Written by Jess C.
The marketing of luxuries constitutes a well-developed field of academic study (Yu and Hu, 2020; Liu et al., 2019). One question that has not yet been answered by scholars, however, was whether the traditional definition of luxury could be extended to resource- and labour-intensive industries such as the construction sector (Ko et al., 2019). The majority of academic knowledge on luxury has so far focused on apparel or the provision of luxury services, signifying the existence of a vital research gap (Chandon et al., 2016). The essay addresses this lack of academic knowledge by transferring the extant conceptualisations of luxury into the construction industry. Specifically, the analysis focuses on whether marble could be presented by marketers employed by construction firms as a luxury material. Answering this question could provide both marketing theorists and practitioners with valuable knowledge on developing new marketing strategies in construction and similar industries.
The Marketing of Marble as a Luxury Product
Defining Luxury in the Construction Industry
This section focuses on how the present body of academic knowledge typically defines luxury and how these models could relate to the construction industry. Multiple researchers were in agreement that luxury was a highly diverse concept covering uniqueness, utilitarian value and hedonistic value (Yu and Hu, 2020; Liu et al., 2019). Ko et al. (2019) proposed the following framework of luxury consumption.
Figure 1: A Framework of Luxury Consumption
When discussing the concept of luxury, the researchers emphasised alignment between luxury and individual and cultural luxury values (Ko et al., 2019). Authenticity, economic value, uniqueness, self-confidence and pride were identified as 5 key characteristics of luxury brands expressed through consumer behaviour (Ko et al., 2019). The question facing the study was whether such a definition was still applicable to the construction industry. On the one hand, construction firms provided a unique service to their clients, meaning that their value proposition could be considered as luxury if the service fits the above benchmarks (Yu and Hu, 2020). On the other hand, it remained to be seen whether this argument extended to the use of individual materials for construction, namely marble.
There existed little academic evidence that would explicitly link the concept of luxury to the construction sector. However, other scholars suggested that the value proposition of construction firms had distinct levels of quality (Yu et al., 2019). In turn, quality could reach a degree that would fit the luxury criteria established by Ko et al. (2019). In their review of this issue, Ma et al. (2018) noted that construction firms could implement collaborative communications systems to reduce the number of audits required for operations management. The implication was that construction firms could implement specific practices that improved the quality of their services or added new features to the construction process (Ma et al., 2018). These mechanisms arguably improved the perceived economic value of construction projects as well as adding to the fields of self-confidence and pride (Ko et al., 2019). Nevertheless, this discussion omitted other criteria, namely authenticity, uniqueness and country of origin.
The essay argues that both authenticity and uniqueness are applicable to the construction sector. For instance, Gao et al. (2020) suggested that authenticity was one of the main criteria used by visitors when evaluating the construction of heritage sites. In other words, authenticity in the construction industry could refer to the preservation of specific individual or cultural values which was consistent with the definitions proposed by Ko et al. (2019). Uniqueness in the construction sector typically referred to the use of inimitable architectural plans reflecting the requirements of the clients (Musilek et al., 2016). The argument was that luxury in the construction sector was dependent on individual project requirements and could not necessarily be reduced to universal criteria. One critique of this discussion was that both uniqueness and authenticity were ultimately subjective and defined by each individual client and visitor (Gao et al., 2020; Musilek et al., 2016). While the extant criteria of luxury brands were applicable to the construction industry, there existed caveats that did prevent unambiguous perceptions of luxury.
One final remark was that the construction industry introduced a unique criterion for luxury, namely sustainability. The construction sector was resource-intensive, meaning that construction firms were under stakeholder pressure to reduce the number of produced pollution and switch to renewable sources of energy (Goh et al., 2019). Higher sustainability significantly improved perceptions of individual construction projects, meaning that sustainability was a possible addition to the framework of Ko et al. (2019). The essay acknowledges that the factor of the country of origin had limited relevance to the construction industry. There existed no empirical studies that would illustrate how country of origin affected the quality of construction projects. This meant that the construction sector presented a unique case when viewed using the modern definitions of luxury products and services.
Marble as a Driver of Luxury in the Construction Industry
The discussion now turns to marble, its marketing and how its usage could be a driver of luxury in the construction industry. The question was whether the use of marble allowed construction projects to fit the relevant criteria for luxury, namely sustainability, authenticity, uniqueness, economic value, self-confidence and pride. In their review of marble usage in construction projects, Belouadah et al. (2019) suggested that specific types of marble could act as raw materials or construction waste. This implied that there existed no specific properties to marble that added to the perceived luxury of construction projects. On the other hand, Farrier (2019) implied that the use of white marble was a mechanism of communicating one’s wealth and political power in Turkmenistan. The finding was that some types of marble (e.g. white marble) were characterised with cultural codes that arguably improved authenticity, uniqueness, self-confidence and pride.
One explanation for this phenomenon was the rarity of white marble. According to Marmivrech (2019), specific types of white marble (such as Statuario marble) were only available in specific regions (e.g. Southern Italy). The implication was that the use of white marble communicated that the construction project had high symbolic significance, strongly contributing to its perceived uniqueness and possibly economic value (Farrier, 2019). Another justification for the link between marble and luxury was the fact that marble was attached with strong cultural and religious connotations. For example, white marble held religious significance in Islam, explaining its usage in Turmekistan (Farrier, 2019). The use of marble was a possible source of luxury marketing in the construction industry. On the other hand, experts have critiqued the use of white marble in the urban setting, claiming that this material provided few utilitarian benefits (Farrier, 2019). The impacts of white marble on economic value were, therefore, questionable.
The use of marble was a valuable addition to the marketing practices available to construction firms and interior decorators. As was stated by Tino (2019), the rarity of marble meant that this material was typically assigned a price premium by construction companies. The use of marble communicated the ability of the clients of construction companies to bear increased costs, acting as a powerful branding tool. Linking these findings to the original framework of luxury, the use of marble contributed to pride and self-confidence (Ko et al., 2019). Another question was whether marble could be an inherently sustainable material. Adding marble to other construction materials (such as concrete) typically improved the degree to which these resources could be recycled (Belouadah et al., 2019). Nonetheless, Aydin and Arel (2019) noted that the degree to which marble itself was recyclable was not significantly higher than that of other construction materials. This suggested that marble was not an effective material to use when sustainability was the main driver of luxury. Another issue was communicating the link between luxury and sustainability. When discussing the concept of luxury, Ko et al. (2019) suggested that branding and marketing were vital in whether specific products or services were perceived as luxurious. It would be challenging to accurately communicate the chemical characteristics of marble to stakeholders unfamiliar with this resource. The implication was that the marketing of marble was not a valuable instrument for communicating the luxuriousness of construction projects.
Conclusions and Implications
The essay demonstrated that the current definitions of luxury branding and marketing were applicable to the construction industry. At the same time, the construction sector also incorporated sustainability as an indicator of luxury. Answering the question established in the introduction, the analysis suggested that the use of marble in construction was a valuable marketing practice. Marketers could benefit from cultural and religious connotations typically attached to marble. Another benefit of marble was in explicitly communicating the financial capabilities of the clients of construction firms. Nonetheless, marble did not explicitly contribute to perceived sustainability and total economic value. The practical implication was that the marketing of construction projects could incorporate the use of marble as an indicator of luxury branding. Marketers employed by construction firms would need to be aware of the cultural significance attached to marble. The theoretical contribution of the essay was in illustrating that the definition of luxury could vary between different industries.
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