Current entrepreneurship’s research reveals an important fact concerning the number of people involving in creating business. Reynolds and Curtin (2011), claim that the number of people involved in business creation activities is exceeding 200 million worldwide. Furthermore, these new companies, that up to 95% of which are small business, play a very important role in the economy development. However most companies do not survive and fail in the start up Phase (Damodaran, 2009). One reason for that could be what Timmons (1999) mentioned that if the start-up did not establish brand in short time, they disappear from the market.
Branding is a crucial activity for the successful establishment of a new company, it also helps the companies in the customer acquisition process, and it is fundamental to build a favorable reputation (Bresciani & Eppler, 2010). Building brands can be done by both SMEs and big firms can, however the ways in which they do so are different (Bresciani & Eppler, 2010).
The use of social media, including discussion forums, blogs, social platforms, and sharing sites (video, photo, and news), is becoming more common in business which began to notice its importance for marketing in general and in branding specifically. Singh and Sonnenburg (2012), state that the emergence of social media has changed the consumers’ role in branding from passive listener to a more active participant.
Bresciani and Eppler (2010), claim that the field of branding has been neglected in the literature on SMEs and entrepreneurship. They continue (p.356), “Although the literature on branding and corporate communication is vast, and studies about new ventures and entrepreneurship are numerous, the intersection of these two fields is still an under-explored area”. Rode and Vallaster (2005), reveal that the new business branding is a very unique phenomenon and should be researched appropriately and further researches in area of startups branding is needed.
Research question and purpose:
There is an obvious gap in researching the branding area in new and small companies. Since the use of social media is becoming more common in business practices, this paper is an attempt to close this gap by trying to answer the following question:
Do small and new ventures brand themselves, and if so, in which way they use social media in branding?
Social media branding:
Social media create a new opportunistic yet challenging environment; “the companies that will succeed in this environment are exploiting the many opportunities presented by social media while keeping an unwavering eye on their brand promise, and they are judiciously revising the marketing playbook rather than trying to rewrite it” (Barwise & Meehan, 2011 .p82). Thus, it is important to understand the opportunities and challenges of branding by social media:
Barwise and Meehan (2011), state that “companies that consistently deliver what they promise benefit mightily when social media amplify their reputation” (Barwise & Meehan, 201. p 80). As a powerful medium for information sharing, social media can be an effective medium for good publicity from which companies should take advantages. However, this cannot be done without holding and keeping their promise. Social media allows for networks, relations and interactions between brands and consumers which results in co-creation of brand stories. The cocreation of the storytelling; meaning that the customer participates in the story and its content, production, and distribution, creates a better satisfaction for customers as they participate in this process which gives them the feeling of belonging to a community (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). Through social media companies can gather a huge amount of customer insights in a cheap and fast way compared to the traditional methods as it present influential ways to explore consumers’ lives and opinions (Barwise & Meehan, 2011). They further stat that “social media can also boost brand awareness, trial, and ultimately sales, especially when a campaign goes viral” (Barwise and Meehan, 2011. p.82).
Although that social media represent an opportunity for companies, it comprises some challenges as well. Barwise and Meehan (2011), clarify that social media make it more urgent than ever that companies get the basics right, developing and reliably delivering on a compelling brand promise. That means, as they further argue, that keeping pace with social media developments is a challenge. Every company wants to keep their customers and try not to lose any. However, the worst case scenario was that a company loses a disappointed customer and couple of customers that can be affected by the incident. “But today the scale and speed of social media can make falling short instantly painful” (Barwise & Meehan, 2011. p.80). They further argue that keeping pace with social media developments is yet another challenge. Social media creates communities that share and interact together (customers with customers) as well as with the brand. However, in order for these communities to be active companies need to cede some control, a very hard thing for marketers (Barwise & Meehan, 2011). Here, “When brands and consumers co-create brand stories, owners do not have complete control of their brands as consumer-generated brand stories can spread as rapidly as those created by companies” (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012. p.190). Yet, Christodoulides (2009), discusses another challenge in the social media and web 2.0 where anti-brand web sites focus negative attention on a specific targeted brand. However, strong brands are more likely to have anti-brand sites. Furthermore, Singh and Sonnenburg (2012), suggest that in the world of social media the brand owner should focus on continuously doing things right (process view) and not on one right thing (output view). They conclude that the process of, what they term, improvisation is more important than its output, a thing that is really challenging and which requires a shift in the way brand owners think.
