inter-construct correlations estimate. Findings showed that the highest shared variance (squared correlation) between the investigated constructs was 0.45 (between corporate personalities and corporate values), while all of the AVE scores (except for functional benefit scale) exceeded 0.48. As the AVE scores for the corporate personalities and corporate values were 0.50 and 0.72, respectively, discriminant validity was established for each of the constructs (Fornell and Larcker, 1981).

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Hypotheses testing The analysis of the hypothesized structural model demonstrated an acceptable model fit to data (w 2 ¼ 451.19, w /df ¼ 1.50, TLI ¼ 0.95, CFI ¼ 0.96, RMSEA ¼ 0.04). The specified structural model explains 54 per cent of the total variance in emotional attachment and 40 per cent of the variance in brand loyalty. These findings suggest that the constructs and the specified paths account for a significant portion of the variance in the endogenous constructs posited. The effect of customer emotional attachment on brand loyalty was positive (b ¼ 0.32, po0.001), supporting H1. This means that when customers are more emotionally attached to the brand, they are more likely to be loyal towards the brand. Among the six corporate branding dimensions examined, three hypothesized paths had significant influence on customer emotional attachment. Specifically, corporate associations (b ¼ 0.23, po0.05), functional benefits (b ¼ 0.22, po0.05), and symbolic benefits (b ¼ 0.39, po0.001) each has a positive effect on customer emotional attachment, indicating that when customers have a more positive attitude towards corporate associations, functional benefits, and symbolic benefits, they are more likely to develop an emotional attachment towards the brand. Hence, supporting H2a, H6a, and H7a. The path coefficients for the relationship between corporate activities (b ¼ 0.01, p40.05), corporate values (b ¼ 0.06, p40.05), corporate personalities (b ¼ 0.18, p40.05), and customer emotional attachment were not significant. Therefore, H3a, H4a, and H5a were not supported. In addition, the results revealed that corporate association (b ¼ 0.31, po0.01) and functional benefits (b ¼ 0.34, po0.01) had an effect on loyalty. In spite of its statistical significance, the sign for the relationship between corporate association and loyalty was the opposite of the hypothesized direction. Therefore, only H6b was supported whereas H2b was not supported. Results further show that corporate activities (b ¼ 0.03, p40.05), corporate values (b ¼ 0.21, p40.05), corporate personalities (b ¼ 0.13, p40.05), and symbolical benefit (b ¼ 0.09, p40.05) did not influence brand loyalty; hence H3b, H4b, H5b, and H6b were not supported. A summary of the results of the hypothesized structural model is shown in Table III.

2

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Table III.

Structural parameter

estimates

Hypothesized paths

Sample (n ¼ 282) estimate

Corporate associations-Emotional attachment

0.23*

Corporate activities-Emotional attachment

0.01

Corporate values-Emotional attachment

0.06

Corporate personalities-Emotional attachment

0.18

Functional benefits-Emotional attachment

0.22*

Symbolic benefits-Emotional attachment

0.39***

Emotional attachment-Brand loyalty

0.32***

Corporate associations-Brand loyalty

0.31**

Corporate activities-Brand loyalty

0.03

Corporate values-Brand loyalty

0.21

Corporate personalities-Brand loyalty

0.13

Functional benefits-Brand loyalty

0.34**

Symbolic benefits-Brand loyalty

0.09

R 2 (emotional attachment)

0.54

R 2 (brand loyalty)

0.40

Notes: *po0.05; **po0.01; ***po0.001

Findings and discussion

Overall, the results of this study indicate the unexpectedly limited effectiveness of corporate branding on customer emotional attachment. Although the findings show that customers emotional attachment positively drive their brand loyalty, the results do not fully support the hypothesis that corporate branding effectively enhances a customer’s emotional attachment. This finding indicates that corporate branding might be only one of the several antecedents driving a customer’s emotional attachment towards brands. As predicted, the findings suggest that managers can achieve customers’ brand loyalty through cultivating higher levels of emotional attachment. Specifically, the results indicate that this could be achieved through nurturing customers’ favourable perceptions towards corporate associations, functional benefits, and symbolical benefits. The research findings found evidence for both types of corporate benefit to be influential factors in determining customer emotional attachment. These results suggest that luxury brands need to continuously deliver superior functional benefits and symbolical benefits to build stronger emotional attachments towards brands to achieve brand loyalty. When brands offer superior utilitarian and hedonic functionality, they are perceived to be irreplaceable by the customers. As customers become increasingly reliant on these brands, they can become more emotionally attached to the brands (Fournier, 1998). A luxury brand can reinforce its functional benefits through enhancing basic product qualities such as durability, practicality, and design (Moore and Birtwistle, 2005). Functional benefits aside, brand managers can also increase customer attachment towards brands through reinforcing their brands’ symbolical benefits by sustaining the heightened status of extravagance and elitism through the notion of scarcity (Chevalier and Mazzalovo, 2008; Moore and Birtwistle, 2004). The results further show that customers’ perceived corporate associations are crucial determinant of their emotional attachment. Therefore, it is important for managers to maintain favourable corporate associations among customers through various strategies such as enriching customers’ shopping experience and effective use of celebrity endorsement (Keller, 1999; Valey, 2009). Unexpectedly, corporate

