Category Archives: No ‘fluff’ Musings

SNHU Marketing


It took me six years, 22 weeks and two days to finish my PhD!  Southern New Hampshire University recently posted an article on my journey as well as my thoughts on our new  Digital Marketing concentration.  I am very excited our students will be benefiting from  HubSpot’s Educational Partner Program in courses that are not only user-friendly, but also aligned what employers want , and  include  industry certification prep.

Read the article here:  Spotlight on SNHU Marketing Faculty Lead Dr. J | SNHU

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Theory and Application: Advancing the World of Marketing

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Both academics and practitioners have long discussed the application of theory. The notion that there will always be a gap between practice and theory dates back to 1793 when Kant suggested in one of his early works that practical judgment by a practitioner is necessary in order to apply a particular theory. Knowing a theory and knowing how to properly apply a theory are two different concepts. The issues lie in transferring knowledge from academics to practitioners in a language they understand, and in a way that is relevant to them. Similarly, academics must see the real value of practitioners in the trenches, acquiring valuable insights into the applicability of an assortment of concepts and theory. Business has changed dramatically over the years, and it is imperative the disparity of theory and application be examined in order for business to harness the power of both for a substantial strategic advantage.

The Relationship Between Theory and Practice
The function of theory is to predict outcomes. Rotfeld (2014) suggests theory must explain existing data, make predictions, and must be falsifiable. The empirical value of a theory can be weighed by assessing if the theory helps in gaining new knowledge about a phenomena, or even helps in the discovery of new phenomena. Further, a theory might be evaluated based on if the theory demonstrates further applicability. Rotfeld (2014) suggests that practical use of a theory would be tied to its ability to predict an outcome in given conditions where there is a decision to be made and new data may not be readily available. Regardless of the impact a theory has made, how applicable it is remains to be of concern to many practitioners.

There is a disparity between practical implementation and research theory. Additionally, practitioners often misunderstand the meaning of many theories presented in academic journals, while also seeing little relevance to the real world of business (Rotfeld, 2014). However, theories are instrumental in guiding decisions by explaining and predicting. In business, theory can help direct decision-making much like it does in the academic realm. Practitioners that draw on their past experiences to make decisions, are in effect using theory. These decision makers are drawing upon conclusions they have made, and making predictions of outcomes. Theory also helps guide values and beliefs while helping practitioners and academics alike reframe their thinking. Conditions, domains, and contexts vary within business, and transferring theory from one context to another necessitates evidence that will still hold true for the newer context. Many ideas and theories within marketing practice are simply not generalizable. This is where we rely on academic research. For example, the copious amounts of data now available from the use of social media platforms will require relevant theories to help interpret this data for marketers. Additionally, appropriate theoretical models could be useful for making sense of the data (Pan & Crotts, 2012). However, the utility of theory for practice can only be assessed in regards to how well they predict and inform decision making if they are actually used and applied (Rotfeld, 2014).

Theories are critical to marketing practice
Practitioners need research for better decision- making, but also for superior understanding of context. Without theoretical context, data generated has very limited utility, or worse, could be considered meaningless (Rotfeld, 2014). Theoretical frameworks may help practitioners in that they can offer a global and abstract view (Pan & Crotts, 2012). Rotfeld (2014) points out those practitioners who do not value or ignore marketing theory development are simply seeking out research that matches a decision they are making rather than seeking out information, and then making a decision based on findings. It is possible to identify evidence applicable to almost any theory, but researchers and practitioners alike should seek evidence that is a compelling test of a theory rather than evidence that is consistent with a proposed theory. Traditional methods of research used in the applied setting are not appropriate to address significant practical issues and questions. This is when scientific and empirical approaches are needed. In order for marketing theory and education to influence practice, academics must ensure practice does not evolve faster than marketing discipline (Harrigan & Hulbert, 2011).

Practice enriches theory. Research initiated to solve practical problems can have immediate applications as well as inform further research. However, Gummesson (2014) believes theory in the social sciences does not take a holistic view and is somewhat fragmented. The author suggests case study research to tackle the complexities of marketing by building on solid empirical evidence and avoiding assumptions (Gummesson, 2014). Simplifying theory through assumptions makes theories become unrealistic, going directly against the pragmatic view of research. Researchers must combine theoretical, methodological, and analytical approaches (McFarland & Ployhart, 2015).

