Written by a Master's Student of the Lund University School of Economics and Management
In the ever-changing society, neither marketers nor consumers are behaving in the same way as they did 10 years ago, new rules have changed the game. Not only have the focus changed from marketing being a one-way communication, also the people performing the marketing have been alternated. Blogs have introduced the world to a new form of consumption, where young girls have become today’s entrepreneurs, but how did this happen?
The purpose of this blogpost is to examine how social media has changed the marketing of today, and why young girls have become an important influence on society.
The ever-changing story of marketing
Just as the media society has changed, so has the profession of marketing. Before the Internet, traditional media such as magazines, TV and radio monopolized the media market. Direct marketing and telemarketing allowed the marketer to intrude on the customer. When the internet and Web 1.0 was introduced, it became a multimedia platform where companies could convert their paper brochures into websites, shortening the distance between the company and its consumers (Berthon, Pitt, Plangger, & Shapiro, 2012). All consumers with a computer were now reachable, consumer time zones blurred the difference between nations, and immediate communication had been facilitated. However, once the companies and marketers believed they had the internet figured out, Web 2.0 was established and the rules of the game changed once again. Web 2.0 introduced the world to the technological development in sociological infrastructure with the creation of social media, forming new creative consumers and state-of-the-art entrepreneurs (Berthon, Pitt, Plangger, & Shapiro, 2012).
Traditional media was all about reach, and consumers were innocent bystanders to TV-commercials and magazines (Hanna, Rohm, & Crittenden, 2011). Due to Web 2.0, billions of people create trillions of connection through social media every day, building social networks and creating new marketspaces where the authenticity of word to mouth has become of great importance. The marketplace has changed and according to Hanna, Rohm och Crittenden (2011), marketers can no longer solely depend on capturing the attention of consumers through reach – but must rather focus on both capturing and continuing attention via engagement. Consumers are no longer content with being a bystander of advertisement, they somewhat expect to be active participants in the media process. In the Web 2.0, creative consumers use the vehicles of social media such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Blogs, and Twitter to create their own media content in the form of words, text, pictures and videos. By doing this, they become involved in the promotion of brands and the custom-made creation of their own personal brands. Consumers also use digital media increasingly not only to research products and services, but to be able to discuss these with other people and to create a relationship to the companies they like and want to be associated with. Blogs are a great example of this. In blogs, the owner can share thoughts, pictures, videos or other chosen content to create their own personal brand, which they can share with others using other social media. In these digital forums, the everyday consumers now have the opportunity to have a voice (Hanna, Rohm, & Crittenden, 2011).
Marketers = the party crashers?
It cannot have been easy being a marketer in the beginning of the era of Web 2.0. According to Fourner and Avery (2011), people perceived this new Web to be invented for the public and their conversations. It was supposed to be a platform for an authentic exchange of communication between people, free of bias and full of truths and transparency. The ample buzz of social media marketing and Internet usage has made it difficult for companies to make their voice heard. Social media allows pictures and news to go viral by the minute, but it is mainly in the power of the consumers. Brands could be everywhere in social media and still be ignored (Fournier och Avery 2011). Marketers and brands could in this sense be illustrated as the party crashers, or even intruders in the Web 2.0 party. In their determined need for attention among the social party buzz on the internet, these uninvited guests seemed to act more desperate than before, making it difficult be recognized as authentic (Fournier & Avery, 2011).
According to Cocoran (2009) there are three sorts of media types:
- Owned media: controlled by the marketer, e.g. company web page
- Paid media: bought by the marketer, e.g. sponsorships and advertising
- Earned media: not controlled by the marketer, e.g. word-of-mouth, viral
It is today crucial for companies to know how to use marketing through social media. Facebook is still the predominant social media channel for the public, and have also become an important marketing channel for companies. Diane Schwarts (2012) dare to ask the legit question: “If you are not on Facebook, do you really exist?” The owned media can in this sense easily be accessed by having a Facebook page to facilitate consumers to find the information the company wants them to have. The expanding importance of social media in today’s marketing society have led to that many companies also have established YouTube channels and their own corporate blog. However, it is somehow difficult to conquer earned media, since the tricky part is how to get the consumers to acknowledge your existence. This is where the paid media comes in. Paid media is attained by using advertisement in social media platforms or through sponsorships of events and influential people, and who are the influential people in Web 2.0 if not… Bloggers!
The blog society
Blogging is proving to be an effective method of generating sales leads and facilitating a two-way interaction with customers, with great examples such as Gary Vaynerchuk who made huge success selling wine through video-blogging and changed the way of doing business (Pattison 2008). Blogs are also a channel that provides networks, relations and interactions, which according to Singh and Sonnenburg (2012) are the three central ingredients to co-creation. As of 2010, most Swedish bloggers were young women. Out of the women between the ages of 12-25, a majority was either active bloggers or had previous experience of blogging themselves. The trend of female blogging has continued and according to Findahl’s (2014) annual report on Internet usage in Sweden, women are still more active than men are (13 % vs. 5 %). Through these blogs, young female entrepreneurs have been shaped, using a blue ocean strategy of communication.
From “just” girl to entrepreneur
This blogging way of communicating has especially been managed by young girls, and one striking example of this is the Swedish blogger Blondinbella. Her real name is Isabella Löwengrip and she initiated her blog Blondinbella in 2005, at the age of 14. The blog started out as a form of diary where the readers could follow the daily life of young Isabella, going to school and meeting friends. Blondinbella.se also focused on topics such as fashion and partying, and quickly became very popular. At one point it was the third most popular blog in Sweden and as of 2011 receives about 400,000 visits every week.