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associations were found to impact on brand loyalty negatively while affecting emotional attachment positively. One possible explanation could be that unless one has established emotional attachments that reinforce the knowledge and long-term relationship, which are an integral part of association, the associations are seen as spurious for direct loyalty. An alternative explanation could be that this observation is specific to the sample collected, i.e. a unique characteristic of the respondents recruited for this study. Data for this study were collected in three shopping malls in Klang Valley where high-end consumers can be found (Euromonitor International, 2011). In comparison to mass-market luxury consumers, high-end luxury shoppers demonstrate higher knowledge and brand awareness. This group of consumers pays more attention to the detailing of the product such as stitching and types of skin used in making the luxury products instead of corporate associations with prestige and status during luxury brand purchase (Euromonitor International, 2011). It could also be that the present samples did not feel that the brands selected in this research possessed outstandingly favourable corporate associations that could influence their loyalty towards the brand. Under these circumstances, the relationship between customers’ perceived corporate associations and brand loyalty can be explained. However, these speculations need to be investigated in future research. Contrary to expectation, no empirical support is found for corporate activities, corporate values, and corporate personalities making a distinct impact on both emotional attachment and brand loyalty. There are several potential explanations to these observations. From the results obtained, corporate values were found to have limited contribution towards the competitive advantage of a firm. In the luxury fashion setting, many brands have similar corporate values to guide the operation of the firm. For example, the corporate values of LVMH place an emphasis on product excellence, creativity, and innovativeness; Burberry strives for highest quality standards, and innovation; Gucci Group focuses on high-quality merchandise and controlled distribution (Burberry, 2010; LVMH Group, 2010; Moore and Birtwistle, 2005). From a customer’s perspective, these corporate values might have lost their distinctive competitive advantages in helping shape a unique corporate identity for luxury firms. Hence, failing to cultivate customer emotional attachment and drive brand loyalty in the luxury market. The current study also suggests that the effect of corporate personalities on emotional attachment and brand loyalty is not supported. This finding is somewhat perplexing, as more favourably perceived corporate personalities should strengthen customers’ self-identification with the brand (Mala¨ r et al., 2011) hence increasing their emotional attachment and brand loyalty. The contradictory finding may be explained by the approach whereby the corporate personalities construct is measured in this research. This study conceptualizes corporate personalities into five broad dimensions based on Aaker’s (1997) widely applied brand personality model. Aaker (1997) suggests that brand personality comprises of five personality traits including sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness. While the proposed framework of brand personality by Aaker (1997) captures a wide range of personality traits, this study might not have included sufficient items that distinguish the different corporate personalities portrayed by each luxury brand included in this research. For example, Gucci has positioned itself with sophistication and lustre whereas Burberry portrays the English lifestyle of modern edginess and elitism (Okonkwo, 2007). The broad conceptualization of corporate personality might contribute to corporate personalities’ perplexing effect on customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty.

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Therefore, researchers may consider focusing on only one brand or a few brands with comparable corporate personalities in future research when studying the impact of corporate personalities on customer emotional attachment and loyalty. From our empirical results, the hypothesized impact of corporate activities on customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty was also not supported. These findings are at first glance surprising given that corporate activities such as

  • 418 advertising and communications are prevalently used in the luxury fashion industry to

encourage customer loyalty behaviour (Okonkwo, 2007). However, one explanation for this observation might be the overly cluttered marketing environment surrounding luxury customers. As competition among firms to capture customers’ attention in the luxury fashion market is rife, customers have been bombarded with irrelevant information and marketing messages (De Chernatony and McDonald, 2003; Newlin, 2009). To avoid being constantly harassed by excessive marketing “noise”, customers have learned to adopt selective attention towards marketing messages (De Chernatony and McDonald, 2003). As a result, a firm’s efforts in branding activities are unlikely to capture customer interest (Newlin, 2009) which provides an explanation for corporate activities’ ineffectiveness in building customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty.