Often academia can look to practitioners for new an innovative ways of thinking that are on the cutting edge of the industry. Given the long process of formal publishing in academia (Pan & Crotts, 2012), some practitioners are able to use low cost of open source publishing to share pseudo-theories. Pseudo-theories are recent conceptual frameworks yet to be tested empirically and are generally proposed by non-academics (Pan & Crotts, 2012). These pseudo-theories can contribute to the understanding of a discipline much in the way a micro-theories or macro-theories can. However, any statement that cannot be tested by observation or experimentation cannot be considered a theory (Rotfeld, 2014). Additionally, practitioners face significant ethical implications in any true research endeavor; they rely on academia for empirical theory development and testing.

Theory and practice work together in a reciprocal and interdependent way

Advances in theory produce advances in practice. Likewise, advances in practice will initiate advances in theory. While theory guides research, it also has the ability to guide practitioners. Similarly, application can guide further research and has the ability to guide academics in their quest to finding suitable research ‘problems’ for empirical studies. Theory guides marketing practitioners and helps to generate knowledge. It helps to describe or explain the discipline of marketing, and importantly theory enables practitioners to know why they are doing what they are doing.

Marketing is based on theory; it is founded on theories of consumer behavior that are drawn from the social and behavioral sciences. Theories applicable to marketing are plentiful, but few are truly relevant to the distinctiveness of social media marketing. Many do not account for more modern social issues and unique situations, and thus may require a more refined approach. However, when considering the act of exchange is essential to the discipline of marketing, focus shifts to theory that can guide research surrounding such relationships taking place within a social media environment.


Theory vs Research: A Symbiotic Relationship for Digital Marketers Part 2

stock-624712_1280Please see part one of this post here. Then, resume part 2!

The Relationship Between Theory and Research
Science occurs in the context of discovery and/or testing (Strong, 1991). Ellis and Levy (2008) suggest a well-defined research problem is an essential starting point for effective research. A well articulated research problem will impact everything from the formulation of hypotheses, methodology, the literature review, and the conclusions. This research problem should integrate both concepts and theoretical perspectives of the existing literature (Ellis & Levy, 2008). Theory driven research allows for the researcher to gather interrelated concepts that will guide research, determining what things to measure, and what statistical relationships to look for. As we construct theory, we rely on research but we also use our own experiences (Gelso, 2006). Theoretical frameworks are important in that researcher must make an implicit framework more explicit in order to not undertake research with preconceived notions impacting processes, results, or even interpretations of findings.

Theory does play a pivotal role in research. Generally speaking, research contributes to theory in several ways: (a) creation of theory (b) validation of theory; (c) to refute a theory. Wacker (1999) believes there are two general objectives of research, theory building, and fact finding. The purpose of the research will dictate the research process and thus identify the undertaking as fact building or theory building. Fact finding research aims to gather facts obtained via precise and specific conditions, where as theory building research develops though an exiting body of knowledge. Fact finding research makes use of evidence to assess if a relationship exists. Theory building research uses the existing literature to define concepts, identify a domain, explain relationships, and then make predictions (Wacker, 1999).

