November 20, 2014
Written by Mikael Omberg
Brand coherence is strongly connected to a brand’s essence, the very core of what identity the brand is communicating to the marketplace. As all relationships, the bond between a consumer and a brand is built as well as maintained over time. Therefore, to systematically and successfully communicate brand values to a consumer or customer, maintaining brand coherence becomes an inherently vital tool for brand managers. However, the growth of a company and their respective market presence, arrival into new markets, new product lines or service offerings, creates challenges to maintain an approach to consumers which does not lack brand coherence (Kapferer 2012). These challenges also arise when companies are forced to adapt, often promptly, to new and constantly evolving communication channels (Kapferer 2012; Kietzmann et al. 2011; Hoffman & Novak 2012).
AIM OF RESEARCH
The aim of this paper is to study what impact the Internet and social media have on a brand’s ability to stay connected to their identity and stakeholders as well as what risks or opportunities these communication channels may present concerning brand coherence.
BRAND COHERENCE AND CUSTOMER EMPOWERMENT
Today, not only is the amount of people who look to the internet and social media to evaluate brands increasing, but they are also shaping the corporate communication in form of comments, videos, pictures, reviews – the list goes on (Kietzmann et al. 2011; Kucuk 2008). Grönroos (2008) argues that service marketing is taking place in a servicescape, a place where consumers and companies meet to interact with each other and interaction is now also located virtually. While the extension of the servicescape to an online platform creates possibilities for companies to find new ways of communicating with customers (Koernig 2003; Wilson et al. 2008), the loss of control of content and interaction (Kietzmann et al. 2011), might prove to make brand coherence more challenging (Kapferer 2012).
Essentially, brand coherence is damaged when the values of the brand becomes convoluted to the individuals with a connection to the brand (Kapferer 2012). An illustration of when brand coherence can become convoluted, and thus the subject of brand dilution, is anti-brand sites (Kucuk 2008). Kucuk (2008) argues that the increase in consumer’s ability to voice their opinion has become powerful tool for them to react to companies’ business. While enabling companies to find new and efficient ways to market their products and brands, the internet has become a double-edged sword which people can use to voice their displease with company efforts and policies (Kucuk 2008). According to Kucuk, individuals now have an instrument to purposefully harm companies brand identity – and in the long run, the brand coherence. As established previously, this then might prove harmful to the brand coherence. Through the most vocal of the anti-brand standard-bearers, the message has then spread through word-of-mouth, and is able to reach every corner of the world.
However, not all damage sustained to brand coherence online is made by malignant or disgruntled individuals who have found a way to communicate their disapproval. Brand ambassadors sometimes themselves prove to be just as efficient in decimating brands, when responding poorly to customer reviews or critique (socialmediatoday 2014). Socialmediatoday suggests that ignoring, deleting or responding aggressively or hollowly to consumer comments can have a strong negative effect on how the brand is perceived. This correlates well to the arguments presented by Kapferer (2012) in the sense that what is promised, or expected, of a brand has to be delivered – otherwise the identity will become unclear and thus hurt the brand coherence: the values expected by the customer will not be delivered.
Other ways in which brand coherence can become subject to change is when a brand has not a clear strategy of engaging stakeholders. Inability to foresee outcomes of online interaction can, as discussed above, somewhat be perceived as inherent to online communication but a complete misunderstanding or misjudgment of the brands’ situation can increasingly lead to events hurting the brand.
JP Morgan Chase, global financial services provider and one of the largest banking institutions in the USA, decided last year to have a Q&A(Questions and Answers) on twitter. They invited people to ask ‘What career advice would you ask a leading exec at a global firm?’ The twitter feed was overrun with individuals diverting from the topic and asking JP Morgan Chase questions such as ‘Can I have my house back?’ and ‘I have mortgage fraud, Market Manipulation, Credit Card Abuse, Libor Rigging and Predatory Lending AM I DIVERSIFIED?’. Short thereafter the Q&A was cancelled with JP Morgan Chase announcing ‘Tomorrow’s Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board.’ (Rolling Stones 2013).
