November 27, 2014

Written by Kristina Persson

Analysis: The Why and How: Generating value from online consumers



Armelini & Villaneva (2011:29) suggest that brands don't have any presence in consumer's thoughts unless the brands are blogging, tweeting and conversing with the customers on social platforms. Fourneir and Avery point out that the internet, the web, is a social space, for people first, and brands have 'crashed the party' (2011:193). Invited or not, brands are part of the web. As in Virtual Worlds, or "lifeworlds" (Zwick, Bonsu and Darmody 2010:168) real people and real brands are present, and brands can use these webs to communicate, and also sell, including real and virtual products (Eisenbeiss et al 2012:17).


In these complex webs of information, people and messages, it is important not only to realise why, but for marketers to figure out how, to engage in marketing online. While people are present on various platforms and in different communities, messages are not necessarily directed at any specific audience. In this new media age, brands do not have control over messages, or who they are influencing, '..everyone and no one [is] the audience' (Fourneir and Avery 2011:194). At the same time, online media messages compete for customer's attention (Armelini & Villaneva 2011:30). Consumers themselves generate content (Muñiz Jr & Schau 2011:210-212), and the web allows for many forms of alternative media, in non-geographically bound and fragmented markets (Winer 2009:109). Careful targeting to the desired audience, through profiles of participants may help marketers focus their resources.



Aljukhadar & Senecal 2010 classify people online into  three broad segments (2010:428) of 'basic communicators' such as people who use the internet for email, 'lurking shoppers' who would remain fairly passive, but engaging in online shopping, and 'social thrivers' who are interactive - blogging, chatting, video streaming, downloading. The 'Social Thrivers' are the largest group, would be most engaging and engaged with brands, but at the same time, for some businesses, would be seen as less important than lurker shoppers in e-commerce (Aljukhada & Senecal 2010:429).


In social media, where 'social thrivers' are active (Aljukhada & Senecal 2010:429), Web 2.0 platforms provide 'lifeworlds' for consumers and brands to interact together (Zwick, Bonsu and Darmody 2010:168). Keitzmann et al describe social media based on various 'engagement needs' that are fulfilled for users (2011:242). These are presented as seven 'building blocks' that stacked together, and labelled as  'Presence' 'Sharing' 'Relationships' 'Identity' 'Conversations' 'Reputation' and 'Groups' (Keitzmann et al 2011:242). Different social media platforms with combinations of these building block provide a social space for users to fulfil needs relating to these themes.


The way people act in these spaces have been classified into 5 roles, 'Creators' 'Critics' 'Collectors' 'Joiners' and 'Spectators' (Li and Berhoff (2005, cited in Hanna, Rohm and Crittenden 2011:269-269). These indicate various levels of engagement, and upon various platforms would attract different segments of people. Social media provides the possibilities for developing deeper relationships, and space to interact 'communally' both with individual and personal responses, and forum to share with group as a whole (Christodoulides 2009:142-143).



A range of strategies are given for brands and marketers to adapt their approaches from 'traditional marketing' to social media marketing, how to engage online. Suggestions range from surrendering control, developing co-created brands, giving control to customers (Zwick. Bonsu & Darmody 2008:167) to developing cooperation, leveraging relationships (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden 2011:266).


There are a 'multiplicity of factors' embedded in a corporation, or brand's business strategy, such as the company itself, the industry, products and buyers, that can influence marketing strategies, including in online environments (Varadarajan and Yadav 2009:12). Each of these suggestions require brands to understand their business strategies, resources and aims.


Brands have objectives such as brand promotion, reaching audiences, and achieving sales (Winer 2009:109). Brands and corporations can experiment on different social media platforms, with various functions such as social networking, content sharing of photos, podcast and video, or multiple sites, to engage and influence audiences  (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden 2011:266). The brand story can be fed into this ecosystem, where conversations are 'products' (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden 2011:267). Compared to being recipients of traditional media and brand messaging, consumers want to become participants, gaining intimate experiences (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden 2011:267-268). Marketers can use technology to monitor behaviour, to understand the process of thought consumers take to reach ideas, and monitor their physical location, to send personalised advertising and messages (Winer 2009:109).


