Written by Jane Macfarlane-Grieve
It’s no secret that the way the Internet is used has changed a lot in recent years.
The rise of ‘Web 2.0’ as it is known – the infrastructure that has allowed the current social experience of social media and consumer creation – has created a situation where consumers expect a richer context (Berthon, 2012). Instead of simply expecting content to be fed to them, consumers wish to interact, to collaborate and to interject – and brands should be open to this (Berthon, 2012). Web 2.0 means participation and action – there is nothing passive here.
Social media is the game changer. ‘Social media’ meaning all manners of conversation platform, such as social networking, video sharing and blogging. It is here that consumers are encouraged to be involved and personal (Fournier, 2011). And it is the dramatic growth of social media that has meant the most to retailers – something even marketing scholars are only beginning to understand (Henning-Thurau, 2013). It has only been in very recent years that businesses have realised the necessity of engaging with consumers via social media, and in fact the potential competitive advantage that a well- managed social media presence can bring (King, 2014).
The problem for businesses is that social media works in favour of the consumer. This is a place of transparency, and of consumers’ self-interest, and this isn’t necessarily in favour of the business (Fournier, 2011). Social media is inherently at the consumers’ level, and this means it isn’t a place for businesses to use traditional marketing strategies (Henning-Thurau, 2013). With such ease of communication, consumers will retaliate to being misled or patronised. They want to be spoken to as equals, and not simply viewed as a dollar sign.
This ability to relate to consumers on their level is something that many businesses struggle with. Across social media, many businesses seem inauthentic, with their conversation unnatural and uncomfortable for consumers (Fournier, 2011). Marketing skills have failed to be adapted to this conversational and informal platform, and as a result businesses can seem weirdly out of touch.
To take a strategic approach to social media, a business must understand that consumers want interactivity and openness (Vernuccio, 2014). One of the main barriers to meeting customers on their level seems to be the attitude businesses take. Rather than observing and reacting, many businesses preach – which undoubtedly offends consumers (Berthon, 2012). Social media is not a TV advertisement – it is collaboration – and this couldn’t be more important. It is when businesses miss this, and use an instructive, preaching tone, that the potential of social media marketing is the most sorely missed.
Another interesting element of Web 2.0 has been electronic word of mouth (or, eWOM). eWOM is defined as “any positive or negative statement made by potential, actual, or former customers about a product or company, which is made available to a multitude of people and institutions via the Internet” (King, 2014). eWOM allows consumers to make informed purchase decisions over digital platforms, by engaging socially with other consumers and discussing ideas (King, 2014). This works just as ordinary word of mouth would, but with the added element of the extended volume that comes with being on the Internet – anyone, anywhere, could read your opinion. What is interesting about eWOM is that consumers don’t only seek it out when they are considering a purchase, but also when they have no specific desire to purchase at all (King, 2014). This means businesses must understand that interaction across social media should not only be to facilitate a current purchase – but also to aid brand loyalty and brand awareness. These customers might not be interested in purchasing now, but possibly they will later.
Clearly, there are many pitfalls for businesses to fall into when communicating via social media, and some businesses are doing their best to demonstrate these downfalls. However, there are of course other businesses that are successfully managing Web 2.0 and using it to their advantage.
Thinking about my experience as a fashion consumer, there is one retailer that stands out to me as the queen of communication, and whose social presence is expertly tended to – this retailer is ASOS. ASOS is an online-only, global fashion retailer that caters to male and female consumers. ASOS differentiates itself in this competitive market by offering around 1500 new products each week, and equally though its use of an effective and collaborative social media presence (asos.com).
According to ASOS, its customer is “the twenty-something fashion-lover: an avid consumer and communicator who is inspired by friends, celebrities and the media” (asosplc.com). ASOS aims to be part of the conversation with its consumers – constantly communicating and being involved with their decisions and tastes. ASOS has recognised consumers want to be treated as equals. One way ASOS manages to relate to its consumers in this conversational context is its use of an informal tone – ASOS speaks to consumers how they would speak to each other. And this works.
