Consumer-Brand Relationship in the Social Media Environment
Companies should build strong brand equity to become effective in marketing. Branding involves the identification of networks of effective, favourable, and exceptional brand connections within the memory of consumers (John, Loken, Kim, & Monga, 2006). Brand managers strive to create lasting images in the minds of consumers, which have strong effects on the way they experience the brand. Consumers associate with various aspects of a brand from diverse companies because of the value they offer for their money. They associate brands with different attributes and features, usage situations, product spokespeople, or logos. The connections between brands and consumers are organised in networks in reliable ways that create lasting images in the minds of individuals. The connections constitute the image and identify the uniqueness of the brand and the value that the consumer places on it (Ashley & Tuten, 2015). Therefore, companies should understand the most effective ways of marketing their brands to create working consumer-brand relationships. Although brand managers can use various communication channels to build such associations, social media tools are the most effective approaches in working with modern consumers.
Conventionally, marketers have utilised one-to-many marketing strategies, including advertising, as the means for communicating their brand narratives to their target consumers. Although such channels remained effective in communicating the story, they did not give consumers a proper opportunity to appropriate and modify the stories to generate their versions of relevance (Keller, 2016). They lacked an interactive aspect that makes the aspect of branding attractive to consumers. Traditional channels lacked a strong voice in the brand management activities and could be easily ignored by marketers. However, the development and integration of social media in marketing have changed the way brands are managed and the role of the consumer in the process. In the new environment, the brand managers have lost their central role in authoring brand stories (Kuksov, Shachar, & Wang 2013). Unlike in the conventional marketing environment, the consumer has become more empowered to create or recreate and share brand narratives. Using social media tools, they can easily and widely share the stories, a process that has empowered them in a manner that marketers can no longer ignore.
The social media environment has challenged marketers to embrace the participation of consumers and their engagement with the brand in the social media environment. Such platforms allow customers to create and communicate content with others and with the brand. Labrecque (2014) suggested that social media has added value to brands by promoting effective consumer-brand relationships. Therefore, companies have to accept that they have lost some control over their consumers because of consumer-generated brand narratives. They easily interpret their previous involvements and predict future experiences. In the social media environment, the experiences can either be positive, such as the homage to a brand, or negative, which may include negative reviews. Social media has become an effective setting for consumer-generated brand stories, which creates the opportunity for effective interactions between the consumer and the brand (Payne, Storbacka, Frow, & Knox, 2009). Therefore, companies have the challenge to embrace social media as part of their marketing campaign. After all, stories created through social media are more effective compared to those in traditional marketing channels.
Consumer-generated brand stories communicated through social media are more impactful than stories spread through traditional channels because they utilise social networks, are digital, visible, ubiquitous, available in real-time, and dynamic (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2010). Information and communication strategies have become prevalent in marketing and even taken the place of the traditional communication channels, including media advertising. The proliferation of the internet has improved interactions that support brand value. Consumers are capable of creating content and sharing within user communities that appreciate a common brand (Breivik & Thorbjørnsen, 2008). The trend enhances human experiences as a part of innovation in brand management and value creation (Ramaswamy & Ozcan, 2016). The internet has created digitalised platforms for brand managers to engage with the company by improving the delivery of products and services to customers. The platforms have also enabled businesses to achieve brand equity. Furthermore, digital platforms connect people across various channels and devices to create brand value through consumer experiences. Therefore, marketers take advantage of the digitised channels and the interconnectedness to promote their products and services.
Besides the interconnection that has enabled companies to build brand value, the changes in technology have created transformations in the role of the consumer in marketing. Customers are no longer inactive recipients of marketing information. They have supported the ability of the consumer to interact with brand managers and the brand to create value (Kim, Han, & Park, 2001). According to Ramaswamy and Ozcan (2016), consumers are actively engaged in the creation and consumption of information. The reality is evident in the innovation of offerings as well as creating the human experience. Consequently, the new environment has transformed the idea of marketing beyond a simple exchange of products and services. Marketing now involves the creation of significant experiences for consumers (Payne, Storbacka, Frow, & Knox, 2009). Consumers are engaging in activities that can play the role of immaterial labour, providing their “labour” in the digitised environment. They are operating in the hyper-connected media culture to create positive experiences when relating to brands. Ramaswamy and Ozcan (2016) suggested that they play the role through shared meanings, social relations, and commons when creating and sharing content. Therefore, a consumer-brand relationship has changed in the new social media environment.