  • Fact finding research plays an important role as it provides facts and empirical evidence that can later be integrated into theory. Additionally, fact-finding research allows for the investigation of new relationships as it is not limited by existing theory based relationships (Wacker, 1999). New theory development is made possible through fact finding research because this type of research discovers differences in data and explains that data. Theory building research, on the other hand, integrates similarities between studies.
  • Harlow (2009) suggests developing a theory involves some form of testing that theory, therefore theory development and testing are intertwined. Theories help researchers generate additional ideas and further scientific exploration and help to integrate constructs into a cohesive view that might otherwise bee seen as incongruent (Gelso, 2006). Harlow (2009) describes a circular process a researcher follows as theoretical ideas are tested against data, ideas are framed, and retests follow until conclusions can be considered trustworthy. The sciences would be a series of untested ideas and biased perspectives without any controlled empirical research (Gelso, 2006). Interestingly, Stam (2007) suggests that the frequent and methodical use of tests of statistical inference has actually impeded advances in (psychological) theory.
  • Gelso (2006) maintains theory and research go hand in hand and work in a symbiotic way. This cycle is on going, theories are being modified based on research, other theories emerge, new theories then guide additional research and are tested, and the cycle repeats (Gelso, 2006). However, not all researchers believe there is a link between research and theory. Gelso (2006) suggests there are some (within the field of psychotherapy research) who maintain that hypothesis-testing research has hindered discovery. However, Gelso (2006) points out theories help generate hypotheses to be tested. Thus, discovery oriented research uncovers relationships that in turn help form theory that can then be further investigated via testing. In fact, researchers use theories throughout the research process. For example, when coming up with ideas, generating hypotheses, and even interpreting the results a researcher uses theory as well as theoretical constructs. In the case of a failed hypotheses, this would prompt a researcher to revise a theory or mini-theory and thus alter hypotheses for further investigation. According to Popper (1957), a legitimate empirical test is designed to disprove theory.
  • Theory-building is paramount as it ensures a framework for analysis, assists in the development of the discipline, and is necessary in order to apply findings to real world problems (Wacker, 1999). Theory building research also helps find recurring themes across related fields thus increasing the theory’s importance and abstract level (Wacker, 1999). Theory building is very dependent on a comprehensive literature review within the research process. This process gives way to accepted definitions, domains of applicability, previously identified relationships, empirical test, and predictions. The literature search ensures all theory-building conditions are filled. Theory building involves defining variables for uniqueness, limiting the domain for generalizability, logically building relationships for internal consistency and abstractness, and giving specific predictions with empirical support for refutability (Wacker, 1999).

It should be noted that both qualitative and quantitative research contribute to theory. Corely and Gioia (2011) suggest that both types of research contribute to theory in terms of originality and utility. Quantitative research tends to offer more generalizability and greater predictability due to hypothesis testing. However, qualitative research is just as important to theory when trying to understand complex social situations (Gay & Weaver, 2011).

The Future for Digital and Social Media Marketing Research and Theory
Currently there are several social media platforms, and each application has its own characteristics that influence behavior. Smith, Fischer, and Yongjian (2012) undertook research surrounding Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube via content analysis. Interestingly, sentiment varied across social media sites suggesting each social media site fosters its own different characteristics. With social media evolving, there will likely be mini theories that are only applicable to certain settings and certain situations (McFarland & Ployhart, 2015).

It is clear that both theory and research are instrumental to the marketing discipline. Researchers must move beyond applying existing theories to the field of social media marketing. Consideration must be made to reflect on the uniqueness of social media as a communication channel. These distinct features should be used to help theory evolve in the context of social media marketing. The cycle of theory and research ensures the body of knowledge advances through testing, and discovery. With the relatively new field of social media marketing, addition empirical research is essential to establishing applicable theory, and building upon existing theory.

Stay tuned as we next explore the relationship between Theory vs Practice…


Theory vs Research: A Symbiotic Relationship for Digital Marketers Part 1

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Research within the social sciences is driven by theory. Theory is a fundamental function of scholarly research in any discipline, providing guidance through the exploration of relationships and discovery. While there are conflicting views on theory, and an ever-present debate on theory versus practice, it is undeniable that the role theory plays in research is an essential one.

The Nature and Types of Theory
Differentiating between the formal definition and the informal idea of theory is paramount to any discussion surrounding theory. There are conflicting notions on what constitutes theory, leading to a lack of agreement on a specific definition for “theory” (Henderikus, 2007), a definitive assessment of its nature (Corley & Gioia, 2011), or a an absolute purpose of theory (Harlow, 2009; Southern & Devlin, 2010). Theory does not have a definition or meaning that transcends disciplines (Harlow, 2009). However, Stam (2010) suggests use of the term theory is relatively unlimited. The term is being used for different unknowns and is often used to formalize a ‘hunch’. Three interpretations of theory that have been significant in research are reductionism, instrumentalism, and realism (Stam, 2007).