Credibility is given as an important factor by Armelini & Villaneva which relate to brand promises, trust and emphasise the power of personal recommendations, easily shared online, over advertising (2011:32). Barwise and Meehan provide similar suggestions including to continually strive to improve, and demonstrate an understanding of what consumers want, and play by their rules (2010:83-84). Playfulness is said to make value-creation interactions enjoyable, and activities are attractive for people engaging in them (Seraj 2012:212). Playful, self-governed and quality content driven activities were found to create value, and encourage loyalty for members in online communities (Seraj 2012:209,212). Zwick Bonsu & Darmody, warn brands against aiming to 'co-create' value as it can be seen as exploitative of consumer freedom and labour (2008:163).



From the occasional internet browser to activist blogger; people contributing to conversations, every web page visit, action, comment, click, check in at a certain location, when and with whom, stands as an endorsement, reminder, signal of interaction with brands and consumers.  In the online world, these are recorded, visible and public. Consumers participate online enjoyable, playful, creative experiences and engagement to fulfil individual needs. Brands have the same freedom to enter these 'lifeworlds' and can engage with consumers, in order to fulfil their business objectives. While called 'mutually beneficial' relationships for consumers, brands are still in a position to direct how consumers interact, and shape messages to them accordingly.


Marketers can generate value by communicating in this social space alongside consumers, in order to engage and 'co-create' and develop social meaning, which can be translated into financial value. Readers may understand that their interactions in activities in social media are sources of consumption and production, and consider what these acts mean for themselves in their worlds, and to the brands they are interacting with.



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November 24, 2014

Written by Kristina Persson


Changes in technology over the past decade have influenced the way consumers engage and participating in activities online. The web is an environment for creation, consumption, and socialising (Seraj 2012). Marketers realise the potential to capitalise on consumers as creators, advertisers and advocates for their brands through co-creation of products and experiences, in turn generating value. By understanding roles consumers take when engaging online, marketers can better target, reach, engage and interact with the right audience for their brand. 



This paper provides an overview of online marketing, branding and consumption, to explain why and how marketers can adapt their strategies online to create value. Consumers participate on social media platforms to fulfil personal needs, which can also generate value for brands. This paper seeks to explain the concept of value, the roles consumers take, and provide considerations to 'why and how should marketers generate value from consumers?'


Ideas presented in academic literature will provide the basis for defining these concepts. The analysis will outline why and how marketers can adapt their activities in the context of the internet. Finally, some conclusions will provide a summary of the findings and encourage readers to ask themselves where they find value when engaging online. For brand managers, taking a marketer's perspective, they may consider where are potentials source to exploit to capture and create value and meaning for their brands. Readers may consider their own consumer roles, and how their social media activity might appear outwardly to their friends, communities, followers, and the millions of internet users with access their information, blog posts, comments and conversations online, and marketers who may be monitoring them (Varadarajan & Yadav 2009:19). The paper is presented in two parts, the first part outlining the theoretical framework and definitions, and the second addressing the 'why' and 'how' aspects of analysis and discussion about marketers generating value from consumers.


Theoretical Framework

This paper is written from a social viewpoint, considering roles of marketers and consumers and social interaction online, with a theoretical perspective of postmodern consumerism (Firat and Venkatatesh 1995:259). Postmodernism expresses the possibility to create spaces outside the market system, in a 'lifeworld', for example in social spaces, community and civic life (Firat and Venkatesh 1995:259) to explain consumption occurring in these spaces, beyond pure markets. Zwick, Bonsu and Darmody (2010:168) explain that brands are becoming embedded in these 'consumer lifeworlds', which means marketing itself is entwined with consumers, who are producing and consuming, and partners in brands creative and production processes (Zwick, Bonsu and Darmody 2010:168).


Value creation is considered from a perspective of neo-liberal Marxism, where marketers manage and seize creativity, knowledge and communication to generate economic value (Zwick. Bonsu & Darmody 2008:177). Seraj uses a definition that explains value as consumers perception and assessment of 'what is received and what is given' (2012:209). Co-creation and constructing 'productive social relations' for capitalist growth (Zwick. Bonsu & Darmody 2008:177) is used to describes how marketers can generate value from consumers interacting with corporations, or brands, and with each other (Zwick. Bonsu & Darmody 2008:177; Winer 2009:109). Brands manufacturing involvement and emotional and social attachments around products, which gives them value (Zwick Bonsu & Darmody 2008:186).