Brands are very critical assets for any business. Firms market their brands to earn revenue, support their operations, and have returns on investment. Therefore, brand management plays an important role in ensuring that a company or business benefits from its brands. The objective of the brand manager is to build a strong brand with a rich and defined knowledge within the memory of the consumer (Hudson, Huang, Roth, & Madden, 2016). They achieve the objective by writing compelling brand stories that stick in the audiences’ memory. As a result, they effectively create loyal consumers who effectively relate and engage with the brand (Gensler, Völckner, Liu-Thompkins, & Wiertz, 2013). The authors further suggested that the story should have a plot, characters, a climax, and a result that build empathy in the audience. The created empathy is what makes it possible for listeners or viewers to remember the brand story. Brand managers should create a persuasive story through narrative transportation, which means moving the audience into a new world of the brand narrative. They strive to create a long term connection between the consumer and the brand.
Companies should effectively measure their networks of brand relationships to reveal a brand map that is beneficial for marketers to understand how their brands are performing in the market. The map shows significant brand associations and expresses the connection between the association and the brand. They reveal the direction for which the company is moving in terms of its association with its real and potential customers. The map indicates various connections that link directly from the company to the customers using the brand. The connections have other important factors such as service and value that a firm offers to its customers (John, Loken, Kim, & Monga, 2006). Therefore, marketers should ensure that their customers have a positive experience when relating to their brands. According to Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009), companies should be able to measure customer experience and consumer behavior to improve their marketing activities and ensure they create strong connections between the brand and its real and potential consumers.
Researchers use various theories to explain the relationship between the consumer and the brand marketed by a particular company. For instance, Batra, Ahuvia, and Bagozzi (2012) used a grounded theory approach in evaluating the character and effect of brand love among customers in the social media environment. Using the theory, it is possible to comprehend the consumers’ brand feelings and thoughts, as well as perceptions. The literature on brand love focuses on the comprehension of the way consumers normally experience brand stories and create lasting meanings in the process (Beukeboom, Kerkhof, & de Vries, 2015). Consumers have their ways of creating brand love that generates loyalty. Various other concepts have emerged in the process of understanding brand love such as passion-driven behaviours, self-brand integration, long-term relationship, positive emotional connection, attitude certainty and confidence (strength), positive overall attitude valence, and anticipated separation distress (Batra, Ahuvia, & Bagozzi, 2012). Besides, the concept of brand love is associated with quality beliefs about the brand. The authors discuss the reality of first-order and higher-order models that determine the level of brand loyalty.
Marketers focus on creating a positive brand experience to build brand love and also measure the impact of their activities on the customer. According to Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009), researchers have created important constructs and measurements that are effective in evaluating customer experience in brand management. Measuring the effect of their activities on the consumer is critical to establish the effectiveness of their marketing activities on creating a positive brand image. Some of the measures include brand community, brand personality, brand attachment, brand trust, and brand love. Nonetheless, marketing experts are yet to develop effective conceptualisation and scale for the measurement of brand experience (Gensler, Völckner, Liu-Thompkins, & Wiertz, 2013). However, researchers have explored the context in which a particular product and service experience arises. Brand experience is an important subject for brand managers because they seek to create positive perceptions of the product or service among customers. Marketing practitioners should understand how the consumer experiences brands to develop successful marketing strategies for services and goods (Breivik & Thorbjørnsen, 2008). The knowledge enables firms to experience considerable success in their products and services.
Brand managers have in the past successfully created effective brand stories that appeal to their customers and retain their loyalty. The stories should be entrenched in the minds of the customers such that they can use the information in the long-term. For example, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign and Ben & Jerry’s website are firm-generated brand stories that have influenced consumers in the long term. The advertising campaigns focus on the benefits of the brand offered by a particular company (Singh & Sonnenburg 2012). Such campaigns are aimed at creating and strengthening consumers’ relationship with the brand. According to Gensler, Völckner, Liu-Thompkins, and Wiertz (2013), they achieve the objective by creating a theme to support conversation between the consumer and the business or brand. Besides, they provide a chance for conversation among target consumers to strengthen the brand. The interactions make it possible for consumers to include their personal experiences and thoughts relating to the brand into the narrative. Therefore, “[brand] stories can help build awareness, comprehension, empathy, recognition, recall, and provide meaning to the brand” (Singh & Sonnenburg 2012, p. 189). Hence, to achieve the objective, the brand managers should select an effective channel to deliver the story.
