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.
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).