November 17, 2014
Written by Yasmine Najjar
The internet implementation in marketing process is a great opportunity for brands as it’s inexpensive, delivers instant international real time feedback and allows them to reach broader audiences (Papasolomou and Melanthiou, 2013). It’s the chance for brands to communicate with the consumers in a more honest and genuine way than advertising, to know them better and build a strong relationship. But to “harness the power of the web to reach consumers directly you must ignore the old rules” (Scott, 2011). The “rules” of communications are different in the virtual world: brands don’t talk at someone anymore but with someone. If they try to take the same approach than in traditional media, especially in social medias, and just speak their message out, it’s not going to work, they need to create conversation (Armelli and Villanueva, 2011).
Research has highlighted the impact that can have online communities on perceptions of brands. Firms are vulnerable in this context especially brands who have a poor pre-existing brand image and face unfavorable consumer-generated content in online communities (Varadarajan and Yadav, 2009). Yet, it’s a powerful tool to interact in a more personal way and reinforce your brand image. The messages brands send to consumers via traditional advertising can sometimes be interpreted in different ways, blur their positioning and brand identity. Facebook and Twitter can be great for brand image as it allows sending direct messages and more importantly, humanizing the brand which is more effective than anything for brand image. Like when having a talk in daily life with someone, consumers will get a better understanding of whom the company is as a brand. Online, you are what you publish but control branding is yet impossible because of the e-WOM (Christodoulides et al. 2006, in Christoloudides 2009). People are selective about where to spend their time on social media platforms; they look for entertainment, knowledge, socialization… as a brand you need to fulfill these criteria otherwise you end up creating a ghost community abandoned once participants discover you don’t (Seraj, 2012). As Vries, Gensler and Leeflang reminded us in 2012 “Entertainment leads people to consume, create or contribute to brand-related content online. For Einsenbess, Bechscmidt, Backhaus and Freund (2012), consumers have three motivations to engage in this virtual world: socializing, creativity and escape. They agree that without responding to these motivations a brand can’t make the most of social media platforms.
It is essential that brands take the cultural aspect in matter: we don’t address people from California and Paris the same way, their motivations for being on internet, their sensitivity are different. It also involves a consequent time commitment to manage online brand image properly. Brands need to make daily efforts to produce interesting content and foster a community around their identity and values. The main risk in going online is exposing the brand to bad and very straightforward feedbacks, visible to everyone. Negative comments on the Internet negatively affecting the brand image as perceived by other consumers (Sandes and Urdan, 2013). Brands need to address these complaints very fast and try to find a response that satisfy the consumer or at least clarify the situation. Managing these situations improve your brand image.
Blogs are also a great tool to manage your brand image. Why are they so interesting? Famous and established blogs have often more credibility than brand websites, as the content is supposed not to be controlled by a firm. The reality is that more and more brands use these blogs as a PR tool or what we could call disguised advertising as the consumer is not even aware sometimes the blog received money to produce fallout.
Blogs are also participative which allows brands to get closer to consumers, have lots of feedbacks and a good view on how consumers perceive your brand as they speak very freely when the blogger produces an article about one of your product. There are many ways to participate in this blog phenomenon. Most of the brands send products to bloggers so that they can test them. However, the brand doesn’t control anything after: they lose control of the message because bloggers have their own voice. So, every time a blogger has a good product experience and decides to talk about it, brand image improves as the audience trust their judgment. On the other hand, every time his feedback isn’t good and he decides to expose it, it can damage brand image. Organizing a contest with a blogger is a good way to arouse interest and trigger liking. The most interesting opportunity is certainly to make partnerships with these bloggers by proposing to them to participate in a product creation for example. Their audience, very loyal, sees these partnerships as a caution from the blogger, like a go to love the brand themselves as consumers.
However, relationships with bloggers can be complicated. There are lots of codes in the blogosphere that brands need to be familiar with in order for it to be a great tool for their image. When a brand sends products to a blogger, they need to avoid chasing him up so that he writes an article. Not only is he going to find it irritating but he also wants his feedback to be as authentic as possible, it’s his dedicated space, he’s the one who has the “power”. Also, as bloggers are a lot solicited, the brand has to show them its interest in their blog (why do they want to work with them) and to personalize their messages when they get in touch with them. Bloggers need to see the humans working behind the brand; they need to create relationships between people so that it can work.
Partnerships with online versions of traditional media can also be very interesting to develop or change brand image. By teaming up with one of them, these media share their audience with the brand but not only: they have their own identity which is going to reflect on the brand. It can be really effective when a brand wants to change its image for example give a fashion touch to its identity by teaming up with the online version of fashion and renowned magazine. By having a presence on their website, the media gives you a “guarantee”. This partnership can be a dedicated space on their website, a contest to win prizes from the brand, and other very innovative presences on the media. The aim of this kind of partnerships is to advertise without doing it obviously, it needs to be very well integrated to the content of the website. For example, Tex by Carrefour, a clothing brand from the famous French supermarket, suffered a cheap old fashioned image. The brand wanted to have a more glamorous and “hype” image and teamed up with French ELLE to do so. This partnership impacted the perception the audience had on the brand as ELLE is known for appreciating fashion and cool clothes.
What about buzz marketing? How can it impact brand image? According to Deighton and Kornfeld (2009), buzz marketing is an umbrella term for the mobilized power of the culture to pass on a marketer's message. People don’t have the impression to share advertising message but something novel, entertaining and of the moment. The video ‘Evolution’ by Dove, in which a simple woman is transformed in a model thanks to make-up and Photoshop, was a huge success for Dove brand image. Dove wasn’t anymore any cosmetics brand; it was the one close to women, fighting against beauty stereotypes so that women can accept their beauty. It was effective because it created engagement. The downside of buzz marketing is that you can be easily parody on sharing platforms like Youtube which can affect the message brands were trying to pass on.
Internet has been a revolution as it tremendously changed consumers, empowering them. Most brands need to go there if they want to survive but as we have seen in this paper it’s a tricky place for brand image. It offers lots of opportunities to build a strong bond with consumers and manage your brand image when you know how to use the different tools it offers. We can wonder as soon as brand will have figure out how to make the most of internet, will we go back to brands having the power over consumers? Do they want that to happen? Maybe internet, even with its risks, can actually be seen as a benediction for brand image as brands have now a great insight of consumers’ perception and can adjust their brand image in function.
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