December 25, 2014
Written by Onsurang Siripiyavatana
Powerful stories always link to the heart and mind of people. Well-crafted stories reach out to the audience, making each and every story unique for the individual. Audiences develop their own imagery and co-create the brand. Heritage brands are rich in track records and longevity; they have good stories to tell. Storytelling is an opportunistic marketing tool for heritage brands, if marketers package it right.
However, heritage brands come with the ‘sincerity’ characteristics of being honest, authentic, trustworthy, caring and unassuming (Aaker, 1996). The model of heritage brands view the consumer as passive commodity but it is no longer relevant in the social media era.
In the social media era, companies are now evaluated by much more than their products. It is the era where brand’s values and emotions they evoke are narrative material (Hamm, 2013). It’s indisputable that the best way to link the brand’s idea with an audience’s emotion is by telling a compelling story (Hamm, 2013). Moreover, the opportunities of hyper-connected and social consumer as well as new distribution platform enable rapid sharing of information and contribute to the effectiveness of viral marketing. Viral marketing, by Cambridge Dictionaries Online is defined “A marketing activity in which information about a product spreads between people, especially on the internet” (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Trusov et al., (2009) state that customer involvement is crucial for company’s survival in the social media era and viral marketing is a necessary tool to gain attention in a cluttered marketing environment.
The purpose of this paper is to examine and analyze how heritage brands keep the heritage story relevant in an era where social media is increasingly important and how they utilize viral marketing to elevate the consumers to brand’s value co-creator. Two heritage brands’ storytelling strategy via viral marketing are examined, namely Thai Life Insurance and Volkswagen. These brands are of irrelevant categories and of different base location, one in service another in automotive, one in Asia another in Europe. The two distinct examples are selected to give evidence of powerful storytelling regardless of circumstances.
How the organizations with strong heritage brand strategy manage to stay relevant in the social media era? How they embrace storytelling and make use of viral marketing? What are the keys for success? This is focus questions of the paper. A summary will be given to how heritage brands can adapt and create a sustainable competitive advantage in the cluttered social media environment, “as our new brands of today turn into the heritage brands of tomorrow” (Liebrenz-Himes, 2007)
Who write the brand storyboard in social media
A brand story is more than content and a narrative. The whole picture of the storyboard is made up of facts, feelings and interpretations, which means that part of a brand’s story is not told by brand owner (Jiwa, 2013). As mentioned by Winer (2009), the communication of brand story has changed and with the emergence of social media, the power of storytelling shifts from the hands of brand owner to the consumer through user-generated brand content. According to Vargo and Lusch (2004), the three ingredients central to co-creation of brand story are networks, relations, and interactions— which are enabled through discussion forums, blogs, community platforms, and news-sharing sites. In the landscape of open source branding, Fournier & Avery (2011) used the metaphor of “un-invited brand” to address how branding through the internet is viewed upon by the consumer. The authors claim that the social media was made for people, not for brands. Hence the people, more specifically the stakeholder, is all it matter in the age which the context of social collective, transparency, criticism and parody are relevant.
Storytelling involve a narrator and listener however, because of the two ways interaction nature of social media, both the consumer and brand owner can play the role of a narrator and that of a listener, resulting in an interactive co-creation driven by the participants. Consumers evaluate products or brands online and influence other consumer’s perception, give consumers an active role in branding and storytelling process (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). Hence the brand storyboard in social media era is crafted by interlinked content and co-creation of brand from interrelated stories is the key.
Brand heritage and the ability to make use of viral marketing to stay relevant
Brand heritage is a dimension of brand’s identity found in its track record, longevity, core values, use of symbols and organizational believe that its history is important.
Heritage brand make use of its history as a key component in brand identity and value proposition. Many brands have heritage but did not make use of it are not heritage brands (Urde, Greyser, & Balmer, 2007). Heritage brand appeals to its current and past consumer, and if it continues to appeal to future consumers, its heritage continues to be a key asset of the overall brand equity (Liebrenz-Himes, 2007). Aaker (1996) highlights that identity equity in heritage brands is extremely strong and valuable, the brand’s footprints add sincerity and differentiation, especially as the brand’s history and origin are re-interpreted in contemporary time (Aaker, 2004). Benson (2005) notes that heritage brands convey their heritage in a form of storytelling and the key that these brands all have in common is that they have had the time to build a meaningful and relevant past – a heritage. Barwise & Meehan (2010) also see this as an opportunity for heritage brands and that they should exploit the social media and revise the marketing playbook rather than rewriting it—meaning brands should strive to go viral, but protect the brand.
What makes a heritage brand stay relevant from generation to generation is the ability to respond to changing marketplace. Researches point out that the existence of successful brands has to be built on strong core values (Seybold 2001, Moser 2003) that consumers can relate. Seybold states “Your customer’s experience with your brand includes how that customer feels when he is in you brand’s presence” (Seybold, 2001). Hence, it all comes down to the “feelings” or consumers’ emotional engagement. In a diverse marketing landscape of today, the challenge facing heritage brands is to deliver the message and to appeal to the younger generations and stay relevant in changing marketplace. A study by Merchant & Rose (2012) confirms the positive impact of advertising-evoked vicarious nostalgia, a longing for a period that an individual did not personally live through, on brand heritage as “Promoting brand heritage bonds the consumer to the brand by enhancing trust, reinforcing perceptions of stability, creating positive emotions, and communicating the consistency of the brand’s promise over time”. According to Woerndl et al.(2008) the critical characteristic of successful viral marketing is the ability to reach out to the targeted audience and emotionally engaging message content.
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