Definitions and concepts


'Traditional marketing' (Armelini & Villaneva 2011:29) 'old' marketing (Zwick, Bonsu & Darmody 2008:164) or 'offline marketing' (Christodoulides 2009:141) is characterised by its one-way nature and corporate brand-directed messages broadcast to audiences. This style of marketing has also been called 'one-sided', where marketers and brand hold the power and information and opportunity to have their say (Christodoulides 2009:142) and consumers reactions to marketing are limited by their expression of choice to participate in the market, and purchase, or not (Muñiz Jr & Schau 2011:209).


New marketing is characterised by its interactivity, and digital nature (Winer 2009:110). Electronic versions of traditional 'one-way' advertising in banners, billboards and static messages and content online are found in addition to podcasts, video streams, as well as platforms of social communities where two-way and multi-way dialogue is possible (Winer 2009:110; Muñiz Jr & Schau, 2011:209; Seraj 2012:209). Akar and Topcu  highlight that marketers, involvement in social media, and communications affect the internet, and the lives of people using the internet (2011:58).



Consumers engage in social acts of consumption and production, symbolic acts, in moments where meanings, relationships and social definitions are interpreted and reinforced (Firat and Venkatatesh 1995:242). That is, activities and social exchanges that people take part in generating meaning.  In social online communities, people fulfil individual and social needs such as desires to seek information, experiences, express creativity, develop identity, and escape (Seraj 2012:209, Eisenbeiss et al 2012:12).



Varadarajan & Yadav explain the market place extending beyond the physical market, into electronic, and a technology and internet-enabled one (2009:11). Eisenbeiss et al. (2011) describe Virtual Worlds, where people assume identities, have experiences, cooperate and interact, and take part in virtual activities, such as travel, business and relationships, in virtual worlds with virtual markets (2011:5,17). This may be one clear 'lifeworld' that can be understood as a social community, however market and social transactions or 'exchange processes' do occur (Eisenbeiss et al. 2011:5; Firat and Venkatesh 1995:240). 


Online marketing, can therefore be understood as social marketing, groups of people, including consumers and brands communicating in all directions - that is, creating, receiving, and responding to messages. This is enabled by the internet and communications technologies, particularly with Web 2.0 tools (Christodoulides 2009:143; Varadarajan & Yadav 2009:21) and virtual worlds (Eisenbeiss et al 2011).   


The types of social environments online include webs of content, which have value (Akar &Topcu 2011:35). Social media channels allow observers to become participants are platforms for influencing users (Hanna Rohm & Crittenden 2011:267) and  include, social Media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and other Web 2.0 platforms, including Youtube, MySpace and Flicker (Akar & Topcu 2011: 36; Hanna Rohm & Crittenden 2011:266)



Park, Jaworski & MacInnis (1986:135) define branding as activities that firms, or corporations,  engage in to convey an image effectively to a target market, to maintain a market position and improve performance. Brand Concept-Image Management is a complete system for firms to develop, maintain and control brand image (Park, Jaworski & MacInnis 1986:135) and manage it long term (Park, Jaworski & MacInnis 1986:144). Managing a brand's image is considered important as a brand itself, alongside firms resources and products, can be seen as something worthy of long term investment, and source of long-term competitive advantage (Park, Jaworski & MacInnis 1986:144). With or without physical presence, brands are sources of economic value, which makes them something worth valuing and protecting (Christodoulides 2009:141)


Christodoulides view of branding incorporates activities that take place in social networks, as dynamic environments enabled by computer and technology (2009:141-142). Rather than managing, brand 'hosts' conversations and manage customer perspectives about their experiences with brands based on their products and services (Christodoulides 2009:143). This branding activity occurs  in social media spaces, in groups, blogs, networking sites, where consumers create, define and dictate messages and advertising about the brand  (Christodoulides 2009:143). Marketers can listen and follow the conversations and messages being communicated in the social media ecosystem (Hanna, Rohm and Crittenden 2011:266).


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