According to Wacker (1999), academics typically view theory as including definitions of variables, a domain where the theory is applicable, the relationships between the variables, and specific predictions. It is important to note that theoretical definitions are not observable; they are conceptual in nature and can transcend measurement (Wacker, 1999). Wacker (1999) suggests the definition of theory is a statement of relationships that are observed or estimated; theory must include conceptual definitions, domain limitations, relationship building, and predictions. Gelso (2006) suggests theory to be a statement about the relationships under investigation between and among variables. With this perspective, then it is logical to say that there can be a theory behind all research.

While there are several definitions of theory among academics and practitioners, it appears there are many shared beliefs about theory. However, there are varying opinions on the exact nature of theory. Wacker (1999) suggests some academics and practitioners alike believe theory and its application are somewhat limited and therefore not useful in real-world settings in business. On the other hand, some feel that there is very little theory in academia. The literature suggests that theory may not necessarily require application. However, the true nature of theory depends on the definition of theory being considered, as well as what criteria is being used to identify a ‘good ‘ theory.

A “good theory”
Good theory must have a clear explanation of how and why particular relationships lead to specific actions. In order for a theory to be ‘good’ theory, it should be unique from other theories, it should be generalizable, it should be able to generate new models and hypotheses, it should be independent of time and space, it should be internally consistent, and have few assumptions. There seems to be no consensus among the various virtues of a good theory, but there is an agreement as to what they are (Wacker, 1999). According to Wacker (1999), good theory is dependent on uniqueness, parsimony, conservation, generalizability, fecundity, internal consistency, empirical riskiness, and abstraction. A superior theory is one that is more widely applied, predicts the most unlikely of events, and is one that can be integrated into several relationships into a larger theory. Theories can also vary from formal to the informal, informal theories being those that are not stated explicitly (Gelso, 2006). Gelso (2006) suggests mini-theories to be more useful than comprehensive theories that will likely never be disproved. These broad theories rarely generate new research testing their validity, and are therefore not exactly scientifically useful. These mini-theories may be part of a larger comprehensive theory, or they may stand on their own (Gelso, 2006).

Good theory meets all definitions of theory as well as the virtues of good theory (Wacker, 1999). Theories must be descriptive in that they fully describe the phenomena under investigation. A good theory can effectively explain causes, address why occurrences happen, and also place limits on what is being investigated (Gelso, 2006). However, simply because a theory meets the criteria of theory and has the virtues of good theory, it does not make the theory a valid one. There may be cases where a theory under investigation is actually incorrect. For a theory to be of value to the science of research, it should go as far as to address why variables are expected to relate to one another (Gelso, 2006).

Theory or Hypothesis – Theory is distinct from such terms as concept, proposition, or hypothesis. Bachman and Schutt (2007) suggest a concept to be a mental image of sorts that represents the observations. A proposition on the other hand, is a statement that expresses relationships between two or more concepts (Cozby, 2009). Gelso (2006) posits a hypothesis is a proposition that is stated in a specific way so that it can be tested empirically. Hypotheses stem from such propositions, which are drawn from theory; theories tie concepts together.

Theory and Social Media
Ngai, Tao, and Moon (2015) investigated the current research surrounding social media using the leading five academic databases. Forty-six articles were analyzed. The authors found several personal behavior theories, social behavior theories, and mass communications theories used in social media related research. Social exchange theory was utilized only twice for research investigating virtual communities, once by Blanchard (2008), and once by Lin, Hung, and Chen (2009). The author’s literature review found that many researchers have studied the causal relationships of various variables, social influence and social capital were the most common input variables. User intention and user behavior were the most common outcome variables. In regards to mediating variables, the choice of tool was found to be an important variable given it has a mediating effect on input and outcomes. Ngai et al. (2015) provide a collection of research and an assortment of authors that have published work related to the field of study. The literature review within the study gives insight as to how researchers adopted theory, used research constructs, and developed conceptual frameworks for their research.

