An Investigation into the Impact of Social Media on Brand Perception

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An Investigation Into The Impact Of Social Media On Brand Perception: Victoria’s Secret

Table of Contents

Abstract

1 Introduction

1.1 Enquiry Overview

1.2 Origins of The Case Study: Victoria’s Secret

1.3 Aims & Objectives

1.4 Research Questions

1.5 Rationale Of The Study

1.6 Scope & Limitations

1.7 Summary

2 Literature Review

2.1   Introduction

2.2 Conceptual Clarifications

2.3 History Of Social Media

2.3.1 Twitter

2.3.2 Instagram

2.4 The Impact Of Electronic Word-Of-Mouth on Brand Perception Through Social Media

2.5 The Role Of Opinion Leaders & Seekers On Social Media As A Reference Group

2.6 Impact of Celebrities Through Social Media

2.7 Shopping as a Social Activity On Social Media Sites

2.8 Fashion And Social Media

2.9 Summary

3 Methodology

3.1 Introduction

3.2 Aims & Objectives

3.3 Philosophy

3.4 Approach

3.5 Strategy

3.5.1 Alternate Strategies

3.6 Data Collection

3.6.1 Conceptual Framework

3.6.2 Bias

3.7 Ethical Considerations

3.8 Strengths & Weaknesses Of The Methodology

3.9 Summary

4 Analysis & Findings

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Data Analysis Method: Thematics Analysis

4.2.1 Strengths

4.2.2 Weaknesses

4.3 Inappropriate Alternative Methods of Analysis

4.4 Categorising The Themes

4.5 Summary

5 Conclusion & Recommendations

5.1 Introduction

5.2 Evaluation Of The Findings

5.3 Application Of The Research Data

5.4 Implications to Management

5.4.1 Devaluation of Fashion Brands Through Their Presence on Twitter

5.4.2 Risks Associated with Isolated Social Media Marketing Programs

5.5 Recommendations

5.5.1 Social Media Sites as a Sample Distribution Vehicle

5.5.2 Management Of Consumer Comments in Virtual Spaces

5.6 Conclusion

5.7 Further Research

5.8 Summary

6 Bibliography

Abstract

Over many years and throughout many generations, social media has rapidly advanced. “Social networking is enabled by information and communication technology and heavily depends on continuous user participation” (Veltri & Elgarah, 2009).Although no single definition has been agreed upon, some argue that it originates from communication such as email whereas others believe that social media is the more modern method of interaction. Though there are varied disputes concerning the topic, there is very little theory that actually exists with regards to social media. With that said however, brand perception is a subject that has been deeply explored in both the academic and business world. It is a topic responsible for numerous arguments which has resulted in a variety of literature to use for this research study.

This research study pursues to measure the impact that social media has on brand perceptions of consumers, focusing specifically on Instagram and Twitter. Three research objectives were set with the intention of adding direction to the research study. The first objective was to analyse existing theoretical models and frameworks relevant to social media and brand perceptions. The second objective was to assess Twitter and Instagram in their role as reference groups on consumers. The third research objective was to establish the best strategies to increase sales and brand image of Victoria’s Secret via an increased presence on social media platforms; particularly Twitter and Instagram.

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1           Introduction

1.1          Enquiry Overview

To investigate the impact that social media has on brand perceptions was the main purpose of this enquiry; with the context of social media in this study exclusively referring to Twitter and Instagram, and the luxury retail brand Victoria’s Secret being used as a case study. This enquiry overview aims to provide the reader with an insight of what to expect from the rest of the study.

The opening chapter of the study begins with a complete introduction to the study, this section will introduce the reader to all of the essential background details and a rationalisation for the study. The following chapter examines a literature review that details existing information regarding social media and brand perception. The purpose of this chapter was to construct a firm foundation where the remainder of the study could be built on.

The third chapter is comprised of the methodology pertaining to the research applied in the study. It will rationalise the decisions made to determine the correct approach for the study’s needs, for example ethical concerns, sampling methods and research tools. This chapter will also provide the reader with a complete understanding of the ways the research aims and objectives are linked with the direction of the study.

The fourth chapter is focused primarily on data collection and its analysis. The data analysis tool used for this research study will be both examined and justified whilst comparing and contrasting alternative data analysis tools.

The final chapter will propose practical recommendations to Victoria’s Secret regarding the impact of social media on brand perceptions. These recommendations are based upon empirical findings found during this research study, it will detail the various ways that social media can be sensibly leveraged to positively affect their target audiences brand perception. It will also examine the findings in relation to the aims and objectives specified at the commencement of the study.

Social media facilitates a platform for people to share their views, feelings and thoughts on an international scale. This instant form of communication has relished an extraordinary success; Facebook, currently the most popular social networking site for membership worldwide (84%), has 1.79 billion global monthly active users (Mansfield, 2016). Twitter, a micro-blogging website has 313 million global monthly active users and generates 500 million tweets per day; that’s around 6000 tweets per second (Meg, 2016). The platform enables public figures such as politics, athletes and celebrities to share and express their ideas to their followers via their “verified” accounts which form just 0.05% (150,000) of the 313 million profiles (Navarra, 2016). The photo-sharing app, Instagram, hosting 500 million monthly active users continues to develop and increase in popularity; with the apps most recent feature, Instagram Stories, surpassing 100 million daily active users in just two months (Parker, 2016). Such usage rates allow the platform providing brands with the opportunity to engage with their audience through the power of visuals. It therefore appears fairly predictable that the impact of social media on a brand such as Victoria’s Secret to be huge (Leland, 2016).

In accordance with the context of this study, the importance of the fashion industry, especially its luxury brand sector, is greatly acknowledged. Today, it is one aspect of the multi-billion-pound global fashion industry accounting for 2% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Fashion United, 2016).

