Social media has changed the landscape of today’s world. Currently more than a billion people are connected with social media and the figure is only rising. Facebook and Twitter are undoubtedly the most popular websites in social media. One of the most common and prominent aspect of social media is the hashtag label, which is denoted by the pound sign #. What was once a hardly used key in a typical keyboard, has now made headway in terms of its importance in social media.Read More
Written by: Eric Eichinger
The internet, and more recently, the Web 2.0, has shaped the Marketing industry immensely. It calls for comprehensive new measures and tools, be it promotion, brand building, or distribution. One phenomenon that stands out as changing the landscape of Marketing is co-creation by consumers (also known as crowdsourcing). There is no longer a mass market that can be penetrated universally, but a collective of connected individuals who want to take part in shaping their environment. This causes a great dilemma for brand managers: Can they still be the guardian of their brand, or are they reduced to mere brand “hosts” (Christodoulides, 2009)? But what if a company can achieve a balance that allows for customer participation without losing complete control over the brand? This question shall be explored in this paper. After discussing the concepts of co-creation and brands in the Web 2.0, we will assess two companies that have attempted to find this balance through online platforms.
The Evolution and Characteristics of Co-Creation
Albeit they had not used the term “co-creation” yet, the idea of engaging customers and starting a dialogue with them online was already introduced 16 years ago by Prahalad and Ramaswamy (2000). They argued that the roles the different stakeholders play have been blurred, and that the consumers “have moved out of the audience and onto the stage” (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2000, p. 79). Technology has naturally progressed since then, connecting individuals through social media, message boards, or online communities. As Fournier and Avery (2011, p. 193) put it: “The technology that was supposed to empower marketers has empowered consumers instead“. Before the internet, consumers only had the individual choice of buying or not buying a certain product. But today, they can gather in a crowd and exert strong network-based power (Labrecque et al., 2013).
Muñiz and Schau (2011) argue that when it comes to consumer-generated content (CGC), its authors are practically untraceable, unknown, and are usually not rewarded in monetary terms. This situation is reinforced by the fact that co-creation often occurs through the collective effort of individuals that are loosely connected in an (online) community, diluting the contribution of any single user. But not only do the companies profit from such valuable contributions, the co-creating consumers also develop a stronger connection to the brand and its communities (Van den Bulte and Wuyts, 2007, cited in Christodoulides, 2009). The role of brands in this environment will be analyzed in the following section.
Brands in the Web 2.0
When the world wide web started to gain momentum and began to attract the masses, marketers had hoped that they could simply copy the strategies they had successfully implemented offline (Meyers & Gerstman, 2001). While this may have worked in the early beginnings of the internet, the evolution of the Web 2.0 has thwarted these plans. Characterized through interactivity, customer empowerment, and, of course, co-creation, the Web 2.0 has altered the environment in which brands operate (c.f. Christodoulides, 2009). And this, of course, poses a great challenge to brand managers. They can no longer be the omnipresent control freaks that want to protect their brands like helicopter parents want to protect their children (c.f. Mitchell, 2001, cited in Christodoulides, 2009). Rather, they need to give consumers and other stakeholders the liberty to explore the brand on their own.
In fact, Fournier and Avery (2011, p. 203) argue that on the internet, having a big brand can even be a disadvantage, as they serve as “magnetic targets” online. They justify this statement by claiming that we are living in the age of criticism and parody: Not only are users highly critical of brands and prefer to get what they need from people they know instead of brands and companies (Bernoff & Li, 2008), but they also enjoy taking brand messages and turning them into spoofs and parodies. They have become judges, commentators, and critics (Fournier & Avery, 2011). Looking at the pinball metaphor established by Henning-Thurau et al. (2013), we can thus argue that the brand, (and therefore its brand message, brand story, brand personality, etc.), is rapidly tossed around between different stakeholders, similar to the ball in a game of pinball. They recommend to embrace these new game changers, and to invite customers to participate in creating the brand.