Marketing has increasingly moved away from the conventional communication environment to digital media, including social media. Furthermore, the activity has moved beyond the mere exchange to a process that creates value for the business and consumers (Ramaswamy & Ozcan, 2016). At the same time, the value creation process has become a joint activity or co-creational experiences (Ramaswamy & Ozcan, 2016). As a result, the consumer-brand interactions involve a process through which brand managers are working with consumers to create brand negatives, and hence, the value. Although the literature on the value co-creation is still limited, it is evident that consumers are playing an important role in the marketing process because of the content creation ability of the social media (Beukeboom, Kerkhof, & de Vries, 2015). Within the social media environment, brand building involves the creation of human experiences that actively engages the target audience. It entails brand value co-creation, where the company takes into account the important role of the consumer in brand management.
Social media has become a powerful tool for marketers to reach and appeal to real and potential customers when promoting their brands. Facebook is one of the commonly used social media tools in the world today. Park, Kee, and Valenzuela (2009) did a survey, focusing on Facebook use in 2008. According to the authors, the social media platform had 67 million active users. Notably, they identified active users as those who revisited the site within the past 30 days. Over 50% of the users used the social media platform again at an average of 20 minutes daily. The trend has been increasing with time, and the current number of active users has almost doubled since then (Ashley & Tuten, 2015). With such a huge following, social media offers a powerful tool for businesses to market their brands online. Social media platforms have revolutionised online marketing in the last two decades (Laroche, Habibi, & Richard, 2013). Brand managers should understand how to use social media platforms effectively to gain a huge following.
Social media includes online strategies for participating in various activities. Social media channels facilitate participation between different people (Ashley & Tuten, 2015). As a result, it has become a significant way for brand marketers to communicate with various customer segments. Businesspersons are increasing their online marketing budget. In 2014, it was approximated that social media advertising budget went up to $5 billion in 2014 from $4.1 billion in the previous year (eMarketer, 2013). Within a short duration, brand managers have adopted the use of social media platforms and utilized them for various purposes, including branding, customer relations, advertisement, and promotion. Many brand managers have acknowledged the importance of social media in business (eMarketer, 2013). In 2013, the Social Media Industry Report indicated that 86% of marketers considered the platform a major part of marketing activities (Stelzner, 2013). Therefore, they use a considerable part of their marketing budget for online initiatives.
The reviewed literature shows that marketers can create effective consumer-brand relationships in the social media environment. According to Labrecque (2014), brands have enhanced their position in social media, increasing consumers’ expectations. Therefore, businesses can easily develop and capitalise on technology to support consumer engagement. Labrecque (2014) challenges marketers to understand how to use social media effectively to maintain their one-to-one characteristics and close association qualities that the social media platforms provide to market their brands. A vast majority of consumers and customer segments are found in social media because of the proliferation of technology. Therefore, marketers can capitalise on the trend to meet consumer expectations through increased interactions (Gensler, Völckner, Liu-Thompkins, & Wiertz, 2013). Labrecque (2014) proposed the need for marketers to increase their online interactions with their customers to build the necessary consumer-brand relationships. Therefore, they should research and develop effective ways of interacting with their online clients.
Researchers have used theories to propose effective ways of creating positive consumer-brand relations in the social media environment. Labrecque (2014) suggested the use of communications literature and theory to support positive interactions between brands and consumers. The author used the parasocial interaction (PSI) theory as the theoretical basis for creating functional social media strategies to facilitate the use of the online tools for brand marketing. Labrecque (2014) conducted a study that provided evidence of the multi-method approach in developing positive relationship results when targeting online consumers. According to Park, Kee, and Valenzuela (2009), the feeling of connection between the consumer and the brand surpasses the interaction itself. It is the main factor behind the creation of the sense of loyalty intentions and the willingness to work with the brand. The feelings develop when marketers understand and create effective marketing strategies to appeal to online consumers.
Brand managers can also use branded social campaigns to support interactions between the brand and the consumer. Ashley and Tuten (2015) reveal that such initiatives provide extra touchpoints and support continued interactions between the consumer and the brand. Although conventional media has provided the mechanism for consumers to relate with the brand, branded social campaigns are more effective in the social media environment. Besides improving consumer-brand relationships, social media platforms help brand managers to unveil shared themes in the feedback given by customers, and influence them to continue engaging with the online content (Laroche, Habibi, & Richard, 2013). Notably, touchpoints include customers’ connections with the brand through the way they feel, think, imagine, perceive, and experience the brand (Ashley & Tuten, 2015). Consequently, the aspect encourages consumers to remember the brand and hence, engage with it in the long-term, which forms brand loyalty.
