Influence of Consumer Empowerment on Engagement and Brand Loyalty

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1.    Introduction – Review at the end

1.1. Overview

Social media marketing has become a vital marketing tool for global airlines to attract new consumers but more importantly engage with them on a deeper level and create a unique connection (source). This statement indicates the question of how airline marketers should behave with their online consumers to encourage engagement and create a platform for brand loyalty. To gain insights from both parties, airline and consumer, interviews have been conducted and are in the centre of this research.

This introductory chapter describes the research purpose and justifies the significance of this topic by stating the research objectives. Furthermore, the structure of this study provides a first overview over the topic.

1.2. Background of the Study

Technology is changing and so is the way of communication. The Internet and social media has revolutionized human interaction and makes the world smaller. This phenomenon can be linked to the 1929 short story “Chains” by Frigyes Karinthy. In this story, the Hungarian author explains the concept of “six degrees of separation”, which means that two people, no matter how geographical distant, are connected to each other through at most six intermediate people. As a reason for this, Karinthy states that the world has shrunk through the invention of the telephone and air travel (Karinthy, 1929).

The research study by Stanley Milgram in 1967 with 296 participants, who were assigned to send a postcard through friends to a specific person in the Boston suburb, validated the statement of Frigyes Karinthy. In 2011, scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan recreated this research in a contemporary approach. By applying a set of algorithms to investigate the number of sample paths between Facebook users, the researcher found out that the average number of links between two people dropped from 6 to 4. This outcome underlines the growing power of social networking in today’s time and leads to new opportunities of online commerce and marketing processes (Markoff and Sengupta, 2011).

Winer (2009) describes this development of more contemporary marketing approaches as ‘new media marketing’ or ‘consumer generated media’. Even though Web 2.0 and social media has grown significantly, it has not replaced the established marketing tools, rather makes use of the basic marketing processes of traditional marketing and lifts them on a more consumer-focused, electronically, and interactive level (Mangold and Faulds, 2009).

Big and successful social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are connecting more and more users and are now essential parts of people’s life (Fan and Gordon, 2014). As the most popular online activity, nowadays users spend around 20% of their day on social media (Fan and Gordon, 2014) and travel experiences have become the most shared genre on Facebook (So et al., 2017).

The global airline industry contributes highly to the overall growth of the travel and tourism industry. In this way, the global airline sector forecasts to earn 736 Billion US Dollar in revenue in 2017 (Statistica, 2015). This industry is a highly competitive market due to quite low entry barriers that affected through the development of globalisation and the liberalization of market access. Therefore, based on the information of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), more than 1,300 airlines have been founded in the past 40 years (Cederholm, 2014). Airline businesses such as Ryanair and Southwest Airlines have revolutionized the global airline industry by creating innovative low-cost business models and built up a growing online consumer base. Continuously higher consumer demands therefore also affect those low-cost airlines in some way and brands have to adapt their social media marketing approaches accordingly (Garcia, 2014).

Social networks have become the key battleground for travel and tourism businesses and users increasingly seek for conversation and attention apart from searching and planning trips. Connecting with brands has shifted in the social media space and airlines realised this “megatrend” to reinforce and communicate their distinctive brand identity and be heard above their competitors (Xiang and Gretzel, 2010).

The increased transparency and simplified communication between consumers and businesses leads to a new higher level of user empowerment and switched the situation from a seller’s to a buyer’s market (Deloitte, 2015). For businesses this means that consumers have an incredibly loud voice on social media and can turn into a detractor or promoter of the brand quickly, as the CEO of Zendesk Mikkel Svane mentions (Klie, 2015).

The case of the viral video of a passenger being violently removed from a United Airlines flight in April 2017 is evident for the power of global social online communication. As analysed by several authors, this negative publicity creates tremendous harm on the brand trust not only for the affected consumer but everyone who watches the video online (Victor and Stevens, 2017; Vinjamuri, 2017). Before the April 9, 2017, when the incident happened, United Airlines presented a positive social media sentiment of 91%. Only 48 hours later the social sentiment nearly declined by 160% and displayed 69% of mentions categorized as negative (Joyce, 2017).

This negative outcome underlines the need of airlines to create strong bonds with their consumers through social media. In this case, social media has become an essential marketing tool that facilitates the creation of consumer engagement and loyalty through user empowerment (Constantinides and Fountain, 2008; Hill and Moran, 2011).

While social media marketing gains more and more attention and businesses engage more in social media activities (Hudson et al., 2016), little research has been conducted to analyse the need for user empowerment and engagement on social media in relation with global airline brands.