A Gap in Knowledge- Very limited research exists surrounding social media given how large a role social networking sites play in today’s business world (Chen, 2013). Specifically there is limited research on social media platforms. Most related studies investigate only Facebook (McFarland & Ployhart, 2015), and not the many other platforms used by consumers such as Twitter, Pinterest, branded blogs and more. Thus, we encounter an incomplete understanding of social media without considering the other contexts, such as Twitter, that offer a different and dynamic experience.

There is an absence of theoretical and practical scientific research surrounding social media use within the business sector (McFarland & Ployhart, 2015). Kane, Alavi, Labianca, & Borgatti, (2014) suggest the very nature of social media makes it difficult to apply established theory. Theories originating in non-digital contexts may not truly capture the essence of social media and it is possible new theories need to be developed (McFarland & Ployhart, 2015). Theoretically, social media interactions are quite different from traditional face-to-face interactions while also varying from other types of digital communication such as email (McFarland & Ployhart, 2015). Thus, meanings from traditional theory may change when used in the context of social media. This may require new theories and frameworks to fully understand social media within this context. If scholars simply take existing theories that are more person centric, and apply it to social media, there is a chance that these theories will not address the very features of social media that make them unique in the first place.
Currently there are several social media platforms, and each application has its own characteristics that influence behavior. Smith, Fischer, and Yongjian (2012) undertook research surrounding Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube via content analysis. Interestingly, sentiment varied across social media sites suggesting each social media site fosters its own different characteristics. With social media evolving, there will likely be mini theories that are only applicable to certain settings and certain situations (McFarland & Ployhart, 2015).

Stay tuned for the remainder of this post, coming soon!
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The State of Branding: A Reflection Part 2

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This is the continuation of a reflection piece. Catch up by reading the beginning here.

As we discussed, globalization and technological advances have enabled consumers to find the information they desire and share this information regardless of geographic location (Jai Beom, Yoori, & Ryun, 2009). The Internet has made foreign businesses more local, and has given the small local shops the chance to be more global. With this technology, businesses are also able to target markets outside their geographic locations and engage with them for better knowledge of the audience. With the understanding of a particular target market, a brand can select the appropriate tool(s) in which to reach and engage with them.

The Internet has changed the way brands build and maintain their image, improved methods of addressing customer service issues, has created opportunities to brand themselves through celebrities, has created the notion of personal brands, and has revolutionized integrated marketing communications. Review Part 1 here. Globalization and technological advances have enabled consumers to find the information they desire and share this information regardless of geographic location (Jai Beom, Yoori, & Ryun, 2009). The Internet has made foreign businesses more local, and has given the small local shops the chance to be more global. With this technology, businesses are also able to target markets outside their geographic locations and engage with them for better knowledge of the audience. With the understanding of a particular target market, a brand can select the appropriate tool(s) in which to reach and engage with them. The Internet has changed the way brands build and maintain their image, improved methods of addressing customer service issues, has created opportunities to brand themselves through celebrities, has created the notion of personal brands, and has revolutionized integrated marketing communications. Let’s continue with our exploration……..

Celebrity
A few years ago, singer Rhianna was described as being too sexy for the Nivea brand as a spokesperson. The campaign was halted by Nivea, who felt the singers dress, behavior, and relationships did not fit the image of the brand. Many brands are choosing to use celebrities as branding tools by having the celebrity appear in a commercial or even starting their own product line. Halonen-Knight and Hurmerinta (2010) believe celebrity endorsement to be one of the most popular forms of marketing, and should be utilized as a brand alliance. A brand alliance suggests value for both the brand and the celebrities’ personal brand. The identification of the right celebrity for the right product is an essential decision for a brand, and engaging in product endorsements is an essential decision for a celebrity (Halonen-Knight & Hurmerinta, 2010). Both the brand and the celebrity must also take into consideration the potential positive and negative effects endorsements could have on their brand image and brand equity.

Twitter & Instagram- Currently, celebrities Tweeting about certain products or services are being compensated for those tweets, known as sponsored tweets. A celebrity may have millions of loyal followers; for a brand to be mentioned on Twitter by a celebrity it could mean a large percentage of those followers saw the tweet. However, the life of a tweet is very short and may not have the power a long-term endorsement such as a print ad has. Instagram has also let consumers delve into the ives of celebrities. But how much of what we see is real?