Social media, being communication with consumers across platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, is an area where ASOS proves its worth. Evidently ASOS understands what consumers want from businesses on social media, and it understands how to fulfill this. ASOS has said that it chooses to show personality on its social media by being topical and engaging in conversation, and that it specifically wants to be viewed in this realistic and transparent way, rather than as an anonymous entity forcing brand awareness (asosplc.com). By viewing and interacting with ASOS’s various social media platforms it is clear that the brand has achieved this goal,
and it is online 24/7, networking with consumers and offering tips, chat and advice (asosplc.com).
Developing relationships with consumers is a key way in which ASOS has adapted its marketing style to suit with Web 2.0. It works on developing these relationships through its multi-channel approach to its ecommerce as well as its social media. ASOS has acknowledged the digital age that its consumers are embedded in, and it aims to apply itself fully to this. As well as ASOS.com – the traditional ecommerce website – the company also offers an alternative mobile website, an iPhone and iPad app, and a magazine which is available both as a physical product and as an interactive download. Collectively, this means the digital consumer has a wealth of choice about how she wishes to engage with ASOS. ASOS understands how its consumer connects, and makes itself constantly available.
Its traditional website, ASOS.com, is one of the key features that shows ASOS’s adoption of Web 2.0. The website is designed unlike a customary ecommerce site, so instead of simply being a platform to facilitate purchase, it is also a hub of related content. The website offers style advice, celebrity interviews, beauty tips, chat functions, video content, holiday gift ideas, a news feed, stylists, the list goes on... Rather than simply focusing on clothing, which is the main ecommerce offering; ASOS engages consumers with other content they could be interested in. This means ASOS produces daily editorials that encompass the entire fashion environment, including music, lifestyle and beauty. This makes ASOS.com appear more like a social hub, an interactive platform or perhaps a magazine’s website, rather than its main function as an ecommerce platform – which of course it is also very successful at. ASOS is meeting consumers on their own level.
One of ASOS’s most recent online additions that really reveals its response to Web 2.0 is the introduction of stylists. These are 9 male and female style experts that are now essentially ‘faces of the brand’. Each has an individual clear and unique style, and a webpage. The stylists offer a function called ‘shop my edit’ whereby the stylist picks out her favourite pieces available at ASOS.com and consumers can purchase them. Complimenting this, the image of each stylist is developed through his or her own Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube channel which consumers can interact and engage with. Consumers are encouraged to ‘follow’ their favourite stylists across these platforms and to keep up with the trends the stylist is wearing (asos.com). This looks to be a clear response to the current phenomena of the fashion blogger. Essentially these stylists are in-house fashion bloggers, projecting an image that consumers want to imitate. Again, ASOS is engaging with consumers on their level and with transparency.
ASOS could be defined as a ‘Confident Communicator’, meaning the retailer strives for openness and engagement across multiple platforms. For ASOS, relationships with stakeholders are interactive, conversational and on-demand (Vernuccio, 2014). It is through this confident communication that ASOS has
been able to establish itself as a benchmark for social media marketing in Web 2.0, and uses this as a tool for competitive advantage.
Author Unknown. (2015). About Us. Available: http://www.asos.com/infopages/pgeaboutus.aspx?r=2. Last accessed 10th Feb 2015.
Author Unknown. (2015). How We Do It. Available: http://www.asosplc.com/how-we-do-it.aspx#section3. Last accessed 10th Feb 2015.
Berthon, P et al.. (2012). Marketing meets Web 2.0, social media, and creative consumers: Implications for international marketing strategy. Business Horizons. 55 (1), 261-271.
Hennig-Thurau, T et al.. (2013). Marketing the Pinball Way: Understanding How Social Media Change the Generation of Value for Consumers and Companies. Journal of Interactive Marketing. 27 (1), 237-241.
Fournier, S. (2011). The uninvited brand. Business Horizons. 54 (1), 193-207.
King, R., Racherla, P., Bush, V.. (2014). What We Know and Don't Know About Online Word-of-Mouth: A Review and Synthesis of the Literature. Journal of Interactive Marketing. 28 (1), 167-183.
Vernuccio, M. (2014). Communicating Corporate Brands Through Social Media: An Exploratory Study. International Journal of Business Communication. 51 (3), 211-233.