Contributions, implications, and future research

The implementation of corporate branding has become a norm in the luxury fashion industry. Despite the importance of understanding the extent to which corporate branding strategy influences customer behaviour, this area of fashion marketing management has remained largely unexplored (Kapferer and Bastien, 2009; Keller, 2009). Rather, a review of relevant literature showed that the majority of the studies done on luxury fashion branding took a managerial perspective (Kapferer and Bastien, 2009). As such, this study contributes to the luxury fashion marketing management literature through investigating the mechanisms that drive customer loyalty through corporate branding strategy from the customers’ perspective. The tested model captures the potential contribution of the multi-faceted corporate branding effort in cultivating customer emotional attachment, which contributes towards brand loyalty. By incorporating customer emotional attachment as an antecedent of brand loyalty, the proposed framework expands the current understanding of the impact of corporate branding on customers, in the luxury fashion sector. While corporate branding efforts are expected to increase customer emotional attachment and brand loyalty, the results of this study indicate that this might not be as straightforward as the literature would suggest. Based on the empirical findings, the influence of corporate branding strategy on premium customers in the luxury fashion market was found to be fairly limited. While this study supports many researchers (e.g. Grisaffe and Nguyen, 2011; Park et al., 2010) who argue that customer emotional attachment drives brand loyalty in the luxury fashion market; based on the results obtained, firms are cautioned not to regard corporate branding strategy as the only strategic tool for achieving strong emotional attachment. Among the six dimensions of corporate branding, corporate associations, functional benefits, and symbolical benefits were found to be effective in driving customer emotional attachment. As such, this study indicates that luxury retailers should dedicate resources to enhance customers’ perceptions about corporate associations, functional benefits, and symbolical benefits in order to build stronger emotional attachment. Our finding that supports the role of functional benefits in driving both emotional attachment and brand loyalty further highlights the significance of utilitarian function as the foundation to a sustainable

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customer-brand relationship in the long term. Therefore, managers who want to increase brand loyalty among customers should prioritize resources into making premium quality luxury offerings. Although this study has provided valuable findings on the relationships between corporate branding, customer emotional attachment, and brand loyalty, several limitations must be noted and these provide some suggestions for future study. First, this study only samples from shoppers in the Klang Valley. Although the sample of participants might be an accurate reflection of the population of luxury shoppers in Malaysia, it is not representative of the entire population. More importantly, findings from this study might not be generalizable to luxury shoppers in other countries. As such, future studies might consider testing the proposed framework in other cultural settings. Second, this is a cross-sectional study whereby findings represent a snapshot scenario of the development of customer emotional attachment towards brands through corporate branding. It could be worthwhile for future research to conduct a longitudinal study in examining emotional attachment development over time to uncover any changes in a customer’s attachment level towards brands as a result of corporate branding efforts. Third, this study might not incorporate all possible variables that could impact on the process of building emotional attachment through corporate branding efforts. For example, factors such as customer relationship proneness, customer involvement could be included in future studies to draw more conclusive and comprehensive findings on the effect of corporate branding on emotional attachment for the luxury industry. Finally, incorporating other important relationship marketing constructs, such as customer trust, could further extend the proposed framework. Trust is often considered a key component of an enduring relationship, without which emotional attachment might cease to exist (Lau and Lee, 1999). Nevertheless, this study has shown that there is a role for corporate branding and for emotional attachment in constructing brand loyalty in the luxury fashion sector. Marketing executives must pay attention to these important constructs if they are to help achieve the profits firms’ desire in a fiercely competitive sector of the fashion industry.

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About the authors

Jing Theng So is a PhD candidate in the Department of Marketing at Monash University, Australia. Her primary areas of research include relationship marketing, consumer behaviour,

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branding and incentive programmes. Jing Theng So is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: So.jing.theng@gmail.com Prof. Andrew Grant Parsons is Professor of Retailing and Head of the Department of Marketing, Advertising, Retailing, and Sales at Auckland University of Technology. His research focuses on shopper responses to marketing stimuli. Dr Sheau-Fen Yap is a Senior Lecturer of Marketing at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. Her present research centres on social marketing, with specific interests in health marketing and sustainability issues. Her research interests also span technology adoption. She has published and presented several papers in international journals and conferences.

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