Transparency- Brands and the celebrity should address transparency concerns before utilizing sponsored tweets. The more transparent the brand and the celebrity brand are on Twitter, the deeper the connection they will have with their audience. Issues with celebrities have made consumers skeptical about the brands and the celebrities paid to endorse them. Today’s market is impacted by technology and the speed by which news and information travels. Consider Tiger Wood’s situation with his wife and how quickly it appeared in the news and subsequently destroyed his brand. Today’s consumers have smart phones and Internet; therefore, celebrities are in the spot light more than ever. Brands must understand they cannot control the Internet. Using a celebrity for branding purposes requires the brand to be prepared to take on loss of control and individual risks.

Personal Branding

Traditionally branding referred to only corporate and individual product branding. Both types of branding aim to create name, icon, and emotional connections. In today’s society, more and more individuals are exploring personal branding brought made possible in part by social media. The individual brand must be positioned within the marketplace and must be continually reinvented. Differentiation among other individuals is essential in personal branding just as it is in product or service branding. By identifying what differentiates a personal brand, an individual can communicate that to the right audience with the right medium.

Digital Footprints– Blogs, micro blog, websites, and other social media platforms are now being used to illustrate competence and a love of the persons industry. Simply having a resume is somewhat dated in today’s workplace. Individuals are building their personal brands with blogs that they write on their own time for the love of what they do and to share with others. These individuals are also gathering followers who value the content they provide via blogs or micro blogs such as Twitter. These folks are building their networks via LinkedIn.com and branding themselves as professionals in their prospective industries.

Self Reflection– Personal branding encourages the individual to look inwardly to who they are and what they stand for to arrive at an authentic personal brand. The authentic personal branding is based on individual identity, vision, mission, values, self-knowledge, positive attributes, and self-management, rather than presenting an image or brand that you wish others to perceive.

Influence- In order to remain competitive, those building a personal brand must explore LinkedIn as a replacement for the traditional resume. More employees, employers, and recruiters are utilizing LinkedIn and the connections within to link positions with the right candidates. A users profile offers viewers more information about the individual that a resume can. Most profiles include job history, connections, skills, as well as hyperlinks to other sources of information and possible samples of work. With the emergence of personal branding, many employers value this online influence. Such influence, or clout, demonstrates soft skills such as writing, leadership, and organization. Individuals who have large and influential networks (via Twitter, blogs, and LinkedIn for example) have the potential to bring something of value to an organization: an audience and potential consumers.

Personal branding will continue to become more important as it separates the good from the great. It will uncover those who work simply for a paycheck and those who work because they have a passion for what they do, are thought leaders, and are influencers in their field. If nothing else, it allows the individual to take charge of their career and seek out connections and share relevant information rather than leave it to chance.

IMC
Technology has made a significant impact on integrated marketing communication (IMC). With the volume of messages presented to consumer sin the form of email, television, Internet ads, social media, and print, brands must ensure the relevancy of their messages. Additionally, brands must address budget issues and allocate the right amount of resources to the right communication to generate a significant return on investment.

Jai Beom, Yoori, and Ryun (2009) suggest the integration of online and offline has led to an increase in the number of touch points for customers both current and potential. Figure 3 illustrates how the core identity of a brand can influence consumers through the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Jai Beom, Yoori, and Ryun (2009) found that each touch point should appeal to each of the senses. Effective use of the various touch points is one way a brand can build a competitive advantage over the competition. With IMC, the brand can coordinate the touch points, the mediums, and the message to create a campaign that caters to all the senses, contributes to the building of a relationship, and ultimately translates into an increase in market share.

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-11-13-32-amJai Beom, Yoori, and Ryun (2009)

Social- Social media as part of an IMC is essential in today’s business environment. A brands target audience is divided among Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. A brand does not have to utilize every social touch point, but should research which tool would increase interaction with consumers. For example, crafts and home decorating audiences are often found on Pinterest, so a brand with similar targets would benefit from sharing their own images of products, services, or designs on the platform. Social media is a great medium to build brand awareness, solicit feedback, and engage with consumers.