Now where do these assumptions about brands in the Web 2.0 lead us in terms of operational recommendations? Kietzmann et al. (2011) have developed the 4C guideline to help with developing and monitoring customer engagement online. Firms and brand managers first need to Cognize, i.e. to understand who their customers are and where they converse about the brand. They then need to pay attention to Congruity, by determining how the goals of the brand can be aligned with social media. The third step is Curating, which means being involved in the communities and monitoring their input. Finally, being on a continuous Chase to broaden one’s horizon about assumptions of these communities ensures that the brand stays up to date. Keeping these four imperatives in mind, we will now progress to the core of this e-paper, where we analyze examples of online co-creation platforms and how they contribute to the development of a brand.
Two Brands and their Co-Creation Platforms
The first section of this paper has made a strong case for the idea of brands being “hosts” that encourage conversation. This can be done by creating online platforms, where consumers and people interested in the brand can meet and feel comfortable with expressing their opinions and thoughts (Muñiz & Schau, 2011). The brand only acts as a facilitator of dialogue and is supposed to listen instead of doing all the talking (Deighton & Kornfeld, 2009). If done correctly, this can help the brand to be accepted by the community and to gain “citizenship credentials” (Fournier & Avery, 2011, p. 195). The following examples will demonstrate how this can be achieved – and what to avoid.
A true pioneer in the field of co-creation is Dell, who was one of the first to introduce a digital “suggestion box” to their customers in 2007. Giving them a voice to actively criticize the company was considered a bold move at that time (Co-Society, 2014). But it is not surprising that it was Dell that revolutionized in this field. The brand’s value proposition and brand drivers include customer empowerment, open conversations and listening to people’s needs (Dell, 2016) – perfect prerequisites to act on these values and enhance the brand, as the requirement for congruity is fulfilled.
The platform skyrocketed in the first two years, receiving countless submissions from enthusiastic fans. After these prime years, Dell seemed to have lost interest, and customers expressed that “it would work a lot better if Dell joined the conversation rather than just watching” (Forbes, 2012). Dell listened – and rebuilt the platform in 2011, thus proving that the brand also followed the principles of “curating and chasing”. The company even hired one of the most active users to moderate the platform. Picking someone “out of the crowd” to join in the rebuilding activities was a truly smart move to blend the line between brand and community. He also hosted “Storm Sessions”, where Dell regularly encouraged discussions on particular topics.
However, the last Storm Session was in 2014, and even in general, it seems like Dell has once again abandoned the platform. Many of the entries that are prominently advertised date back to 2007 or 2008. The section that features ideas that were eventually implemented by Dell shows no sign of any recent additions. This, of course, discourages any form of co-creation, as it is doubtful whether Dell will even read the suggestions. This has even more severe consequences for the brand. If Dell claims that the brand stands for community and empowerment, but gives off the impression that the platform is not more than a façade, the brand loses a lot of credibility. Especially in these times of online parody and criticism (Fournier & Avery, 2011), this ambiguity can quickly cause spillover effects to the company’s products and decrease trust in everything the brand stands for.
Another company that took the opportunity to enhance its brand by establishing a co-creation platform is Lego. The brand is without doubt a good fit with this concept (thus ensuring congruity), as it has encouraged generation after generation to explore their creativity and imagination. In stark contrast to Dell, the platform is very intuitive and up to date. Each Lego idea submission shows a progress bar that indicates the number of supporters and the time an idea has left to reach the 10,000 supporter mark – this is when Lego will officially review a project. By being so transparent, the company prevents misunderstandings that could turn the community against the brand.
While Lego gives the users freedom over discussing ideas, the brand has established some channels that allow it to curate the community. Lego has a blog linked to the platform, where it publishes interviews with users whose ideas have been realized, for example. They also give tutorials, such as how to take the best pictures of their Lego model ideas – a great way to support the community without being too dominant. Finally, every project submitted has a section where the company can leave official remarks. Often, these comments are written in a style appropriate to the submission, e.g. referencing characters from the movie an idea is based on. That way, the company is speaking the language of its customers, which also represents the playful and maybe a little “nerdy” Lego brand very well.
