Written by Radmila Milenkovich
Customer advocacy is defined by marketers’ attempt on building mutual “transparency, dialogue and partnership” (p. 5) and is becoming an essential part of a marketing strategy (Lawer and Knox, 2006). However, the marketers’ presence in the user’s activities online can been seen as avoided or causing irritation (Cho and Cheon, 2004). Therefore, the following paper sets the question of how can marketers influence customer advocacy and word-of-mouth (WOM), without causing irritation or avoidance. As a result, the paper will begin by identifying the problem of advertising avoidance on the internet and the three main reasons for it (Cho and Cheon, 2004), followed by e-word-of-mouth marketing (eWOMM) as a phenomenon and eWOM types. The aim of the paper is to give the ground understanding of who talks online – the marketers, the influencers or the end users. Part II would provide a follow up on the topic, which will explore the notion of avoidance in eWOMM and the theory in practice, meanwhile providing implications for building customer advocacy while minimising the threat negative response.
Part I Marketers online presence: from customer advocacy to advertising avoidance. The guide to understanding eWOMM
Why all this fuzz about ewom?
Have you thought why your favourite blogger is always talking about particular brands only, why is the Youtuber you are following recommending same products and why are your friends talking about products and services. Is this eWOM or sponsored marketing? Who is talking: the marketer or the citizen? Where do one draw the line? The development of a new app has been noticed on the market: Blast Buzz. The app aims at “co-creating and amplifying buzz” about products and services on the social media websites Facebook and Twitter (Blastbuzz.com, 2015). The company is believed to revolutionise marketing by putting it into the hands of the citizens, who are stimulated to engage in the online activities in order to earn Buzz Coins and redeem them for cash or prizes (BlastBuzz.com, 2015)
Customer Advocacy and eWOM – the hints behind definititions
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” (Hennig-Thurau et al. 2004, p 39, as cited by King et al., 2014). On the other hand, marketers aim at building mutual “transparency, dialogue and partnership” (p. 5) in order to build trust and commitment with customers, seen as customer advocacy (Lawer and Knox, 2006). When incorporated in marketers’ strategies, it can give an opportunity for an open dialogue and information flow (Lawer and Knox, 2006). However, customer power in the world-wide-web is seen as increasingly growing, therefore, brands may become vulnerable (Lawer and Knox, 2006). Digital marketing may be the thing that every brand is considering as essential in their strategies, but internet users can find it to be intrusive or annoying (Lawer and Knox, 2006).
when online becomes off the line – advertising avoidance
Internet has been defined as the “convergent medium for all other media” (p. 89), like TV, radio, print, and as a result with its appearance marketers undertook approaches similar to offline advertising such as banner ads, sponsorship, email ads and others (Cho and Cheon, 2004). However, the nature of the internet medium is more of a task and goal orientated, rather than a source of entertainment, therefore, the phenomenon of internet advertising avoidance took interest of theorists and marketing practitioners (Cho and Cheon, 2004). As a result, Cho and Cheon (2004) identified three components leading to advertising avoidance:
perceived goal impediment: ads are seen as creating noise and disrupting consumers’ goals;
perceived ad clutter on the internet, due to the excessive numbers of advertising on the internet; and, lastly,
prior negative experience with being exposed to advertising (Cho and Cheon, p. 91).
For example, the growth of advertising avoidance on the internet could be seen by the popularity of the ad block software, reaching 150 million installations in 2014 (Stone, 2014). This is an extension to browsers that blocks advertising content, such as banner adverts, videos and others. The app users are not against advertisers in principle, but rather against the format of the ad, being intrusive and limiting their access to the desired content (Stone, 2014).
This clutter could be seen as a part of the transformation of the internet towards being an open communication space for guiding purchase decisions, on contrast to the past, where customers sought information from marketers, certified external parties or surrounding social group in conversations (King et al., 2014). EWOM is a network form of interaction, where customers communicate freely between each other (Kind et al., 2014). On contrast to earlier definitions by Cho and Cheon (2004) of internet usage being goal orientated, eWOM could be serendipitous and the active role of consumers becomes important for marketers. Consumer journey is no longer linear, but rather a “continuous loop” as customers can include or remove brand from their consideration set, while engaging in online communities (King et al., 2014). Therefore, eWOM is becoming the new element that need to be integrated in the marketing strategy mix for communications (Chen and Xie, 2008).
Understanding eWOM and WOMM tools
4.1. What are the ‘natives’ doing online?
To begin with, customers engage in online communities, both company owned and open social media communities, by writing reviews with the aim of helping decision making for other users (King et al., 2014). Marketers have identified the importance of encouraging eWOM through providing consumers with incentives, such as vouchers and discounts. This allows them both a spread of positive product information and also market insights (Kulmala et al., 2013). The group that has the highest impact on the public are the so called ‘opinion leaders’, characterised as having a high status and exposure to new information (Kulmala et al., 2013). Bloggers can be identified as a type of opinion leaders that offer interactive and informal conversations. Blogs are identified as easy-to-use and simple tools, available to a large group of audience and especially handy for opinion leaders to share ideas and gain feedback (Kulmala et al., 2013).
4.2. What is the real deal? Organic versus amplified ewom
Marketers are initiating WOM by directing the discourses of bloggers in a public relation format of promotion (Kozinets et al., 2010). Kulmala et al. (2013) separated the eWOM of blogs into two types: organic and amplified. The organic eWOM is identified as the one that occurs naturally when a blogger talks about his/her experience with a product. On the other hand, amplified eWOM is the one initiated by the marketers through incentivising bloggers to talk about a product (Kulmala et al., 2013). For examples, Youtube users with high volume of followers are paid for promoting the Xbox One’s launch and some get further sponsored if they ask their followers to upload content featuring Xbox One (Orland, 2014). Forrest and Cao (2010) refer to the two terms as genuine and sponsored recommendation. They define genuine as where marketers do not participate and the consumers are the one formulating and receiving recommendations, acting as “a node in a network” (p. 90). On the other hand, in sponsored recommendation there are three parties involved: the marketer, using eWOM as analytical tool, the agent, playing the role of a consumer and giving active recommendation, and the consumers, who are receiving and giving recommendations (Forrest and Cao, 2010).
A further categorisation of amplified eWOM is provided by (Kozinets et al., 2010), who identified 4 communication strategies used by digital marketers: evaluation, explanation, embracing and endorsement. They were identified as forming a tension between commercial and communal understandings and beliefs, covering the audience reaction on each strategy. The commercial factor is explicit in the evaluation and embracing strategies, where evaluation focuses on the product itself and the embracing on the personal needs as message justification (Kozinets et al., 2010). On contrast, the explanation and endorsement techniques are seen as explicit commercial communication, where both reveal the participation in marketing campaign. In the explanation technique, the informer positions himself/herself as information leader and part of a social community, whereas the endorser uses explicit marketing language and emphasises on its personal needs (Kozinets et al., 2010).
Open space for communication under the control of marketers
Baring in mind the internet environment as presented in the arguments above:
- marketers aiming for open flow dialogue,
- consumers that are taking decisions based on eWOM (any positive and negative statement), and
- an environment where advertising is being avoided
What are the consequences? How do internet users react to the above defined by Kulmala et al. (2013) amplified eWOM? What are the laws and what is the effect when marketers influence eWOM? This and some management implications for generating customer advocacy without causing avoidance would be provided in Part II.
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