Branded social campaigns are among the most effective ways for marketers to promote their brands using social media. They have various alternatives to achieve their marketing goals in the environment (Hollebeek, Glynn, & Brodie, 2014). One of the options is to place paid display advertising. On the other hand, they can also achieve the objective by engaging with social media platforms as a brand persona. Marketers can develop branded participation opportunities for consumers to engage with social media networks. They can also publish branded content (referred to as social publishing or content marketing) in social media platforms (Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009). Besides direct branded social campaigns, companies can use social media marketing as part of their marketing communication campaigns to reach real and potential consumers. They can also use the channels for continuing corporate communications or several micro campaigns targeted to online consumers (Ashley & Tuten, 2015). Whichever approach marketers decide to use, they allow social media to support regular interactions to create long-term relationships between the consumer and the brand.
The development of social media tools has offered new opportunities for brand managers to create brands and connect them to their target customers. Beukeboom, Kerkhof, and de Vries (2015) recommended that marketers should understand the effective ways of using social media to connect their brands to customers. From the review of literature, it becomes evident that companies can effectively create brand value in the social media environment. As a result, many firms are integrating social media channels into their communication strategies to optimise the number of people who can receive the brand message. Many marketers consider the benefits of using social media for marketing. According to Beukeboom, Kerkhof, and de Vries (2015), research has not effectively explored the cost effectiveness of using social media in brand management. Nonetheless, effectively implemented social media branding strategies can help companies to reach the audience and create a lasting image of the brand.
Research into the utilisation of social media channels in marketing and brand management reveals that the environment has a major impact on creating consumer-brand relationships (Ashley & Tuten, 2015). Various studies have indicated the positive relationship between the use of social media and other variables such as brand evaluations, brand loyalty, purchase intention, or Net Promoter Score (Kim & Ko, 2012; Beukeboom, Kerkhof, & de Vries, 2015). Nonetheless, most of the findings are founded on correlational data and depend on the perceptions of participants who have made a conscious decision to follow the brand. As a result, the studies hinder effective conclusions because positive evaluations of the brand may be the cause instead of the effect of the decision to follow the brand. Therefore, research shows the need to conduct more investigations to determine the actual impact of social media on the decision to follow and relate to a particular brand. After all, social networking sites are the main channel to support brand management in the modern business world, and it is important to determine the actual effect of the decision to use the tools.
As it is evident from the discussion above, consumer needs have increased as brands continue to affirm their position in the social media platforms. Hence, the whole process has enhanced the technology development to create value in the process of engagement between the consumers and brands. For more than a decade, researchers have revealed a paradigm shift in marketing. Although marketers are still using conventional communication channels to market their brands, they have increasingly adopted social media to reach their customers. According to the review of the research, the change is informed by the increased use of social media platforms such as Facebook among other platforms. Notably, the use of such applications increases the chances of the marketer to reach as many real and potential customers as possible because of the increases in the number of their users across the world. Furthermore, customers can support brand value creation through content generation capability. Notably, some researchers claim that consumers have become co-creators of brand stories. Therefore, much of the brand literature focuses on the customer perspective in brand management.
In the last few decades, researchers have concentrated on the dynamics of the consumer-brand relationship in the social media environment. Hence, they have defined the “consumer brand engagement” (CBE) concept to explain the growing role of social media in creating more informed consumers in brand management. The digitised communication networks have created interactive brand relationships that support consumer experience when creating and communicating brand stories. Nonetheless, despite the increase in research on marketing using the social media and the impact on the way customers interact with a brand, there is still minimal literature on the actual impact of the social media on lasting consumer-brand relationships. Since companies are investing in social media, they should understand the actual returns on their investment. Therefore, more research is necessary to establish the actual effect of social media on consumer-brand relationships.