1.2          Origins of The Case Study: Victoria’s Secret

Victoria’s Secret officially launched in 1977. It all began when Roy Raymond wanted to gift his wife lingerie but didn’t want to feel uncomfortable or appear suspicious purchasing women’s underwear. Raymond visualised a Victorian boudoir complete with oriental rugs, dark wood flooring and silk fabrics. He elected the name “Victoria” to induce the respectability and decorum associated with the Victorian period; it’s “secrets” concealed within. With $80,000 of funds, Raymond and his wife rented a small space inside a shopping mall in Palo Alto, California and Victoria’s Secret was born (Schlossberg, 2015).

The launch created a vast amount of attention for the lingerie industry and today, Victoria’s Secret remains the leading specialty retailer of women’s intimate apparel. The brand operates around 1,100 (mostly mall-based) Victoria’s Secret and Victoria’s Secret Pink shops throughout the US, Canada and the UK and amongst its company owned stores, Victoria’s Secret products also retail at hundreds of partner stores in over 80 different countries across the world. Their marketing campaigns involving the Victoria’s Secret Catalogue and the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show are both visually engaging and very controversial.

1.3          Aims & Objectives

The main area of investigation for this study is to explore the impact that social media sites have on brand perception, with a specific focus on the fashion industry using Victoria’s Secret as a case study.

This study will evaluate the impact that fashion brand exposure has on social media platforms through the power of content produced by consumers on Twitter and Instagram. The evaluation will be measured through interactions on Twitter and Instagram via individual likes, comments, mentions, retweets and pictures. This study will also investigate the impact that content created by fashion brands has on consumers; focusing specifically on fan accounts generated by consumers to measure this impact, and using Victoria’s Secret as a case study. This investigation aims to attain the following objectives:

  1. To analyse existing theoretical models and frameworks relevant to social media and brand perceptions
  2. To assess Twitter and Instagram in their role as reference groups on consumers
  3. To establish the best strategies to increase sales and brand image of Victoria’s Secret via an increased presence on social media platforms; particularly Twitter and Instagram

1.4          Research Questions

With the intention of measuring the success of social media platforms as a way of influencing brand perceptions of retail items, using Victoria’s Secret as a case study; it is essential that the following questions are to be answered throughout this research study;

  1. What part in the purchase decision-making process of fashion items do reference groups play?
  1. Is there a relationship amid brand exposure on Twitter and Instagram, and the consumer’s tendency to purchase fashion items?
  2. Are both Twitter and Instagram effective marketing platforms when solely used without the presence of other huge marketing programs?

1.5          Rationale Of The Study

Marketers are currently faced with the perpetual challenge of innovatively developing communication methods that will successfully engage their target audience. In the past, consumers were very limited in what information that they could access pertaining to products, today; consumerism drives all facets of society. It is believed that social media marketing strategies are most effective for “high involvement” categories due to the importance of information, feedback and endorsements from dependable sources when deciding to buy.

In recent years, it is evident that fashion brands have made a conscientious effort to have some form of presence on social media however their commitment to produce and maintain reliable and effective content has been found lacking. This could be in part due to the companies embarking on their social media campaign during the peak of digital euphoria to be a part of the trend before it became the social norm.

1.6          Scope & Limitations

The definition of social media covers a wide range of online services/tools, due to the breadth of existing social media platforms this research will be unable to cover every aspect. Both time and financial constraints prevent this study from covering the complete range of social media platforms at people’s disposal, therefore this research will only concern itself with Twitter and Instagram as far as investigating social media. The focus of this study is on the impact of social media (Twitter/Instagram) on fashion industry brand perceptions using Victoria’s Secret as a case study. Additionally, data gathered for this study will be limited to Victoria’s Secret company reports and publically available secondary information.

Nevertheless, the findings from the study will contribute to the comprehension of impact social media has on brand perceptions although for a particular industry. Despite the limitations discussed above, this research will create a foundation on which companies can build upon when crafting their social media marketing strategies to improve their brands reputation.

1.7          Summary

This chapter systematically introduced the research study. An overview of the study was provided, declaring the aims and objectives of the research along with offering a rationale of the work. To close, this chapter discussed the scope and limitations of the study. The second chapter aims to thoroughly investigate the topics extant literature.

2           Literature Review

2.1   Introduction

This section of the study focuses heavily on current and obtainable research that has been previously carried out regarding the topic area of this study as aforementioned. Collecting existing theoretical literature and the data that will be gathered in this investigation will make for a non-bias study. Research concerning the topic of social media hasn’t been of great interest to researchers until quite recently. Although various social media platforms were around in the late nineties, sites have only actually started to flourish within the past five years, and continue to to do. Marketers in various industries, promoting various brands, started to recognise that these social media sites were effective platforms to which they could connect with their consumers on a more personal basis.

This chapter will firstly explore a theoretical interpretation of the term social media in the way that it relates to the study followed by a conceptual clarification of brand perception. Additional literature relevant to the topic that offers a broader insight into the subject matter will also be investigated and taken into account.

Keywords: Marketers, Social Media Sites

2.2          Conceptual Clarifications

While social media is a comparatively new concept in the world of communication, it can be argued that “there is no single recognised definition” (Jacka & Scott, 2011). Academics have therefore interpreted their own definition of the term. As diverse as these interpretations between authors are, one fact remains apparent; social media is advancing at an unbelievably fast pace. The method in which people connect with each other and the way that brands communicate with its consumers has been completely transformed by social media. “Social media lend radical transparency, and we’ve moved from a dominant, 20th century axiom that perception is reality to the situation where reality is perception” (Sheldrake, 2013).

Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) defined social media as a collection of online based applications that build on the philosophical foundations of ‘Web2.0’; allowing the exchange of user-generated content (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Web 2.0 is the network as a platform, linking all associated devices; providing software as a frequently updated service that continuously improves the more people use it (O’Reilly, 2005). The most distinguishing aspect of social media is its’ power to revolutionise the direction of content by means of encouraging conversation amid dissimilar individuals to deliberate matters such as societal and global changes, for example.

The obtainability of technological devices such as tablets, laptops and smartphones facilitates millions of people each day with the access to social media, text messaging and content sharing. It is becoming increasingly problematic and in few situations impossible to follow traditional communication structures of hierarchy when people interact via social media platforms. Businesses are captivated by social media and surveys imply that brands are becoming increasingly responsive to social media and online partnership tools (Fraser & Dutta, 2009). It is apparent that social media is transforming purchasing behaviour and business prospects as consumers today have more access to information than they have ever had previously.

This study will investigate the impact of social media sites, specifically Twitter and Instagram on brand perceptions, and will focus on the following aspects;

1) The History of Social Media

2) The Impact of eWOM on Brand Perception Through Social Media

3) The Role of Opinion Leaders & Seekers on Social Media as a Reference Group

4) Shopping as a Social Activity on Social Media Sites

Keywords: UGC

2.3          History Of Social Media

There are conflicting thoughts regarding the “birth” of social media. Many claim that social media did not originate on computers, but that it began on the phone, whereas others believe that social media started as early as telegraphs, pigeons and light signals. Today, many dispute that social media was introduced in the 1990’s via Six Degrees. “The first social media site that everyone can agree actually was social media was a website called Six Degrees. It was named after the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory and lasted from 1997 to 2001” (History Cooperation, 2015). SixDegrees.com certified customers to build their own profile to which they could then friend other users of the website. Prior to the launch of Six Degrees however, these features in some way already naturally existed. For example, the majority of dating and community sites comprised of user profiles.

In 1995, a website called Classmates.com was launched, allowing high school and college students to connect with one another. It was only until years later that users could create their own profiles and friends lists. SixDegrees.com was the first website to combine these features, the generally accepted present-day understanding of social media and what it has become would however suggest that these platforms as we interpret them today, concurs with the latter date of origin (Boyd & Ellison, 2008).

In today’s society, there is an ever increasing amount of internet users, some could argue that new and innovative social media has become a very accepted yet crucial part of our daily routines because of this. “New social media means that everyone is a publisher and everyone is a critic”  (Georgetown University, 2010). Having a platform available for social interface allows people to communicate easily and access information on the internet quickly. Interactive discussions are also encouraged online as people partake in conversation, expressing their attitudes and ideas to the public through a shared virtual medium. While social media is used for several purposes, the need for communication between people is evident. As reinforced by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after firstly obtaining physiological and safety needs, the third need of belonging through the support of others is what people strive to achieve. Once this third need has been obtained, different virtual groups provide people with the opportunity to communicate.

2.3.1         Twitter

Twitter was founded in March 2006 by Jack Dorsey (@Jack), Noah Glass (@Noah), Biz Stone (@Biz) and Evan Williams (@Ev); of which many would approve that the order is of appropriate reflection to their involvement. Initially, the platform was created as the team were searching for a way to send text messages via mobile phones with a slight twist, a kind of SMS-based interaction website where users would update their statuses as a way of keeping track on one another. At the time Twitter was launched, companies and services had a common tendency to drop vowels in their name in hope of achieving a domain name advantage, hence why Twitter at first was referred to as “twttr”. On March 21st 2006, @Jack sent the first tweet: “just setting up my twittr” (Johnson, 2013); the first tweet of billions.

Twitter today is more than just sharing your average day with friends, people from countries all across the globe in different fields with different interests are speaking out in 140 characters or less. It’s become a place for everyday people to follow the lives of their favourite celebrities and a place for celebrities to reach out to their fans. This revolution has impacted politics, the media and businesses, as brands discover the latest way to communicate with their followers. These businesses, well-established or not, use Twitter as a free tool to provide customer service and share exclusive content with their target audience.

2.3.2         Instagram

Seven years ago in October 2010, founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger released the multi billion-dollar free photo sharing app, Instagram. When the app was first unleashed, it was solely available to Apple products but as more and more profiles were created, specifically one million in the first two months of launching, Instagram became available for download to Android users. The app was labelled “App of the Year’ in 2011 by Apple Inc. before Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook acquired Instagram and its employees a year later in April 2012 for a mammoth one billion dollars (Rushe, 2012). Now used by over 500 million people, the platform has spawned completely new professions including Instagram models, retailers, photographers and even a reality TV show, the Rich Kids of Instagram which follows the jet-set lives of young, rich kids who share their lavish lifestyles on Instagram (Bruner, 2016).

Instagram has many distinguishing features which users can experiment with before (and after) uploading a photo to their profile. Such features include photo tagging, location placements and the option to upload photos to further social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The app allows photos to be taken directly or uploaded from the existing photo library of the users’ phone. Once an image has been selected, there is the possibility to add a filter and/or edit the photo before uploading (Wong, 2015). Instagram is a platform which allows users to follow other user profiles (whether those accounts be of friends or celebrity influences) and gives them the choice to ‘like’ and/or comment on these photos.

Instagram’s success is however more than photography sharing, around eighteen months after the app launched, it became a networking platform in which business contacts and friendships were made a lot more easily. Brands and marketers from well-established companies began to flock to Instagram and start up their own profiles to share their products and interact with existing and potential customers. For example, Starbucks’ Instagram strategy is one of the most successful; producing consistent and powerful product imagery to encourage their followers to buy its food and beverages.  It is thought that a whopping 85% of consumers find user generated content (UGC) more influential than branded photos (Dizazzo, 2016).