1.3. Research Purpose

In today’s business world, marketers try to find the perfect balance between sales promotion and consumer engagement and empowerment on social media. To bring clarity in this issue, the following research questions have been developed as a guideline and will be answered towards the end of this dissertation.

1.4. Significance of the Study

1.5. Research Objective

1.6. Structure of the Study

The following … chapters, explain this topic with the literature review and provide deeper insights through primary research data. In this way, the research mythology describes the approach of data collection which is then being discussed as findings and recommendations for the future.

2.    Literature Review

2.1. Overview

This literature review can be seen as the base of this study by summarizing research outcome and knowledge of previous work in the area of consumer engagement through social media in the global airline industry. The purpose of this literature review is then to consider, examine, and evaluate these insights to compare them with the research outcomes of this dissertation.

The key variables of this dissertation, empowerment, engagement, and brand loyalty also categorise this literature review into these main parts. Each variable is being addressed in sub-sections and focuses on the current theoretical position in terms of the main research question: How can consumer empowerment in social media increase engagement and lead to brand loyalty for global airline brands?

The first section of this literature review describes the definitions of the variables and key terms described by different authors. The next section then starts with the first variable of consumer empowerment, which is allocated in the sub-sections of consumer-centricity, and User-generated Content (UGC) and Electronic Word-of-Mouth (eWOM). The next step then addresses the second variable of consumer engagement. The first two sub-sections address the current state of scientific research of users’ general intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to engage in social media activities. The third sub-section then describes the current studies about users’ desire to engage with brand-related content. The last variable and section of brand loyalty describes the connection of brand loyalty with users’ social media engagement. This variable is divided in two sub-sections of brand trust and brand community and display the current state of research in this area.

2.2. Definitions

The following section provides and overview of the general definitions by different authors. All three variables of the main research questions are addressed and explained to ensure transparency and clarity. Moreover, the subtopics of consumer empowerment, User-generated Content (UGC) and Electronic Word-of-Mouth (eWOM), are addressed as well as these represent key attributes of the current literature.

2.2.1.   Consumer Empowerment

Conger and Kanungo (1988) describe the term “empowerment” as an enabling process that includes “creating conditions for heightening motivation for task accomplishment through the development of a strong sense of personal efficacy”.

The definition by Perkins and Zimmerman (1995) is more descriptive and seeks to emphasise the ‘participation with others’.

Mendes-Filho and Tan (2009) states that consumer empowerment experienced dynamic growth especially through the emergence of user-generated content (UGC) applications. As the investigation of content creation on social media is significant for this dissertation, the following definition of “empowerment” by Muntinga, Moorman and Smit (2011) is most suitable. In this way, “empowerment” is explained as a construct of motivation by which “people using social media to exert their influence or power on other people or companies”.

2.2.2.   User-Generated Content (UGC)

UGC reached more recognition through the development of social media interaction and is a main part of consumer empowerment on social media.

Based on the definition of Kaplan and Haenlein (2011) UGC can be seen “as the sum of all ways in which people make use of social media”. More detailed Daugherty, Eastin and Bright (2008) explain that UGC is any information, data, or media created on the Internet by the general public. Example of those activities are digital videos, photography, blogging, or posts on social networks.

2.2.3.   Electronic Word-of-Mouth (eWOM)

As another key attribute of consumer empowerment, Electronic Word-of-Mouth is another term that deserves explanation in relation to social media. The advent of the Internet brought the phenomenon of word-of-mouth in the digital space and changed to “Electronic Word-of-Mouth”, shortly eWOM. In this way, Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) define it as “any positive or negative statement made by potential, actual, or former consumers about a product or company, which is made available to a multitude of people and institutions via the Internet”. This indicates the threat of eWOM. Compared to the traditional word-of-mouth, eWOM is not limited to the specific social environment of the individual consumer, and spreads fast and unfiltered beyond the local community. In times of social media, information never vanishes and impacts heavily on the brand’s reputation (Dellarocas, 2003).

2.2.4.   Consumer Engagement

The entire online marketing industry still discusses the term “Consumer Engagement” related with brands. Schultz and Peltier (2013) justify this by mentioning that the lack of clear definition is the primary problem. Marketers have not defined consumer engagement much beyond “the process of consumer recommending a brand to others” and see it as a reinvention of the traditional marketing tool of sales promotion.