However, the brand has faced some challenges as well. In 2012, Lego rejected a submission which was based on the TV series “Firefly” (Lego Cuusoo Blog, 2012). They justified this by stating that the content of this show was not a good fit with the brand and not appropriate for the 6-11 core target audience of Lego. This created backlash from the community, as they argued that previous Lego sets of movies are also not suited to this demographic. Not only can this heavily dilute the brand, but cause confusion and disappointment within the community (We Economy, n.d.).
Can Co-Creation and Branding Be Aligned?
Can a company achieve a balance that allows for online customer participation without losing complete control over the brand? And if so, how? This is the question this paper was set out to evaluate. The two examples chosen – Dell and Lego – give a good impression of the underlying answer to this question: Yes, it is possible to strike a balance, but it comes with considerable pitfalls to the brand should the company fail to appropriately accommodate the community. The 4C model by Kietzman et al. (2011), which was applied in this paper, proved to be an effective guideline for marketers to run their co-creation platforms. Dell managed to reach their customers (cognize) and align their goals with those of the brand (congruity). However, the company failed to actively curate and chase the community in the last few years, thus contradicting and endangering the brand’s characteristics that emphasize customer empowerment and conversation. Lego’s strategy, on the other hand, is a great example of giving freedom to its community, while still curating and chasing on selected channels, such as the Lego blog on the platform. The brand further understood that when it interacts with the users, it needs to speak their language, thus becoming a part of the community and gaining citizenship credentials (Fournier & Avery, 2011).
Since both brands analyzed in this paper innately emphasize creativity and innovation, they had an obvious strong fit with co-creation platforms. Additional research could look at brands that do not necessarily include such values – mystarbucksidea.com comes to mind, for example. Here, co-creation would arguably add different layers to the Starbucks brand than it did with Dell and Lego, and would thus face different challenges than the ones presented in this paper.
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The development of technology has resulted in an increased use of Internet and social media (Wind, 2008). Online channels of communication allow consumers to express their opinions of brands and reach out to a great amount of people (Duffy & Tarnovskaya 2016b). Consumers have gained power, which companies need to understand and adapt to when marketing. Empowered consumers have become co-creators, co-producers and co-marketers (Wind, 2008). The new way of marketing has raised the question of how much companies can control their brands today? The company Fjällräven is presented as an example of how empowered consumers can change the image of a brand. The brand Fjällräven is perceived differently among consumers from how the company communicates it (Näslund, 2013). This highlights the importance for companies to adapt to the new trends and rules of marketing.Read More
The travel sector, as the majority of industries in the market, fell dramatically after the recession crisis of 2008. According to a study conducted by Oxford Economics (Oxford Economics & Amadeus, 2010), The global arrivals decreased 4% between 2008 and 2009 and tourism receipts were 5.7% below the previous years' levels (Oxford Economics & Amadeus, 2010). There is a possibility this decrease was due to travelers spending less per journey. To survive, hotels, flights, and touristic destinations had to adapt to be more competent with their offers and services by adjusting their prices and lowering them. The latter resulted not only in an evolution of the sector but also in the formation of smarter travelers.Read More
I have often asked myself the question why people engage (with brands) on social media. I have a controversy view on social media: I have a Facebook and Instagram account (which I actually only use to see other people’s posts but I barely upload myself) but do not engage on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter. Therefore, when I talk about social media Facebook will be the most common example, even though I am well aware that there are many other options and that there are new social networks that become rising stars.Read More
In 2009, Dave Carroll was on a United Airlines flight when his precious guitar was broken by the baggage handlers. What did he do about it? Wrote a song about the experience and posted it on YouTube of course. Today the video has over 15 million views and has led to Dave writing a book titled “United Breaks Guitars – The Power of One Voice in The Age of Social Media”. This is any companies’ worst nightmare. To be cast in such a negative light for all the world to see and no way to control it being shared or people talking about it. Long gone are the days when companies could control what was being said about their brand. In today’s world, customers are able to share their thoughts, opinions and ideas about a brand or company any way they see fit; both positively and negatively.Read More