2.4          The Impact Of Electronic Word-Of-Mouth on Brand Perception Through Social Media

Arndt (1967) branded traditional word-of-mouth (WOM) as verbal communication between two people as a minimum, the communicator and the receiver (Arndt, 1967). Although the least understood, some label it to be the most effective and appealing marketing strategy (Misner, 1999). A current increase in social media usage, such as high Twitter and Instagram engagement, has completely transformed the way WOM is depicted. According to Henning-Tharau, et al., (2004), any positive or negative criticism made by a potential or existing customer about a product or service via the internet, is referred to as electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) interaction (Henning-Tharau, et al., 2004). eWOM communication behaviour has recently captivated marketing experts because of its extraordinary power to influence online communities and control people’s feelings towards particular brands and products. It is now not obligatory for two people to share their experiences face to face, they can do so on a more interactive universal platform.

Today, accessing social networking sites is a consumer requirement and it has become absurdly common for buyers to search online for product reviews prior to purchasing. In early 2015, Forbes conducted an investigation to see how consumers engage with various businesses such as retail across social media networks. The study revealed that a massive 81% of participants are directly influenced on their buying decisions by family and friend recommendations, while 78% of respondents said that companies’ posts on social media impact their buying decisions (Ahmed, 2015). These statistics convey how a growth in social media usage and consumer awareness of brands has extended the methods in which eWOM influences consumer buying behaviour. This dynamic expansion in consumer choice for online feedback and reviews has alerted brands to focus on enhancing their digital presence. There are countless social media networks available today that specifically focus on providing customers with a unified digital space for sharing and discussing buying experiences. As a result of this, eWOM has become a fundamental element of the online marketing mix on behalf of numerous brands and companies.

Keywords: WOM, eWOM, Consumer Buying Behaviour

2.5          The Role Of Opinion Leaders & Seekers On Social Media As A Reference Group

Information dissemination, with regards to product opinion, plays a critical role in influencing decision making, particularly in today’s economy where information is a key component. As stated in the previous chapter, informal communication through social media, discussing the characteristics of a product or service, is referred to as electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM). The information dissemination process is made up of two parties, the opinion leader and the opinion seeker. Studies reveal that the benefits concerning online product information and brand awareness are impacted by these two parties. Solomon et al,. (2002) defines opinion leaders as “people who are knowledgeable about products and whose advice is taken seriously by others” (Soloman, et al., 2002). They play their role when people want to evaluate products, which they presume will fulfil their wants and needs, before proceeding to buy them. Opinion leaders hold social power as their product opinion is greatly respected.

Opinion seekers on the other hand “are more likely to talk about products with others and solicit others’ opinions as well” (Solomon, et al., 2002). Seeking product information from a leader also reduces risk in the consumer purchase decision (Raghupathi & Fogel, 2014). An investigation led by Acar and Polonsky (2007) revealed that “opinion seekers spend more time online and have larger networks relative to opinion leaders; and that opinion leaders are more likely to communicate their brand use online” (Acar & Polonsky, 2007). Information seeking is one aspect of what consumers look for when they require help in deciding whether or not to purchase a product. This supports the research above conducted by Acar and Polonsky (2007), in the sense that opinion seekers would be most active online.

Keywords: Opinion Leaders, Opinion Seekers

2.6          Impact of Celebrities Through Social Media

Before social media became an obsession, the lives of celebrities were virtually inaccessible to society. Social media allows the average person to interact with their favourite celebrities and gives celebrities the possibility to interact with their fans. Having this amount of access to the general public can have a positive impact, for example raising awareness for good causes via a large online platform. However, it can also be exploitative in such a way that in similar fashion to the general population exploiting social media.

When celebrities use social media to tweet and share photographs through Twitter and Instagram, their fans/followers feel more connected to them. As the celebrity becomes a more likeable figure to the general public, their potential to expand their fan base increases. Twitter and Instagram not only make celebrities more accessible, they are a free online platform used to promote brands etc. and the recent addition of “notifications” for smart phone users permits the global spreading of celebrity feed within seconds. The utilisation of social media helps celebrities maintain their popularity and ultimately, their careers too.

2.7          Shopping as a Social Activity On Social Media Sites

While social communication is imperative in order to understand consumer behaviour, the correlation between social and commerce networking sites has not been studied in great depth. Since shopping already exists as a social activity itself based on mutual trust, a third viewpoint publicised that there essentially is a relationship between consumer buying behaviour and social media sites. Shih (2009) established that “relationships can sometimes even trump price as the deciding factor in purchase decisions.” It is a simple fact that product information attained from a trusted source, like a friend or family member of one’s reference group, will influence a persons’ buying decision (Shih, 2009). For years, shopping has been acknowledged as a fun experience, hence why many refer to the activity as “retail therapy”, as opposed to the mere acquisition of products. Taking part in various recreational activities in order to satisfy personal and social needs is just as much a shopping activity as it is to procure essential or desired products (Bloch, et al., 1994). Complementing the previous statement, Dennis et al., (2009) found that shopping, “as well as its functional role, includes the pleasure of browsing, impulse buying, discovering new shops, topic for casual conversation, focal point for planned and unplanned activities with other people” (Dennis, et al., 2009).

Statistics from an investigation carried out by Dutton, et al., (2009) revealed that “nearly half (49%) of the thirty million internet users in the UK have used social networking at least once in the last year and 70% of people and households are internet users” (Dutton, et al., 2009). These figures prove how social media sites lend themselves as fitting platforms for the aforementioned shopping incentives. Evidently, these networks have radically modernised the way in which people engage and socialise with each other.