However, from a theoretical perspective, Hollebeek (2011) describes “Consumer Brand Engagement” as “the level of an individual consumer’s motivational, brand-related & context-dependent state of mind characterized by specific levels of cognitive, emotional & behavioural activity in brand interactions”. Richard Sedley from the design agency cScape takes a more practical approach and defines consumer engagement as “repeated interactions between a consumer and brand that strengthen the emotional, psychological or physical investment a consumer has in that brand” (Chaffey, 2007).

As social media requires continuous interaction between the consumer and the brand, the definition by Richard Sedley is most suitable for this study.

2.2.5.   Brand Loyalty

In established literature, brand loyalty is defined as the biased behavioural response expressed over time by an individual towards a desired brand or product in relation with alternative brands (Jacoby and Kyner, 1973).

In case of social media, brand loyalty is discussed in different sub-categories. Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) describe the development of brand communities in social media as one of the main factors to leverage brand loyalty. In this way, Muñiz and O’Guinn (2001) describe brand community as a “specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand”. Furthermore, Laroche, Habibi and Richard (2013) state that the customer-centric model of brand community increases brand trust and eventually positively affect brand loyalty. The study by Chaudhuri and Holbrook (2001) names brand trust the main antecedent of brand loyalty and defines it as “the willingness of the average consumer to rely on the ability of the brand to perform its stated function”.

Therefore, this dissertation handles brand community and brand trust as the main antecedents for brand loyalty.

2.3. Consumer Empowerment

2.3.1.   Consumer-Centricity

As a starting point for this literature review, the origin of consumer empowerment needs to be described. As customer empowerment through UGC is an essential part of this study, the topic of consumer-centricity deserves greater understanding.

The process of consumer-centricity is topic of several publications that developed over the past 60 years. Drucker (1954) states that it is “the consumer who determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper”. Levitt (1960) adds that businesses should not solely focus on selling products, rather meeting consumer needs.

The event of brand management from books like “Building Strong Brands” by Aaker (1996) accelerated the speed of development and need for consumer-centric approaches. The power balance switched towards the consumer and different authors created academic approaches to measure the loyalty of a consumer to the brand.

Even though authors such as Aaker (1996) and Srivastava and Reibstein (2005) created models for value creation and measurement in financial and marketing terms, the consumer-based brand equity (CBBE) model by Keller (2003) is one of the most-common. In this way, Keller (2003) defines CBBE as “the differential effect that brand knowledge has on consumer’s response to the marketing of that brand”.

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Figure 1: Brand Resonance Pyramid, Keller (2013).

Starting from the bottom of the pyramid, the process starts with salience or awareness and the consumer identifies that the brand satisfies their needs. The next step is that the consumer creates a meaning to the brand and associates its own characteristics with the image of the brand. In the third stage the consumer creates emotional responses with the brand. The consumer cares about the brand and judges its quality and personality. When the first three steps repeat, it ends in the last stage of loyalty. The consumer is attached, engaged, committed, and creates a strong relationship with the brand (Hsu, Oh and Assaf, 2012).

In contrast to work with the needs and understanding of the own company, the CBBE model focuses on the perspective of the consumer. The needs and wants of potential consumers are in the heart of successful marketing processes and put greater emphasis on the following question of ‘what does the brand mean to the consumer?’ (Keller, Apéria and Georgson, 2008).

Value creation shifted from the traditional approach to joint value creation, which shows positive effects on psychological ownership in combination with positive feedback by the company (Hair et al., 2016). In this way, Hair et al., (2016) focused the study on consumer empowerment in product development processes. Even though this research does not focus on consumer-brand relationship on social media, it displays that consumer empowerment and trust by the brand leads to closer interaction and the willingness to pay more.

Eventually, the more contemporary studies by Hair et al. (2016) for instance, address the event of social media and the consideration of user-generated content in detail. Therefore, the following section puts a closer focus on consumer empowerment through user-generated content (UGC) and Electronic Word-of-Mouth (eWOM).

2.3.2.   UGC & eWOM

The emergence of Web 2.0 but significantly the appearance of social media displays a shift in the power between brand and consumer and consumer empowerment has become an essential part of today’s business processes (Winer, 2009).

Word-of-mouth is the keyword and has become the main source of information and switched in the digital space over time. In this case, Li (2009) means that people are more likely to trust information from people who are similar in their behaviour and lifestyle rather than businesses. In relation to this, Leung (2009) analysed the impact of civic engagement offline and content generation online in relation to psychological empowerment. Due to the development of technology and the increasing impact of Web 2.0, Leung (2009) puts a bigger focus on the influence that empowerment of users and UGC can have on the offline society. Eventually, the study displays that people who are engaged in social media content creation are more willing to become active in social matters and debate about important social issues online.