Digital- A combination of on and offline tools such as social, brand website (SEO), print, television, and personal selling can make for a very effective IMC program. However, the target audience and budget play a key role in what strategy should be employed. Integrating these tools is a challenge, but necessary to ensure the right brand image is being perceived. All of the tools should send the same message about the brand to the same target audience. An interesting IMC program is the Nike PhotoiD campaign. It allowed users to design shoes based on color photographs taken by cell phone. Customers would contact Nike via text message and PhotoiD would analyze the photo, matching colors in the shots to the NikeiD palette. Then Nikeid would apply colors to a selected design. Consumers could then do a variety of things such as save the image, use it as computer desktop wallpaper, share it via social media, or purchase the shoe. This is also a great example of personalization, yet another trend in branding that has been made possible through technology.

Conclusion
Consumers now have a wealth of information about brands and their competition, making them a powerful force. Customers have so many more choices than ever before. This gives them the power to demand more from businesses. This same new technology that is enabling the consumer, is also giving businesses the capability of initiating multi-channel strategies for communicating with customers. These emerging, real-time platforms such as the Internet, Apps, and other social media channels place new strains on a network’s existing infrastructure. However, they also generate large amounts of data that contain valuable insight into customer behavior and preferences. Specifically, the use of mobile devices and social media is gathering enormous amounts of personal data that can be a real asset to businesses. Unfortunately, there are businesses not making the most of the data available and there are others not even utilizing the platforms to access this data (Rogers, 2012).

Brands must develop an infrastructure that allows for the sharing of information and effective communication. With the use of a variety of social media platforms (such as blogs, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube etc.) brands have a direct line to the end consumer for communicating about their products or services. Consumers are online talking about the brands, and the brands need to listen. If businesses can identify unmet expectations and where the strongest expectations exist, they will be more likely to realize an increase in market share and profitability. In order to do this, they must know more about their customers. Brands must talk, listen, and interact with customers more often and with more relevancy in new and innovative ways. The use of social media platforms is one way to drive engagement and participation to create and nurture relationships with customers and potential customers. This is an exciting time for marketers with the technology available to manage customer information, data, trends, and relationships as well as the new social environment that creates a one-on-one marketing opportunity.

If you have enjoyed this 2 part series, I urge you to explore my past articles. While they are more informal, I think you will find value in the content as the posts speak to the themes within this 2 part series.


The State of Branding: A Reflection: Part 1

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Technology has brought upon many changes to the branding and marketing industries, specifically the Internet. Employing the Internet as a means of branding combines mass media’s reach with the personalization of two-way dialogue that was previously only possible through personal selling (Simons, 2007). Simons (2007) suggests the use if the Internet for branding could be described within four pillars: understanding customers; marketing communications; interactivity; and content.

Simmons, Thomas, and Truong (2010) identified several Internet tools that offer brands the opportunity to create brand equity for products categorized by experience, credence, and search characteristics. Internet tools such as social media, email, forums, video sharing, and webpages allow interaction between the brand and the consumer, and interactions between consumers themselves. This interaction is significant in that they can allow for real time dialog and can facilitate the exchange of experiences and preferences between consumers and to the brand as well. Should this dialogue take place on a brands webpage or blog, and include its products, the opportunity for creating and increasing brand equity is substantial. Another aspect of the Internet that has created opportunities for both the consumer and brands are hyperlinks. Such links offer consumers a road map of information that enables the consumer to navigate significant amounts of information and make evaluations and decisions in a very informed manner.

Globalization and technological advances have enabled consumers to find the information they desire and share this information regardless of geographic location (Jai Beom, Yoori, & Ryun, 2009). The Internet has made foreign businesses more local, and has given the small local shops the chance to be more global. With this technology, businesses are also able to target markets outside their geographic locations and engage with them for better knowledge of the audience. With the understanding of a particular target market, a brand can select the appropriate tool(s) in which to reach and engage with them.
The Internet has changed the way brands build and maintain their image, improved methods of addressing customer service issues, has created opportunities to brand themselves through celebrities, has created the notion of personal brands, and has revolutionized integrated marketing communications.