Keywords: Social Activity, Incentives

2.8          Fashion And Social Media

Victoria’s Secret has demonstrated willingness and innovation within the retail category in terms of exploring social media sites to enhance brand perception and ultimately increase its sales. It is clear to see that their models play a huge role in the brands’ social media presence. Victoria’s Secret exploits this approach more than any other retailer; using a number of models (more commonly recognised as “Angels”) to promote their merchandise (Duffy, 2015). The lingerie sensation ensures that its tremendously idolised Angel representatives remain in the spotlight throughout all business endeavours to promote the brand, such as new product launches. Victoria’s Secret also relishes in providing their fans with direct access to the models via social media in order to create a personal digital connection. The brand works with its Angels on a regular basis, featuring them in public Instagram stories and Live streams, offering viewers a first-hand look at how its current discounted pieces appear in reality. Using social influencers to promote branded products is an ingenious marketing strategy for any fashion retailer with a more youthful target audience. If a celebrity figure is associated with a certain branded product, customers are more likely to purchase it. One Victoria’s Secret marketing campaign captured the brand posting on Twitter and Instagram tirelessly, starring ambassadors Elsa Hosk and Jessica Hart to ensure their followers didn’t lose out on the chance to obtain a free sport pant when they purchased a sports bra of choice at full price (Samuely, 2016).

A more recent advertisement campaign for Victoria’s Secret however triggered a slight uproar on social media, where bystanders deemed it wrong for women to flaunt lingerie out in public. The uproar took place when the advertising industry was being inundated with concerns regarding sexism, of which the company Saatchi & Saatchi was also involved. It just so happened that the (now former) Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi terminated a discussion in an interview with Business Insider regarding gender discrimination in the advertising world, declaring it as being “over”. The brand GAP was also targeted with backlash recently, with many claiming that its social media advertisement campaign is sexist. These stories emphasise how much power customer’s hold over brands and publicity efforts; ultimately highlighting the rising importance of social media (Kirkpatrick, 2016).

2.9          Summary

This section of the study was devoted to explaining and clarifying existing theoretical studies based upon the research topic. ‘Social media’ and ‘brand perception’ were clearly defined in the way that is in accordance with this study. Additional research was also examined and discussed, offering a strong amalgamation to support the investigation at hand.

 

 

 

 

3           Methodology

3.1          Introduction

In the preceding chapter, existing literature on the topic under investigation is expansively explored. Conceptual clarification accompanied by relevant literature were the main points of discussion in the previous chapter. In this section, the clarification and reasoning of the preferred methodology of primary data collection for this study is the focus. This chapter identifies research aims and objectives relative to the methodology used and furthermore examines the selected research hypothesis in addition to its motives. Subsequently, the research approach and research strategy options, together with the chosen data collection methods, are explored in this chapter. Finally, the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology for this research are reflected in this chapter.

3.2          Aims & Objectives

It is essential that the research aims and objectives specified at the commencement of the study are repeated at this stage as they build a fundamental basis of the work from this point forward. The aims and objectives feed into the research methodology chosen for the study, hence why it is sensible to reiterate that the purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of social media on brand perception, with a specific focus on the fashion industry, using Victoria’s Secret as a case study. This research stems from the following aims and objectives; firstly, to analyse existing theoretical models and frameworks relevant to social media and brand perceptions. Secondly, to assess Twitter and Instagram in their role as reference groups on consumers and lastly, to establish the best strategies to increase sales and brand image of Victoria’s Secret via an increased presence on social media platforms; particularly Twitter and Instagram.

The above-mentioned objectives provide the researcher with direction regarding the structure of the research methodology. It is crucial that these aims and objectives are strictly affiliated with the methodology implemented to ensure that this research study is successful.

3.3          Philosophy

Research philosophy, as defined by Galliers (1991), is a belief about the way in which data about a phenomenon should be gathered, analysed and used. Epistemology (what is known to be true) as opposed to doxology (what is believed to be true) comprises the numerous philosophies of research approach. The purpose of science, then, is the process of transforming things believed into things known: “doxa to episteme” (Galliers, 1991). In the Western tradition of science, as discussed by (Collis & Hussey, 1997), two key research philosophies have been identified, positivist (occasionally termed scientific) and interpretivist (also recognised as anti-positivist).

(Denscombe, 1998) states that for positivists, the purpose of social research is to determine the regularities of society by exercising the scientific methods used to such good effect in the natural sciences. Positivists strive to build a knowledge of realism which exists outside the human mind. Their research is centred around the belief that human experiences of the world replicates an objective, independent reality and that this reality provides the basis for human knowledge. Interpretivists on the other hand are accustomed to the belief that the information they gather imitates their “distinct structure of interpretation” that is built upon individual human ethos, upbringing and experience amid further differing factors that could impact the way in which results are construed from their findings. In other words, interpretivists attempt to make sense of the world; recognising that these sense-making actions transpire inside the framework of the goals they create for their work. Interpretive academics understand that they will both inspire and be inspired by the research activity that they participate in. Furthermore, considering the examination of ‘how humans interpret activities’ is believed highly contributory to good research; this can be achieved through methods alternative to those used in the positivist approach.

This research study is carried out from an interpretivist view. Interpretivist methodology comprises of qualitative data collection and uses methods such as participant opinion and observation to stipulate this type of data (Livesey, 2006). The findings of this study heavily rely on human interpretation as there is a link to human perception which, in effect, is the way that people psychosomatically manage the world around them. There is an extensive amount of human socialisation interpretation involved in the methodical study by which social media sites impact brand perception. An individual’s understanding of the world around them is more commonly termed ‘perception’. The conducting of this research study therefore employs interpretivist research philosophy. Since positivists deem reality as established and can be seen from an objective perspective, taking on a positivist view when conducting this investigation would appear a profoundly defective approach when bearing in mind the subjectivity of the research topic of human perception (Levin, 1988).