As this approach implies, this study explains the process how people’s offline behaviour changes through the creation of content on social media but does not relate to the corporate world in any way. Even though Leung (2009) does approach the topic of user empowerment in another context, the study also names the important question of what motivates users to produce content on the internet, which is interesting in relation to understand the significance of consumer empowerment.

In relation to this question, the study by Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) found out that social benefits, economic incentives, caring about others, and self-enhancement/ extraversion are the primary reasons for eWOM on social media. On the other hand, voluntarily supporting the brand’s social media presence and sharing negative feelings were stated least (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004).

As O’Brien (2011) explains, the situation is over where the brand simply publishes content to a broad audience. The power shifted towards the consumer, who creates content and engages with the brand and consumers on a public basis. While giving an overview of how social media marketing has impacted on traditional relationship marketing, O’Brien (2011) advises marketers to regard social media as a vital part of the marketing-mix and put a bigger focus on user-generated content and close communication.

Smith, Fischer and Yongjian (2012) focus on user-generated content from another angle and address the different social networks with its characteristics in more detail. By explaining the opportunities of using YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter from a users’ perspective, the study describes how social media users’ purposes differ in using those social networking channels. However, Smith, Fischer and Yongjian (2012) do not entirely address what the different behaviour on those channels mean for brand’s social media activities and how to engage with UGC on those channels.

In relation to the power of UGC and especially eWOM on social media, the study by MacKinnon (2012) provides insights about the significance of this topic. Based on a survey with 90 participants, the research examined consumer reliance on eWOM compared with consumers’ trust of advertising. Eventually, the research revealed that 66.3% do rely heavily on the opinion stated in UGC when making a purchasing decision. Furthermore, 65% of participants described that information published through eWOM is considered more trustworthy than content produced by the company (MacKinnon, 2012).

Ye et al. (2011) conducted a wider study in the tourism industry but provides similar results as MacKinnon (2012). Based on the data and information of the Chinese hotel sector, the empirical study shows that a 10% increase in travel reviews online leads to more than 5% boost in online bookings.

A recent article by Picone (2017) argues that there is still confusion relating to the productive activity of media users. Even though the differences between producer and consumer on the Internet became more blurred, Picone (2017) states that UGC has often been mixed-up with the term user empowerment. In social environments like Facebook, businesses hold on tightly to their power and users are being encouraged to use those online tools to produce own content. However, Picone (2017) adds that social media users are far from gaining decision-making power over the new media. Linked to the work of Domingo (2008) from the perspective of the journalism industry, it says that even though the participatory culture on social media is growing, direct interaction and communication between businesses and users have rarely been implemented.

A few years prior to the research of Domingo (2008), Dellarocas (2003) predicted the emerging threat of negative eWOM, which is one reason for the lack of interaction. In this case, negative eWOM can damage the brand image of a company heavily and businesses are advised to operate social media activities with the greatest care. Eventually, this means the higher the volume of interaction on social media the more it affects the relationship to the user.

Apart from the general risk of losing control over the marketing activities and reputation, providing the opportunity for users to create posts of travel experiences can, on the other hand, build more emotional attachment through UGC and build more positive eWOM, as de Vries, Gensler and Leeflang (2012) investigated.

In this way, Martin and Todorov (2010) explain that the motivation of producing UGC is connected to the engagement opportunities received from the brand. Branded content that accompanies and connects users throughout the entire day encourages and empowers users to create “earned content” for the brand. However, as Martin and Todorov (2010) emphasise, to achieve this can be difficult.

In addition to the statement by Domingo (2008), Nam and Kannan (2014) put greater attention on the term interaction and reinforces that brand’s desire for conversation triggers users to share their perception, thoughts, and opinion through UGC. Wilson, Murphy and Fierro (2012) support this statement and provide a perspective from the hospitality and travel industry. By naming the significance of brand’s engagement in conversation, the study highlights the threat of losing control because marketing being performed by peer groups, which bypasses the brand.

In terms of emotional drivers to comment on brand posts and share content, Papacharissi and Rubin (2000) describes it as a way to enhance personal identity and Leung (2009) describes the reason to seek a better status in society. Furthermore, Grace-Farfaglia et al. (2006) identifies social support as another driver, where user voluntarily publish their opinion or information to help others and be part of a community.