On the other hand, there are examples of when interaction with brand stakeholder and a serious and thought-through review of the opinions can be used to adjust and strengthen brand coherence. Deighton and Kornfeld (2009) explain, through exemplification, the metamorphosis of Unilever’s Dove brand trough the Real Beauty-campaign which garnered a lot of positive attention by shifting from a functional brand into a brand with a point-of-view, created through the scanning of opinions and trends of the marketplace.
Furthermore, scholars, actors and media powerhouses – among others – have taken to Reddit.com to engage the public in AMA’’ (Ask Me Anything). By doing so they are engaging the people interested in their craft or personality and strengthen connection with their followers and admirers, with a low dependency on intermediaries. Brand identity and brand coherence is here easily communicated, and formed, together with brand stakeholders.
Arguably, brand coherence is becoming crucial for brands because whether brand managers are making a conscious effort to advocate and support their products and services online there will be a constant community and stakeholder feedback and discussion being present. Chrisodoulides (2009) state that consumers will always know more about a company’s product or services than they do themselves and, more importantly, they will be talking about it. The author emphasizes the need for brands to facilitate these conversations that are taking place. The sheer amount of information that is being said about brands through reviews, comments, videos etcetera is according to Chrisodoulides (2009) impossible to control, but it is rather something that brand managers need to be aware of and act accordingly to. Furthermore, Hoffman & Novak (2012) state that it is important to understand that different brands generate the most and desirable consumer attention from different internet marketing platforms and strategies. Maintaining brand coherence therefore also becomes a question of strategic choices.
Vargo and Lusch (2008) strengthens the arguments presented by Chrisodoulides and argues that online, a service-dominant logic is prevailing and that consumers must be viewed as co-creators of the experience. The amount of companies that provide us with intangibles have skyrocketed and some of them (consider LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram – the list goes on). In these cases Vargo and Lusch would argue that there is not service without the consumer. However, a service-dominant logic can also be applied to tangible products as described above in the Dove Real Beauty-campaign case. According to Kapferer (2012), this is offering value to consumers. This epitomizes the possibilities and challenges with maintaining brand coherence online.
HOW IT CONNECTS
It is to be understood that there is not a choice for a brand to have online presence or not. Whether a brand wants it or not it is subject to becoming the talk of town online. Internet has opened up communication channels and made it possible for everybody who wants to participate and voice their opinion. This raises on the other hand an important decision for companies – how, and to what extent do we want to participate in the discussions to ensure brand coherence? The first step in answering this question before taking action is to look at the brands identity and positioning. Providing stakeholders with the expected experience and make good on promises is essential to prevent the brand from lacking brand coherence through the multifaceted communication channels it will find itself in.
Likely, there will be negative reviews or comments regarding your brand but these comments can provide useful feedback, highlighting areas where consumers are not experiencing what you set out to do. It is improbable that consumers are commenting negatively on Amazons’ ability to provide them with an answer to where the closes coffee shop is. However, if they fail to provide good alternatives on which book to order for the weekend, they might be in trouble. Brand coherence is after all about delivering what is expected of you.
It becomes clear that there is, presently, no one true answer on how to maintain brand coherence through internet and social media marketing, but it is rather something that must align with the brand identity, as proposed by Kapeferer (2010), as well as the behavior of the brands target group and the company’s brand strategy. Straying far from the identity of the brand, utilizing different voices and approached when communicating or even worse, neglecting customer feedback can however be highlighted as potential factors affecting brand coherence negatively. However, the rise of internet usage and social media presence of brand stakeholders are not to be issues out as a warning to brand managers. It increases the opportunities for companies to retrieve valuable feedback from consumers and customers and enables brand ambassadors to express their opinions. Moreover, it allows companies to reach people in the click of a button and promptly address issues as well as promoting products and services. All in all, it widens the scope and complexity in the work of managing brand coherence, but ultimately it provides companies with a powerful tool of brand management.
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