This research study is centred around the interpretation of brands recognised by numerous individuals on social media, explicitly Twitter and Instagram. How one person interprets a fashion brand on Twitter and Instagram may be unchangeably different from the way another individual may interpret it, owing to their dissimilar understandings of the world. If the investigation were to be conducted from a positivist philosophy, the human element which is closely linked to the research subject might be disregarded, thus overseeing the discrepancies in human behaviour. A further disadvantage to positivism is its lack of personal consideration; when investigating how individuals interpret brand perception, it is crucial that the researcher factors in brand communication preferences and changing societal backgrounds. In the social sciences, positivism therefore attains a much lower estimate and precision level regarding phenomenon observation in comparison to the natural sciences. Hence why, for the aforementioned reasons, the most appropriate research philosophy to employ while investigating the impact of social media on brand perception is interpretivism.

Keywords: Philosophy, Interpretation, Positivist, Interpretivist

3.4          Approach

Two common approaches are frequently referred to in research, the deductive and inductive approaches. Deduction begins with the standard and concludes with the specific, whereas an inductive approach contradicts that and travels in the opposite direction (Burney, 2008). As further clarified by Gabriel (2013), the main distinction between deductive and inductive approaches to research is that “while a deductive approach is aimed and testing theory, an inductive approach is concerned with the generation of new theory emerging from the data.” When deliberating whether to employ an inductive or deductive approach to research, taking into consideration the purpose of the investigation enquiry is a crucial element. Ordinarily, inductive approaches correlate to qualitative research, whereas deductive approaches are generally associated with quantitative research.

Though there are no specific rules, some qualitative investigations can have a deductive orientation. Grounded theory is one particular inductive approach that is often referred to in research literature but involves extensive and recurring data analysation in order to ascertain new theory. Founded by Glaser and Strauss, this approach compels the researcher to begin their investigation with a clear conscience so that no predetermined philosophies of what may be discovered exist. The purpose of grounded theory is to spawn a completely new theory from the data attained. In order to position the new theory within the discipline after the data evaluation has concluded, the researcher must analyse existing theories. It is an approach most benefitting to research where the phenomena to be explored has not been previously investigated.

Disputes pertaining to deductive reasoning are mainly constructed from laws and accepted principles, while observations are generally used for inductive arguments. Due to the nature of this research study, an inductive research approach has been adopted. Specific measures instigate the discovery of patterns and articulate some uncertain hypotheses; developing final conclusions and theories (Klix, 2001). Inductive reasoning, especially at the beginning, is much more flexible hence why (with the above discussion taken into consideration) it is sensible to employ an inductive research approach for the purposes of this study. This research approach entails a sample of individuals, who are active on social media and who regularly purchase clothing items from brands, to complete a consumer questionnaire. Collecting this data instinctively forms an understanding of the brand perception developing from fashion retailers that are exposed on Twitter and Instagram. The purpose of this data collection is to analyse the perceptions that these individuals have on social media sites, together with exploring what can be altered or enriched, as a method of enhancing brand perception.

The research philosophy depends heavily on human interpretation, making it arduous to forecast conclusions that may be considered genuine and usable. Therefore, espousing a deductive approach, which harvests valid conclusions, would be inappropriate for the purposes of this research (Johnson-Laird, 1999). The findings of this study derive from the way in which the individuals participating in the research generate brand perceptions; drawn from personal life experiences and interpretation structures. The legitimacy of this research is based on the capability to consider the human element that formulates the root of this investigation. Dependant of the data collected and the observations made in this research, theories and conclusions, based on human interpretation, will be drawn.

Keywords: Deductive, Inductive

3.5          Strategy

Essentially, research strategy is an action plan that provides the study with direction. It enables research to be conducted methodically as opposed to unsystematically. For this type of research study, the preferred and most suitable method of data collection is a case study. Reports of earlier studies suggest that implementing a case study research strategy allows for a more focused investigation and an enhanced understanding of complex issues. As Gulsecen & Kubat (2006) states, a case study can be considered a robust method of research strategy centred around an individual company or situation. In more general terms, case studies allow issues within a particular context to be deeply explored, thus providing a significant understanding of the matter at hand.

One of the reasons for acknowledging case studies as a research strategy was the concern academics had regarding the limitations of quantitative methods in providing justifiable explanations concerning social and behavioural matters. Case study methods allow the researcher to explore outside the quantitative numerical outcomes and understand behaviour through an individual’s perspective. Social experts have made widespread use of this qualitative research method to observe true modern-day situations, providing a foundation for the application of ideas. (Yin, 1984) defines the case study research method as an experimental investigation that examines a contemporary phenomenon within its realistic setting; where the limits between context and phenomenon are not obvious; and where various sources of evidential data are used. Investigating the way in which social media affects brand perceptions through the use of a case study will provide the research with a better understanding of this phenomenon.

The case study research method has many advantages, one of the most significant being its relevance to contemporary situations which, after exploration, ultimately creates new knowledge. Tellis (1997) on the other hand explains how, since the 1930’s, case study research methodology has been scrutinised and disapproved of numerous times. Nevertheless, case studies are recognised as a dependable methodology when carefully implemented. There are several case study categories, of which Yin (1984) identifies three; exploratory, descriptive and explanatory. Exploratory case studies firstly aim to explore any phenomenon in the data which interests the investigator (otherwise considered as an introduction to social research). Describing the phenomena that transpires within the data is the intention of descriptive case studies and this may be employed when undertaking causal investigation. Thirdly, explanatory case studies observe the data meticulously in order to explain the phenomena within and requires an established illustrative theory prior to project commencement. Stake (1995) subsequently incorporated three further categories: intrinsic – when the researcher develops a circumstantial interest; instrumental – when the case study is used to gain a clearer understanding than what is evident to the investigator; collective – when a cluster of case studies are observed. For the purposes of this research study, an exploratory case study will be used as it regarded the most pertinent when investigating the impact of social media on brand perception.

Several notorious, exemplary drawbacks of using case studies in research exist and since they are narrowly scoped, their results are challenged as they cannot be generalised to fit an entire question; they demonstrate just one narrow example. However, it is argued that case studies stipulate a more realistic response than that of an exclusively statistical analysis.