The previous literature described the emotional influence that customer empowerment through UGC and eWOM can have on transmitter and receiver. Therefore, the next section of consumer engagement displays the current state of scientific research and focuses on the motivation of users on engaging on social media and partly in brand-related activities.

2.4. Consumer Engagement

As part of our understanding of consumer engagement, the concept of motivation needs to be examined, which is prevalent in literature in the discussion of the creation of consumer engagement.

Different to the earlier days of marketing and branding, where there was a broader gap between consumer and provider, the engagement of consumers and the brand has become a vital part in the “creation of meaning” (Carah, 2017).

As social networks are basically known as ‘consumer-owned domains’ (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010) different authors created various user types in relation to online consumer behaviour. The most common online user types are the different categories analysed by Mathwick (2002) and Li and Bernoff (2008). Mathwick (2002) established four distinctive internet user types, categorised as lurkers, socialisers, personal connectors and transactional community members. While the first category of lurkers simply means the consumption of online content, users can easily switch from one stage to another and become more engaged (Mathwick, 2002). Over the recent years, this categorisation has been adjusted to contemporary circumstances and has also been applied to social media.

Li and Bernoff (2008) describes similar user categories but extended it to six distinctive types. Apart from the inactives and spectators, Li and Bernoff (2008) also distinguishes collectors, joiners, critics, and creators as the main user groups on social media. However, Li and Bernoff (2008) agrees to the statement of Mathwick (2002) that online participants are known to switch categories rapidly.

As implied in the previous sections, people’s engagement on social media has a tremendous impact on the consumer-brand relationship. Due to this stronger engagement it also much stronger affects the consumer behaviour towards the brand and their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations (Villanueva, Yoo and Hanssens, 2008).

2.4.1.   Intrinsic Motivation

The desire to engage in social media activities is mainly intrinsically driven and need to be discussed in relation to social networking.

Shortly after the Second World War, researchers started to examine the motivations of people for watching television. The theory of uses and gratifications (U&G) emerged and analysed how individuals use mass media. In general, the framework offers the assumption that individuals select and engage with specific media to fulfil specific intrinsic and extrinsic needs or wants. Because of this assumption, the U&G theory is still seen as a contemporary approach to analyse behaviours in the digital space as well (Papacharissi and Rubin, 2000).

Such as the classification of online users by Mathwick (2002) and Li and Bernoff (2008), McQuail (1983) developed the basis to analyse why people engage in specific media. As an updated version of previous studies McQuail (1983) classified the four internal drivers into integration and social interaction, information, social identity, and entertainment. Nowadays, these are still the most recognised categories by researchers and have been proved to be applicable for the analysis of social media engagement as well (Calder, Malthouse and Schaedel, 2009; Malthouse and Calder, 2010).

A more recent study by Muntinga, Moorman and Smit (2011) identifies information, social interactions and integration, and entertainment as the main intrinsic reasons for engaging on social media. Even though the research underlines that all categories are of equal importance (Muntinga, Moorman and Smit, 2011), Ashley and Tuten (2015) put a bigger emphasis on information and entertainment. Even though the message being delivered is important it will not reach to the last stage of ensuring UGC and social interaction if the post is not entertaining for the individual.

As some authors state that social media users can change quickly from being inactive users to proactive users (Mathwick, 2002; Li and Bernoff, 2008) other researcher such as Shao (2009) allocates the degree of participation in the three categories of consuming, participating, and producing. The following graphic is also known as the “life cycle of user-generated media” (Shao, 2009).

Figure 2: Interdependence of people’s consuming, participating, and producing on user-generated media, Shao (2009).

As Shao (2009) describes, online user begin their journey on social media as a lurker or consumer, to consume entertainment and information from other users’ UGC. As the next step, users participate in interaction about the content and build social connection and virtual communities. In the final step, users produce content, which is mostly motivated by self-actualisation and self-expression to build personal identity (Shao, 2009). These categories of user engagement are significant for the further research of this dissertation, as it highlights the last stage of producing and empowering consumers as the highest aim of engagement.

From a practical perspective Erdoğmuş and Çiçek (2012) provoke that positive emotions and affections need to maintain in the mind of the social media user at any time. In this way, a positive and delightful atmosphere is key for further engagement. As the research shows, media users share music, extraordinary and humorous content and refrain to share advertising, horror, and sad events. In this way, Erdoğmuş and Çiçek (2012) stress that social networks are a place for people to escape from the harsh realities of life to experience joy, which identifies one of the major intrinsic motivations.