|Author(s)||Sample||Independent variables||Dependent variables||Key findings|
|Ashley and Tuten (2015).||A sample of content from select brands on the top 100 brands||Social media content||Creative strategies/appeals, consumer engagement
|The research results revealed the importance of brands maintaining a social presence across various social media channels and regular updates and incentives for customers to participate in creating the brand story.|
|Batra, Ahuvia, and Bagozzi (2012||315 undergraduate students||Consumer loyalty, word of mouth, and resistance to negative information||Brand love||The research revealed the importance of a scale for validating brand love, depending on the communication channel based on the importance of the concept to businesses.|
|Beukeboom, Kerkhof, and de Vries (2015).||10,000 Facebook followers||Brand’s Facebook updates||Brand evaluations and purchase intention||The results revealed that when customers follow a brand’s Facebook updates, it influences brand evaluations positively.|
|Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009).||30 university student||Brand experience (sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioural response)||Consumer satisfaction and loyalty||The authors revealed that brand experience has a direct effect on consumer satisfaction and loyalty. Therefore, companies should strive to improve the brand experience through social media.|
|Breivik and Thorbjørnsen (2008).||Two models of consumer–brand relationships||Adequacy of the metaphoric transfer||Empirical models of consumer–brand relationships||The authors established that the modified relationship investment model provides an effective investigation of consumer–brand relationships that are dissimilar in terms of intensity.|
|eMarketer (2013).||Not applicable||Social ad budgets||Market success, customer loyalty, consumer decision-making||The results revealed an increase in social ad budgets in 2013 to improve the company’s appeal to customers.|
|Gensler, Völckner, Liu-Thompkins, and Wiertz (2013)||Publications in journals covering 2006-2013.||Social media environment||Effective brand management, customer satisfaction||The study revealed that marketers should pay attention to consumer-generated stories as part of their effective brand management efforts.|
|Hollebeek, Glynn, and Brodie (2014).||The sample had 39 CBE items.||Social media.||Consumer brand engagement, consumer “self-brand connection” and “brand usage intent.”||The findings of the study showed that besides the role of consumer brand “involvement” the consumer “self-brand connection” and “brand usage intent” as well as “consumer brand engagement,” are critical aspects that enhance relationship of both the brand and the consumer.|
|Hudson, Huang, Roth, and Madden (2016).||Three countries (France, United Kingdom, United States) w||Consumer engagement through Social media||higher consumer–brand relationships||The authors established that customer engagement through social media plays an important role in the achievement of higher consumer-brand relationships.|
|John, Loken Kim, and Monga (2006).||90 patients and 75 non-patients||Brand association network||Brand equity||Consumer mapping is critical in developing brand equity in health care settings.|
|Keller (2016)||Research articles on brand equity||Brand equity||Customer satisfaction||The effectiveness of marketers in managing brand equity determines the level of customer satisfaction with the brand.|
|Kim & Ko (2012)||Fifteen graduate students||Social media marketing||Brand equity, customer equity, purchase intention||The research revealed that effective social media marketing activities have a positive relationship with the achievement of customer equity.|
|Kim, Han, and Park (2001).||Five companies in Korea||Brand personality, consumers’ identification||Brand asset management||The findings revealed positive relationships between attractiveness, distinctiveness, and brand personality’s self-expressive value.|
|Kuksov, Shachar & Wang (2013)||One company’s case study||Advertising, consumer communications||Brand identity||Findings indicated that companies strengthen their brand identity through advertising and consumer communications.|
|Labrecque (2014).||Not provided||Social media||Brand-consumer relationship, prosocial interactions||The author showed that consumer’s sense of feeling and connection with the brand determined the attitude of loyalty with the brand and is determined by the communication environment such as social media.|
|Laroche, Habibi, and Richard (2013)||Members of online communities||Social media||Brand loyalty, connectedness||Findings revealed that brand trust played a mediating role in changing the effect of improved relationship to brand loyalty in the brand community.|
|Park, Kee, and Valenzuela (2009)||1,715 college students||Social media participation||The gratification of social and political needs||The findings revealed an association between the needs of users and civic and political participation through social media applications such as Facebook.|
|Payne, Storbacka, Frow, and Knox (2009)||Nine international companies||Co-creation and service-dominant logic through social media||Brand relationship experience||Results of the case study reveal that social model can help in the design and management of the brand relationship when marketing innovative novel products.|
|Ramaswamy and Ozcan (2016)||Two illustrative examples of Starbucks and Apple||Brand engagement platforms, brand experience domains,||Brand value co-creation||The research findings revealed that companies could enact brand value co-creation through brand engagement platforms. The positive relationship depends on factors such as brand experience domains, and brand capability ecosystems, including social media.|
|Singh and Sonnenburg (2012)||Not applicable||Social media||Brand performance, customer experience, brand loyalty.||Three important findings were evident in the study: (i) improvisation process is more significant that output, (ii) brand management relates to keeping the brand performance alive, and (iii) the importance of understanding the audience and its role to achieve success in brand management.|