3.5.1         Alternate Strategies

In conducting this study, the researcher may have implemented numerous alternative research strategies although they were considered unsuitable for the subject matter. Experimental research and ethnographic research are two highly distinguished alternative strategies which are now further justified. Experimental research can be described as an assortment of research proposals that use manipulation to understand contributory methods. Usually, more than one variable is employed in order to conclude their result on a dependent variable. To their advantage, the effect and outcome of a study can be governed by the researcher. Employing an experimental research strategy to investigate the impact of social media on brand perception would be inappropriate in this context as it is essential for the research participants to be observed in their natural environment, thus demonstrating regular behaviour.

While ethnography remains one of the most generally accepted, comprehensive research methods, for the research at hand it was determined an unsuitable strategy. Effectively, ethnography can be defined as both a qualitative research method and product whose main intention is cultural interpretation (Hoey, 2000). Consumer behaviour is the chief subject of concern in ethnography and so it is deemed obligatory for the ethnographer to spend an impacting amount of time living with the research study subjects in order to directly observe their lives. However, ethnographic research cannot be suitably carried out for the study at hand due to its limited scope and time restraints. Furthermore, ethnographers typically study one particular group of people or ethnicity, whereas the purpose of this study relies heavily on data gathered from a wide variety of respondents.

3.6          Data Collection

This research study encompasses a two-stage data collection approach. Through the use of questionnaires, the first stage of the primary data collection for this research study was completed. According to Key (1997), a questionnaire is a very detailed, pre-planned list of questions calculated to produce information specific to a particular need for research information concerning a germane topic. Collis and Hussey (1997) further define the term “questionnaire” as a primary data collection method whereby a sample group are asked a set of carefully constructed questions with the hopes of provoking reliable responses. Questionnaires comprise of two classifications: open ended questionnaires – questions that allow scope for surplus information from the researcher and generally require more than two word answers; close ended questionnaires – questions that limit possible responses.

For the purposes of this research study, respondents were invited to complete a questionnaire via an online program called Google Forms. Thirty respondents completed the questionnaire and all participants fell between the age range of eighteen and fifty-four years old. Additionally, the respondents are active on either Twitter or Instagram or both platforms. Industry professionals within the field of fashion were also asked to complete a questionnaire on Google Forms. The questions were exclusively tailored to those working within the marketing division of the business.

One on one, in-depth interviews completed the second stage of the primary data collection for this research study. The interviews were carried out with participants from the first stage of primary data collection (questionnaires) as a follow up. Interviews are qualitative methods of research thought to pursue more in-depth information regarding a subject matter, thus providing a deeper understanding of social phenomena than that acquired from a questionnaire (Gill, et al., 2008). Interviews allow the researcher to gain a better understanding of the respondents’ views towards their previously completed answers to questions in stage one and specifically towards fashion brand exposure on Twitter and Instagram. While interviews are not a resourceful way of reaching a large target audience, they are ideal for obtaining individual perceptions in addition to honest attitudes and opinions.

Five respondents that participated in stage one of this primary data collection were interviewed for the purposes of this research study. Decisively, there were a limited number of interview respondents due to the fact that conducting in-depth interviews are resource concentrated and time consuming. Since the majority of respondents were difficult to reach due to geographical restraints, conducting the interviews via telephone was deemed the most appropriate method of communication; enabling fast, efficient respondent engagement. The interview questions were open-ended and remained consistent throughout.

3.6.1         Conceptual Framework

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3.6.2         Bias

Whilst research concerning people (or social research) is being conducted, it is crucial for the investigator to consider the reduction or elimination of research bias. Bias is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair” (Smith & Noble, 2014). If research is carried out in a biased way, the results become unreliable and inaccurate. In the context of research, this means that the investigator does something that leads the outcome to favour a particular direction (Regoniel, 2013). There are numerous impending sources of bias in research, several of which are extremely basic, for example; personal convenience in data collection, inadequately prepared questions, faulty data collection procedure and unverified information. Consequently, bias in research instigates partial or misleading results and erroneous conclusions (Simundic, 2012).

3.7          Ethical Considerations

Adhering to ethical normalities in research is crucial for setting boundaries for what science can and cannot accomplish. Once human involvement in science is taken into consideration, these restrictions become significantly important; ensuring that the researcher makes no irrational or insensitive demands. Furthermore, ethical concerns display the respect that the researcher has for those participating in the study. Resnik (2015) suggests that ethical standards promote the purposes of research, such as the avoidance of both inaccuracy and prejudice. This prevention against falsification eliminates error within the research data.

In addition to the aforementioned statements, ethics such as confidentiality and mutual trust between the researcher and participants are fundamental elements to certifying the success of the research study, especially since questionnaires and interviews with respondents were being conducted. Participants were also obligated to provide consent in order to partake in the research, together with being informed of their permissions to withdraw from the study at any time and face no consequence as a result of it.

3.8          Strengths & Weaknesses Of The Methodology

Exploring human related phenomena is a research topic heavily dependent on individual interpretation, hence why a qualitative approach is employed in order to suitably investigate the impact of social media on brand perception. This preferred approach to methodology holds an advantage over a more quantitative method to research as intricacies regarding the subject matter that are regularly missed, can be discovered. “Qualitative research can provide you with details about human behaviour, emotion and personality characteristics that quantitative studies cannot match” (Madrigal & McClain, 2012). Obtaining authentic and valid information drawn from actual human experience is the focus of this investigation, therefore authorising the researcher to gain vision and understanding of various individual interpretations’.