2.4.2.   Extrinsic Motivation

Even though the intrinsic motivations of social media user is key to analyse users’ social media behaviour with airline brands, extrinsic factors also influence travel consumers.

Different authors categorize extrinsic motivation in three types: Introjection, remuneration, and empowerment. Even though remuneration in terms of economic rewards is still a big driver of social media engagement (Xiang and Gretzel, 2010), the latter category of empowerment is of highest priority for the user (Muntinga, Moorman and Smit, 2011) and of highest significance for this research.

In this way, the travel and tourism consumers on social media represent exceptional behaviours. Known as Social Visibility of Consumption (SVC) it is a key extrinsic motive of social media travellers (He, Li and Harris, 2012). In this way, consumers purchase holidays to popular destinations and engage with pretentious brands to enhance their social status. To be socially visible is the main purpose and plays a key role in the consumer-brand relationship (Josiassen and Assaf, 2013). The study by So et al. (2017) also revealed that SVC has a huge effect on Consumer Brand Identification (CBI) and users gain a powerful voice in terms of eWOM. This increase in positive eWOM eventually leads to trust in the airline brand and the resistance of negative brand information for sender and receiver. Moreover, the authors propose that companies need to allocate more resources in the creation of delightful social media experiences to enhance the likelihood of travellers sharing their experiences with their online community. In general, the study by So et al. (2017) describes social media users’ extrinsic motivation to share content with the community but does not address the direct interaction with the brand. In this way, the researcher propose that further research needs to be conducted to analyse users’ drivers to share travel-related content on social media (So et al., 2017). This question will be analysed later in this dissertation.

2.4.3.   Engagement with brand-related content

The previous literature about motivations mostly describes the needs and wants of online users in general but does not address the engagement with brand-related content particularly. Therefore, the current state of research in this topic needs to be described to provide the basis for further research in this dissertation.

Based on the study by Shao (2009), who analysed the general motivation in the categories of consuming, participating, and producing, different authors used the framework of Shao (2009) and focussed on the interaction with brand-related content on social media. In this case, the COBRA-study by Muntinga, Moorman and Smit (2011) is of highest significance for this research because it is known as the first study that examined different types and motivations of social media users when engaging with brand-related content. In this way, COBRA stands for Consumers’ Online Brand-related Activities.

By building on earlier and established typologies, such as the U&G theory by McQuail (1983), Muntinga, Moorman and Smit (2011) state the terms of eWOM as consumer-to-consumer interaction and UGC in relation with creating content for brands as the key factors of this theory. Different to the approaches of Mathwick (2002) and Li and Bernoff (2008), Muntinga, Moorman and Smit (2011) do not analyse motivations in the way of user behaviour, rather follows a typology of usage behaviour.

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Figure 3: COBRA typology as a continuum of three usage types – consuming, contributing and creating, Muntinga, Moorman and Smit (2011).

Based on the earlier described theory by Shao (2009), Muntinga, Moorman and Smit (2011) created three categories naming consuming, contributing, and creating. Based on the level of participation with brand-related content on social media, the study shows how individuals contribute in all of these three categories and which categories of the U&G classification, integration and social interaction, information, social identity, and entertainment by McQuail (1983), are being expressed when engaging with brands on social media.

In the section of further research suggestions, Muntinga, Moorman and Smit (2011) mention that some brands and industrial sectors consist of more creating behaviour and should be analysed in more detail. As the global airline industry is the business sector of interest for this dissertation, this statement supports the need for research in the social media engagement behaviour of airline consumers.

The study by Schivinski, Christodoulides and Dabrowski (2016) extended the theory by Muntinga, Moorman and Smit (2011) and brought it into a numerical context. By employing the theoretical background of COBRA with the three dimensions of consuming, contributing and creating, Schivinski, Christodoulides and Dabrowski (2016) describe a scale to measure the degree of engagement.

However, as this dissertation is about the influence of consumer empowerment on engagement and brand loyalty, the measurement of engagement is of less significance.

The very recent study by Ben-Shaul and Reichel (2017) focuses on a similar topic as this dissertation and analysed user engagement through Facebook pages in the tourism industry. In this way, Ben-Shaul and Reichel (2017) combined drivers for engagement from different researchers (Armstrong and Hagel, 1996; Wang and Fesenmaier, 2004; Chung and Buhalis, 2008) and created the four motivational categories of functional motives, incentive motives, socio-psychological motives, and hedonistic motives. These categories can be associated with the earlier described motivational drivers of social interaction and integration, entertainment, information, and social identity by McQuail (1983).