- Branding restrictions in start-ups: Bresciani and Eppler (2010) suggest that new ventures branding provides is unique for several reasons: first, there is no established identity and reputation and internal structures still have to be built. Second, branding activities are of importance for customer acquisition and therefore for the survival of the company. Third, startups typically have limited resources in terms of capital, know-how and time. Schmeisser et al (2001) explain start-ups as raw companies that they do not have organizational structure. Barbu et al (2009), add that in most cases the owner must take care of all business aspects including marketing solely. Within the marketing activities, the entrepreneur is focusing on sales.
Therefore, the marketing in small business is focused on the short run and focuses on achieving commercial objectives such as branding. Also, the entrepreneurs lack the managerial competence to conceive and to implement strategic management such as branding (Barbu et al, 2009). Stokes (2006) describes that most entrepreneurs consider branding to be a big firm’s issue. “In fact, small businesses, such as local corner shops, may even fail to recognize that they are a brand”
- Start-ups unique branding: Resnick and Cheng (201), argue that the venture’s branding in SMEs cannot be separated from the ‘personal branding of SMEs owner. As most small ventures is about one product, we cannot separate the product branding from the corporate branding, Furthermore, as the small venture cannot be separated from the entrepreneur. Thus, the product, venture and entrepreneur branding is one.
Triple One Media is a freelancers recruiting company founded and run by one entrepreneur thus it is a small company and new as it started operating in August 2011.
The entrepreneur states that the time and resources do not allow him to with customers for long periods since resources, mostly time as he works alone, is not enough to take care of all the activities in the venture. Thus, he priorities them with selling and short term profits to be the most important. He further explain that “I know what branding is and I relies its importance but, still, for the survival of the company I need to be focusing on what brings me profit and when I will have any additional resources, especially money, I will recruit one employee to take care of the long term-marketing.
The branding activity is primary online, precisely through FaceBook (http://www.facebook.com/tripleonemedia) with 92 “Likers” and LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/company/triple-one-media). No engagement or co-creation of the “storytelling” activity can be really found on these social media pages where an average of almost two posts in the month with almost no interaction with customer or stakeholders. However, the entrepreneur mentioned that his personal social media pages are more active concerning his venture. Most of the freelancers he recruits are on his friend’s list on facebook and connections on LinkedIn. He states that there is a daily interaction with them and speaking about the company, its services and the future of it and even exceeds that to personal conversation. He further states that he cannot separate between his own personal social media and the venture social media pages as he is using both for business, but mostly the personal ones. He explain that because of this, he think that his customers are more connected to the venture, and that they behave towards it as it is their own venture or represent them. Moreover, as a result, they began to recommend it to other free lancers with the same interests. Most of the customers have shared the company’s website and social media pages on their social media pages with encouraging and promotional phrases. The entrepreneur does not care about the financial result of such interaction as he mentioned that the company is for me and them and we need to be friends. He concludes that “we, my customers and I, are a small interactive community” (Bresciani & Eppler, 2010. p.356).
The entrepreneur priorities, to some extent, the short-term profit than the long-term branding. This is mainly because of limited resources in terms of capital and time (Bresciani & Eppler, 2010). However, he considers the importance of branding and that his small-new venture is a brand not like suggested by Stokes (2006).
Using the social media to brand Triple-One-Media is done by both, professional and personal ways, where the co-creation of the brand is done with the customers and empowered by letting them becoming personal friends to the service, the venture and the entrepreneur that cannot be separated as Resnick and Cheng (2011) mentioned. This strategy has led the customers to feel as part of the company and encouraged the good publicity by them (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). However, the entrepreneur concentrate in building the brand on the personal way and spreading the feeling among customers, through social media, that they are part of the company. This resulted in co-creation of the storytelling between the entrepreneur and the customers (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). This in turn resulted in the customer recommending the venture, in personal and good way, to others with the same need.
Social media allows for networks, relations and interactions between brands and consumers (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). This point has been realized by the entrepreneur and he even developed it to personal network and personal relation with customers through social media on a daily-bases. The entrepreneur’s considers that his customer’s and he are friends are healthy thing for the company despite any other financial benefits, thus, he focuses on process view and not on output view (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012).
Although they possess limited resources, small and new ventures brand themselves and consider the important of branding.
However, the way they do so is by interacting with customers, through social media, and letting them participate in the co-creation of the brand in profoundly personal way. Entrepreneurs use social media to build personal relation and personal networks based and small communities around the brand. A strategy that is very unique to small and new venture and it is impossible to be applied by big firms, in which the relations and interaction shift to a new level which is personal friendship. Through this strategy the entrepreneurs do not worries of ceding control as the customers feel that the venture is theirs.
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