Doorn et al (2007) explains this trend of young women empowering the blog society as “A remarkable interception between the traditionally feminine act of diary writing and the traditionally masculine environment of Information Communication Technologies” (Payne 2013)
This new type of blog-bound storytelling have resulted in Blondinbella building a brand of herself and today Löwengrip is a successful entrepreneur and founder of several companies, including her own shoe-, beauty and clothing line. Löwengrip has also authored three books and is now married and expecting her second child. Her whole life journey can be found in writing, all in which her readers have been able to follow in the blog through the years. This blogging way of storytelling have built the brand Blondinbella as the story of Isabella Löwengrip developing from a 14-year old school girl to a grown successful woman, ambitious entrepreneur and family mother.
According to Kay Peters et al (2013), blogging is substantially different from traditional or other online media due to the network structure and their egalitarian nature. The phenomenon of female blogging and storytelling could be seen as a symbol of an empowerment of women, where a platform has been found for young girls to express themselves and create their own personal brands, legitimizing their importance in society. Peters et al (2013) also accentuate the importance of who says what to whom and in what context, and let’s be honest, who would have cared 20 years ago to read about the life of a 14-year old girl?
Through the blog society, young women have found a podium where they can freely express their opinion, and where people actually listen to them. These bloggers have become experts in how to intrigue their readers, using their own way of word-of-mouth. Owing to its personalized messaging, the authenticity of these bloggers could be perceived as less commercialized than other media and advertisement, and as the trend of blogging has grown, marketers have observed blogs to be relevant places for advertisement. This has given bloggers an opportunity to consider the blog as a job, and actually make a living out of it. When a brand is embedded in a cultural conversation such as a blog it is named open source branding. Blogs, social networking and digital communities are all examples of platforms that have enabled open source branding, by empowering consumers to share their own personalized experiences with like-minded friends. This type of branding can be a useful and indeed fruitful way of doing marketing, as long as it is done in a transparent way. (Fournier & Avery, 2011).
In 2009, Blondinbella was criticized for secretly advertising products in the blog for companies such as Elizabeth Arden (Metro, 2009). Löwengrip confirmed in interviews with several Swedish newspapers that she was paid for expressing positive opinions about various products. These companies had acknowledged the influence that Blondinbella had achieved over media, and channeled it in order to reach target groups. In this time of social media, what is local almost inevitably becomes global, whether the firm wishes it or not (Berthon, Pitt, Plangger, & Shapiro, 2012). Hence, open source branding and word of mouth are both important marketing tools, but used in the wrong way and without transparency the result can also be damaging.
Third wave of feminism?
Another blogger who has made a difference with her blog is the Swedish singer Zara Larsson. Larsson is 18 years old and initially became famous through the show Talang, a Swedish version of Got Talent. The recent year her blog and Instagram have been acknowledged by initiating discussions about feminism. In December, Larsson posted a photo on the photo-blog platform Instagram, demonstrating her, sticking a condom over her leg and pulling it all the way up to the knee, dedicating the post to men who say they are too large to use a condom (Huffingtonpost, 2015).
The illustration quickly went viral and was shared over ten thousand times. Larsson was by some remarked as a feministic genius even though the post was meant to be a joke and the massive attention came as a surprise to her. Yet, this feministic statement was vividly discussed and the photo has so far hit 51.300 likes on Instagram and is still counting.
Kay Peters et al (2013) emphasize the importance the messenger and how the social roles in a targeted network population, such as bloggers, are of great importance and for its dependent audience. 17-years old Zara Larsson provoked society by questioning the acts and roles of gender, and by doing something different she showed her readers how to make her voice heard.
Deighton & Kornfeld (2009) also argues that it takes membership of a culture to read a text in a manner that one can rely on others to read it, especially if you want to be able to use a brand symbolically. The blog culture has been shaped by young girls, which have in turn helped to change the roles of society. Culture is needed to read a brand, and reading a brand makes culture. For people to appreciate a brand they need to be able to be part of its culture, and by being part of its culture, they are helping to build the brand. Today there are young girls in Sweden that identify themselves with Blondinbella and Zara Larsson – and by taking part of this blog culture, they are shaping the brands of the bloggers.
Summing it up
Evolving through a changing culture of society, marketers no longer have monopoly of the media spread. The Web2.0 has created a new digital era where consumers no longer are bystanders but instead have developed into actual coproducers and comarketers of this cultural community. Marketing is a cultural producer; hence consumers are by coproducing and cobranding also contributing to the creation of our future cultural society. The blogging society has the last decade grown into becoming a phenomenon that today can be titled a full time job. Young women found a platform where they can raise their voice, make their opinion heard and become their own personal brands. The story of Blondinbella illustrates the journey from starting out as the blog user who became the blogging brand. This shows that this consumer driven media is creating a new type of marketing, which in turn is changing culture. Marketing is a cultural creator and through social media, women are changing the culture of society.
The wave of female bloggers has changed the way we use media, and Blondinbella and Zara Larsson are only two examples of successful young women that have earned an empowered influence in the media society. They are by making their voices heard, and at the same time making profit from it.
The blog culture have grown with bloggers and shaped new brands and consumers. If you as a marketer want to succeed in this modern social media society, you must become an ally with the consumers and take part of their culture. You’ll need to communicate with people where the consumers are communicating. However, you’ll still need a membership ticket to your aimed target culture. You must be acknowledged as someone who is welcomed into the social and cultural media life, but at the same time be careful not to lose your authenticity along the way.
Because if you do, you risk getting kicked out from the party!
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