An earlier study by Gretzel and Fesenmaier (2012) about users’ motivation in the tourism industry shows that the connection between tourists and tourism brands is mostly deal and content-driven. Users want to be served with information and only a small portion wants engagement. However, the numbers are expected to increase. To create reliable information about users’ motivations for engagement and desired level of interaction with tourism firms, Gretzel and Fesenmaier (2012) explain that further research needs to be conducted from the perspective of both sides. This is important, as this describes a major part of the research of this dissertation.

2.5. Brand Loyalty

As the connection between consumer empowerment and intentions of brand loyalty are the core of this research objective, brand loyalty needs to be addressed in more detail.

Ben-Shaul and Reichel (2017) address the connection between tourism consumers’ engagement on branded Facebook pages and brand loyalty based on two dimensions. In this way, the outcome shows positive intentions of “repurchasing” and “recommending” the service or product. However, the author of this dissertation pursues another path to determine brand loyalty.

As the definition of brand loyalty in section 2.2.5. displays, the terms of “Brand Trust” and “Brand Community”, are prevalent in literature about social media engagement and deserve closer inspection.

2.5.1.   Brand Trust

The Commitment-Trust Theory by Morgan and Hunt (1994) is linked to the established study by Rotter (1967) and means that commitment and trust need to be ensured to create a strong relationship between the brand and the consumer. In this way, trust needs to be built to turn the consumer into a brand advocate. However, this alone does not lead to long-term consumer-brand relationship. In combination with commitment it gives the consumer the security and purpose of being part of the brand (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Referring to the research topic of this dissertation, the most interesting outcome of this study states that consumer empowerment and close participation is essential to ensure long-term engagement (Morgan and Hunt, 1994).

Furthermore, Morgan and Hunt (1994) mention that trust leads to brand loyalty and closer commitment as it creates exchange between the brand and the consumer, which is valued highly by the consumer. Overall, this reduces consumers’ tendency to leave the network, creates openness for conversation, and reduces uncertainty (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Ganesan and Hess (1997) endorse the connection between trust and loyalty and identified three other ways in which increased trust leads to more commitment towards a relationship with the brand. First, trust decreases consumers’ overall risk with communicating with the brand. Second, the consumer inequities will be resolved over time, which creates more confidence for interaction. And lastly, long-term trust reduces the transaction cost for the brand and the consumer as well (Ganesan and Hess, 1997). In this way, Keh and Xie (2009) adds that the connection with trustworthy brands encourages the user to express their self-definition as well as to enhance their self-esteem.

Chaudhuri and Holbrook (2001) explains the term brand trust in close relation to brand affect. In this way, brand affect is described as the positive emotional response that the consumer creates with the brand, which eventually enhances the likeliness of trust. In more detail, brand affect describes the impulsive feelings of the consumer towards the brand, whereas, brand trust is a longer process, which occurs by thought and consideration of the consumer experience. Kabadayi and Koçak Alan (2012) also address the connection between brand affect and brand trust and mention that it is essential to understand that trust and affect are generated through the experiences a consumer makes with the brand. In this way, no person forms an emotional perception or relation to a brand before consumption (Kabadayi and Koçak Alan, 2012). Delgado‐Ballester and Munuera‐Alemán (2001) add that brand trust is primarily linked with the service quality the consumer received prior.

The study by Dijkmans, Kerkhof and Beukeboom (2015), show that these statements can also be recognised in the airline industry as well. In this way, the researcher revealed behavioural differences between customers and non-customers of the airline brands. As of significance for this dissertation, Dijkmans, Kerkhof and Beukeboom (2015) report that those two user types have different motives and only the existing customer is likely to engage directly with the brand, whereas, the non-customer is driven by pure curiosity and less likely to participate. Dijkmans, Kerkhof and Beukeboom (2015) underline the need to focus on non-consumers’ engagement in long-term as existing customers may fall away and non-customer may easily turn into customers (Dijkmans, Kerkhof and Beukeboom, 2015). However, for the further research of this study, existing airline consumers are of primary importance to investigate motivations for engagement.