As with anything else, Snapchat has its pros and cons. Brands are reluctant about using the mobile app because of the lack of analytics and targeting opportunities and, since late 2014, the money to pay for an ad space. It might feel like an expensive shot in the dark. On the other hand, many global brands such as Disney, Universal Pictures, Heineken, McDonalds and Audi have added Snapchat to their digital marketing toolbox. They became Snapchat brands, hereafter called the self-invented word ‘brandsnappers’ – keep reading to find out why.Read More
Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine and YouTube might sound familiar to you. At least for many it does since these social networking sites are used all over the globe. We certainly reside in a world where 24/7 connection and collaboration is mundane, which can only be described as ubiquitous. (Hoffman & Novak, 2013; Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, 2011) Even though social media already is popular, it looks like it is growing in popularity by the minute. As online social networking behaviors increase in an ever-connected and mobile world, it becomes important for brands to find a way to employ social media in a proper way (Hoffman & Novak, 2013).Read More
Consumers are online and, above all, social these days. They prefer to spend their time on social media, chat and connect with friends, read blog posts or share their favourite video with their network (Murphy & Schram, 2014). What’s more, ordinary people increasingly create content themselves – and through social media platforms it will be accessible to people all over the world. These people are also referred to as influencers and they gain increasingly power to determine the perception of a brand through the communication on social media platforms (Booth & Matic, 2011).Read More
November 17, 2014
Written by Yasmine Najjar
The internet implementation in marketing process is a great opportunity for brands as it’s inexpensive, delivers instant international real time feedback and allows them to reach broader audiences (Papasolomou and Melanthiou, 2013). It’s the chance for brands to communicate with the consumers in a more honest and genuine way than advertising, to know them better and build a strong relationship. But to “harness the power of the web to reach consumers directly you must ignore the old rules” (Scott, 2011). The “rules” of communications are different in the virtual world: brands don’t talk at someone anymore but with someone. If they try to take the same approach than in traditional media, especially in social medias, and just speak their message out, it’s not going to work, they need to create conversation (Armelli and Villanueva, 2011).
Research has highlighted the impact that can have online communities on perceptions of brands. Firms are vulnerable in this context especially brands who have a poor pre-existing brand image and face unfavorable consumer-generated content in online communities (Varadarajan and Yadav, 2009). Yet, it’s a powerful tool to interact in a more personal way and reinforce your brand image. The messages brands send to consumers via traditional advertising can sometimes be interpreted in different ways, blur their positioning and brand identity. Facebook and Twitter can be great for brand image as it allows sending direct messages and more importantly, humanizing the brand which is more effective than anything for brand image. Like when having a talk in daily life with someone, consumers will get a better understanding of whom the company is as a brand. Online, you are what you publish but control branding is yet impossible because of the e-WOM (Christodoulides et al. 2006, in Christoloudides 2009). People are selective about where to spend their time on social media platforms; they look for entertainment, knowledge, socialization… as a brand you need to fulfill these criteria otherwise you end up creating a ghost community abandoned once participants discover you don’t (Seraj, 2012). As Vries, Gensler and Leeflang reminded us in 2012 “Entertainment leads people to consume, create or contribute to brand-related content online. For Einsenbess, Bechscmidt, Backhaus and Freund (2012), consumers have three motivations to engage in this virtual world: socializing, creativity and escape. They agree that without responding to these motivations a brand can’t make the most of social media platforms.
It is essential that brands take the cultural aspect in matter: we don’t address people from California and Paris the same way, their motivations for being on internet, their sensitivity are different. It also involves a consequent time commitment to manage online brand image properly. Brands need to make daily efforts to produce interesting content and foster a community around their identity and values. The main risk in going online is exposing the brand to bad and very straightforward feedbacks, visible to everyone. Negative comments on the Internet negatively affecting the brand image as perceived by other consumers (Sandes and Urdan, 2013). Brands need to address these complaints very fast and try to find a response that satisfy the consumer or at least clarify the situation. Managing these situations improve your brand image.