Maintaining Brand Image
The current marketplace is inundated with brands competing for the consumers’ attention. If a brands products or services do not have a perceived differentiation, failure is a real possibility. When trying to maintain a positive brand image, differentiation becomes just as important as it is when developing a new product or service. What differentiated a brand from the competition when it came on the market, may now have become commonplace, forcing the brand to consider news ways of differentiation. Differentiation among the competition in the future will require strategic planning and looking beyond functional benefits of products. Branding is not finite, it is a continuous process that should be strategically planned but also allow for some flexibility.

Evolution- Additionally, brands must change at the same rate as society or risk becoming obsolete. This does not imply re-branding excessively, but rather investing in new technologies that will help the brand to prevent falling behind. To maintain a positive brand image, a brand must decide what is the best method to keep a fresh image in a market with continually changing technology. Such technologies could be mobile applications or free downloads. As more consumers utilize mobile technologies and smart phones, these types of technologies are quickly becoming a mandatory component of any brand.

Consistent Messaging- There should be consistency between a brands vision, strategy, culture, and reputation in order to maintain a brands image. Hillestad, Xie and Haugland (2010) found that an organizations reputation saw positive gains when the integrated corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their business strategy. This suggests organizations influenced by CSR are differentiated between competitors, and ultimately the brand benefits. A reputation as an organization that embraces corporate social responsibility and is environmentally aware contributes to a brands value, equity, and competitive advantage. Such a favorable reputation is often difficult, or even impossible for competitors to imitate.

To maintain a brands image, the organization must start with a quality product or service. If a consumer does not view an offering as having adequate quality, there will not be a purchase. Ultimately, the consumers create successes through purchases and prevent failures due to repeat purchases. Brand loyalty is becoming increasingly more difficult to achieve and maintain with the volume of competing products and offers on the market. Rewarding loyalty and offering great customer service are great ways to keep consumers loyal while maintaining a positive band image.

Customer Satisfaction
O’Cass and Viet Ngo (2011) found that employing a strong service capability and encouraging customer involvement, by way of customer empowerment (in the marketing environment), is essential. Brands today have the ability to gain and understand consumers due to technological advances like dialogue through the Internet, and online satisfaction surveys or online focus groups. This enables brands to gather and analyze data, and with that data, formulate strategies and policies that enhance customer satisfaction.

However, customer satisfaction surveys can be flawed due to their ability to predict with accuracy the real strength of customer relationships and the brand equity they create. Often “satisfied” or “very satisfied” customers will leave a brand for a competitor when they become somewhat unhappy. Given the environment today of on demand information, consumers can find a competitor in a matter of moments or a few click of a mouse.

Loyalty-The value of a loyal customer can be infinite. A loyal customer is a patron to the brand over the long term even if at times they are not necessarily getting the best price. They are loyal to the brand, share their experiences, and tend to be more forgiving with the occasional service issue. A satisfied customer becomes a loyal customer for a brand through customer experiences with the brand. Meaning, improving customer experiences at each touch point influences the loyalty of a consumer. Customers interact with sales staff, customer service, web pages, email, and even through social media. Each of these interactions is an opportunity for a brand to improve the customer experience, create a relationship, and nurture a relationship. Conversely, these are also opportunities to create a negative experience and drive the customer away. By evaluating these touch points, a brand can identify what customers think about the brand, what they value about doing business with the brand, and ultimately build the foundation for a long term relationship. Brands must embrace a corporate culture that can close the gaps between actual and perceived performances continually.

Social Media- An alarming trend in social media is the large amounts of brands that have active Twitter or FaceBook accounts that do not respond to consumer interactions. Utilizing social media as a tool to learn more about consumers is becoming a real advantage to business. Those brands that choose not to reply to consumers are simply ignoring them, which is unacceptable. Whether the brand is using social media for customer service purposes, marketing, promotions, or the like, they need to be prepared before launching a social media endeavor. This means having the staff to address inquiries, pass them along to the right folks, and the know how to make the social media strategy effective.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this post… and conclusion(here).


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