Different researchers describe a connection between brand trust and consumer-brand relationship and consumers seek for emotional engagement with the desirable brand identity. This phenomenon is known as consumer brand identification (CBI) (So et al., 2017), which is closely related to the concept of brand trust (So et al., 2013). Several studies about the connection of CBI and brand loyalty have been undertaken and show that the degree to which CBI and trust leads to loyalty varies from industry to industry. Products and services that hold symbolic meaning for the user create emotional involvement, commitment and trust. Examples are described in the studies by Kuenzel and Halliday (2008) for automobile brands, by Carlson, Donavan and Cumiskey (2009) for sport teams, and by Papista and Dimitriadis (2012) for cosmetics.

As hotels and their service are not considered as symbolic, So et al. (2013) states that consumers only develop a medium level of identification with the brand. A more recent study by So et al., (2017) about CBI in the airline industry shows that an increase in positive eWOM leads to trust in the airline brand and the resistance of negative brand information. Since this consumer empowerment through UGC can have a big impact on users’ behaviours, So et al. (2017) mention that airline brands should have a bigger focus on attitudinal loyalty. Passengers, online and offline, should considered as of special value for the company and treated accordingly. However, this study does not answer the question whether a consumer who trusts the airline eventually turns into a loyal consumer or might switch the brand. Linked to the study by So et al. (2013) about the hotel industry it also does not address, which level of identification is desired by airline consumers.

2.5.2.   Brand Community

Since the start of social media and adoption of social media marketing practices, different authors discuss the purposes and benefits of these processes in terms of brand loyalty. While some authors such as Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) excitedly encourage businesses to apply a strong social media approach and connect with people, others underline the risk of using it. In this way, Fournier and Avery (2011) indicate that social networks are an open space for joyful human interaction with friends and family in first place, and brands might receive the role of the “uninvited crashers”.

Erdoğmuş and Çiçek (2012) explains that users desire advantageous campaigns by brands, popular and relevant content, appearance on various platforms, and an overall delightful atmosphere for community engagement. In this way, recent research by Skift (2016) proposes that companies should not solely improve their technologies, rather train staff to create unique consumer-centric and empathic experiences. This means that brand loyalty cannot be achieved through data points, it must be created through human engagement.

Long before the invention of the internet and social networking, researcher described the human need for community and trust (Rotter, 1967). In the words of Rotter (1967), the “survival of any social group depends upon the presence or absence of such trust”.

The study by Laroche, Habibi and Richard (2013) describes the users’ desire to be part of a brand community and how this in combination with trust leads to brand loyalty. A survey with 441 responses eventually displays that brand communities created on social media positively affect relationships between users but with the brand and product as well. In return this creates trust and eventually ends in brand loyalty. Moreover, the study found out that members of the community provide benefits to others through sharing, which creates a strong bond between the users.

The desire to be part of a virtual community is analysed by Kim and Drumwright (2016) as well. The study explains that people may be intrinsically driven by connectedness and belonging. Moreover, does this close engagement strengthen weak bonds with unfamiliar brands and deepens connection with familiar brands. In this way, the consumer feels enjoyment by voluntary supporting the brand with their product or service creation by sharing and creating content. Eventually, this makes the user feels closer to the brand (Kim and Drumwright, 2016). This strong connection is also described in the study by Muñiz and Schau (2007) about “vigilante marketing and consumer-created communication”. By creating a close connection with the consumer and encouraging content creation, the brand builds a powerful and unique meaning for the consumer. On the other hand, Zinnbauer and Honer (2011) mention that this interaction among consumers online is beyond the control of the business. To counteract this, proactive daily interaction with consumers online needs to be ensured to trigger connectedness and belonging by the user (Zinnbauer and Honer, 2011).

Algesheimer, Dholakia and Herrmann (2005) describe the phenomenon of brand community linked to the desire to find people with similar behaviours and lifestyles This eventually supports the previously mentioned statement by Li (2009). Moreover, a collective group engagement towards a brand leads to close identification with the brands’ personality and builds loyalty (Algesheimer, Dholakia and Herrmann, 2005). Additionally, the study by Phau and Lau (2001) shows that engaged consumers project their own characteristics when describing the brand.

Hudson et al. (2016) describes this as brand anthropomorphism. In this way, the user/consumer associate human characteristics with the brand when directly engaging with brand-related content online. In detail, the study analysed differences in consumer-brand relationship based on national and cultural disparities. By investigating the user-brand connection among the product types of sport shoes, notebook computers, and automobiles, it shows that user who anthropomorphize the brand show a higher desire for interaction with the brand and do eWOM through UGC. This supports the previously mentioned statement by Phau and Lau (2001). Even though anthropomorphism of brands was identified regardless of nationality and culture and industry sector, it might be different in the airline sector. This will be analysed in the research of this dissertation.

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