Blogs are also a great tool to manage your brand image. Why are they so interesting? Famous and established blogs have often more credibility than brand websites, as the content is supposed not to be controlled by a firm. The reality is that more and more brands use these blogs as a PR tool or what we could call disguised advertising as the consumer is not even aware sometimes the blog received money to produce fallout.
Blogs are also participative which allows brands to get closer to consumers, have lots of feedbacks and a good view on how consumers perceive your brand as they speak very freely when the blogger produces an article about one of your product. There are many ways to participate in this blog phenomenon. Most of the brands send products to bloggers so that they can test them. However, the brand doesn’t control anything after: they lose control of the message because bloggers have their own voice. So, every time a blogger has a good product experience and decides to talk about it, brand image improves as the audience trust their judgment. On the other hand, every time his feedback isn’t good and he decides to expose it, it can damage brand image. Organizing a contest with a blogger is a good way to arouse interest and trigger liking. The most interesting opportunity is certainly to make partnerships with these bloggers by proposing to them to participate in a product creation for example. Their audience, very loyal, sees these partnerships as a caution from the blogger, like a go to love the brand themselves as consumers.
However, relationships with bloggers can be complicated. There are lots of codes in the blogosphere that brands need to be familiar with in order for it to be a great tool for their image. When a brand sends products to a blogger, they need to avoid chasing him up so that he writes an article. Not only is he going to find it irritating but he also wants his feedback to be as authentic as possible, it’s his dedicated space, he’s the one who has the “power”. Also, as bloggers are a lot solicited, the brand has to show them its interest in their blog (why do they want to work with them) and to personalize their messages when they get in touch with them. Bloggers need to see the humans working behind the brand; they need to create relationships between people so that it can work.
Partnerships with online versions of traditional media can also be very interesting to develop or change brand image. By teaming up with one of them, these media share their audience with the brand but not only: they have their own identity which is going to reflect on the brand. It can be really effective when a brand wants to change its image for example give a fashion touch to its identity by teaming up with the online version of fashion and renowned magazine. By having a presence on their website, the media gives you a “guarantee”. This partnership can be a dedicated space on their website, a contest to win prizes from the brand, and other very innovative presences on the media. The aim of this kind of partnerships is to advertise without doing it obviously, it needs to be very well integrated to the content of the website. For example, Tex by Carrefour, a clothing brand from the famous French supermarket, suffered a cheap old fashioned image. The brand wanted to have a more glamorous and “hype” image and teamed up with French ELLE to do so. This partnership impacted the perception the audience had on the brand as ELLE is known for appreciating fashion and cool clothes.
What about buzz marketing? How can it impact brand image? According to Deighton and Kornfeld (2009), buzz marketing is an umbrella term for the mobilized power of the culture to pass on a marketer's message. People don’t have the impression to share advertising message but something novel, entertaining and of the moment. The video ‘Evolution’ by Dove, in which a simple woman is transformed in a model thanks to make-up and Photoshop, was a huge success for Dove brand image. Dove wasn’t anymore any cosmetics brand; it was the one close to women, fighting against beauty stereotypes so that women can accept their beauty. It was effective because it created engagement. The downside of buzz marketing is that you can be easily parody on sharing platforms like Youtube which can affect the message brands were trying to pass on.
Internet has been a revolution as it tremendously changed consumers, empowering them. Most brands need to go there if they want to survive but as we have seen in this paper it’s a tricky place for brand image. It offers lots of opportunities to build a strong bond with consumers and manage your brand image when you know how to use the different tools it offers. We can wonder as soon as brand will have figure out how to make the most of internet, will we go back to brands having the power over consumers? Do they want that to happen? Maybe internet, even with its risks, can actually be seen as a benediction for brand image as brands have now a great insight of consumers’ perception and can adjust their brand image in function.
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