Nevertheless, with the above-mentioned strengths of the methodology in mind, several weaknesses do subsist. Legitimacy of data within the methodology is often questioned as the researchers’ ability to analyse it is frequently doubted, thus playing an imperative role in research methodology. As further indicated by Mathie & Carnozzi (2005), “data is collected from a few cases or individuals, which means that findings cannot be generalised to the larger population.” The extensive subjectivity of this methodology creates difficulties when demonstrating the importance of research, together with evidencing accurate data. The fact that the study was conducted by a researcher who had not previously carried out research to this scale, was a further limitation to the methodology.

3.9          Summary

This chapter focuses on the research methodology used in this study. The processes used for data collection are evaluated in relation to the aims and objectives of the research with rationalisations and justifications for each. Furthermore, the philosophy, approach, strategy, data collection method, ethical considerations and the methodology were individually considered. Chapter four examines and analyses the findings of the study.

4           Analysis & Findings

4.1          Introduction

The previous chapters correspondingly focus on presenting the research overview of investigation, together with the conceptual clarification as existing literature was reconsidered and the research methodology implemented for the research study. The following chapter consequently pursues to examine the data collected; it’s main goal to present the findings while analysing the collected data. Preceding the analysis of the data, the chapter discussed the method used for the analysis, describing in detail the purpose for its selection amongst other approaches used in qualitative research methodology. Lastly, in agreement with the dictates of the organisational structure of research, the section also considered it crucial to re-present the resources used by the investigator to collect his data and the data collection method used for each sample.

4.2          Data Analysis Method: Thematics Analysis

The research method chosen for analysing the data collected for this study isthematic analysis. (Aronson, 1994) says that the thematic analysis framework focuses on distinguishable patterns and themes of behaviour and living. The crux of thematic analysisis reliant on the grouping of data and themes of a similar nature amassed from the data collected. Fittingly, Braun & Clarke (2006) describe thematic analysisas “a method for identifying, analysing and reporting patterns within data.” Boyatzis (1998) further defines thematic analysis as “the process for encoding qualitative information. This may be a list of themes; a complex model with themes, indicators, and qualifications that are causally related; or something in between these two forms.” Essentially, the aforementioned themes could be predominantly generated inductively using the raw data or generated deductively from prior research and theory. Themes for this study were generated inductively constructed from the data collected from focused responses in the questionnaires.

4.2.1         Strengths

Numerous benefits are linked to the thematic analysis of data collection. It is one of the simplest yet most reachable processes to use in research, particularly when the researcher has only slight knowledge of qualitative examination. Thematic analysis highlights unforeseen data perceptions and allows both social data and psychological data to be interpreted. This is especially significant to this research study as it focuses primarily on individual perceptions and understandings of others, taking into consideration changing societal backgrounds and experiences. These elements therefore provide the foundation for perception development, thus concluding that thematic analysis is an appropriate data analysis collection method to use when investigating the impact of social media on brand perceptions.

4.2.2         Weaknesses

Several drawbacks are associated with thematic analysis of data collection also. One particular disadvantage is the overwhelming magnitude of surplus data that the researcher must filter through in order to distinguish specific themes. Further weaknesses to the process emerge when thematic analysis is considered relative to other alternate qualitative analytical methods. For example, unlike descriptive or other fact-based approaches, you aren’t able to certain a sense of stability and flaw through individual justifications, and these flaws and stabilities through individual interpretation can be revealing.

4.3          Inappropriate Alternative Methods of Analysis

After thorough deliberation of various alternative qualitative data analysis tools available to the researcher, it was decided that the most appropriate method to employ when analysing the data for this research study was thematic analysis. As opposed to grounded theory or discourse analysis for example, thematic analysis takes into consideration the apprehensions of this study with the most suitable approach.

As opposed to thematic analysis where structures of interpretation are taken into consideration, discourse analysis or discourse studies, as examined by previous academics, is a board term predominantly concerned with the analysis of language used in context. Established in the 1970s, discourse analysis has been defined as an interdisciplinary study of discourse within linguistics, though researchers have accepted and modified the term in several other fields in the social sciences (Nordquist, 2017). For instance, Abrams (2005) states that the field of discourse analysis is concerned with “the use of language in a running discourse, continued over a number of sentences, and involving the interaction of speaker (or writer) and auditor (or reader) in a specific situational context, and within a framework of social and cultural conventions.”

Similarly, grounded theory was found to be an inappropriate method of analysis for this research study. Scott (2009) defines grounded theory as a research tool that enables hidden societal patterns and structures within the field of analysis to be conceptualised through process of continual comparison. A theory’s quality can be calculated via the method by which it was originally created (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). As this is not the aim of this research study, grounded theory is professed an inappropriate analytical tool in this context.

Effectively, the above-mentioned examination tools are unfitting for the purposes of this research study as previously discussed. Therefore, thematic analysis is undeniably the most suitable method of analysis when investigating the impact of social media on brand perceptions.

4.4          Categorising The Themes

The methodical process of thematic analysis was implemented in this study as an approach to understand the data collected through questionnaires and comprehensive interviews. The complete volume of data gathered throughout the research method made for a challenging assortment of results. In line with the philosophy of thematic analysis, the diverse backgrounds and social context of the respondents, through results, were taken into consideration during the examination process. Boyatzis (1998) further expands on this theme, expressing how crucial it is during analysis for the researcher to understand the sensitivity of the difference in people and circumstances when categorising the data.

Expectedly, the biggest challenge when investigating the impact of social media on brand perceptions was creating themes of behavioural instances that can, in some way or another, be labelled comparable. The distinction established from the responses in people and the contexts which create those distinctions are extremely important. When the results from the questionnaires were analysed, numerous recurring themes in the findings were uncovered, they have been presented below in tabular layout.

Major Themes Perceived Benefits Keywords
Digital Interaction The majority of consumers use Twitter as a digital space to frequently interact with family and friends. Reading-through statuses

Updating own status

Media browsing

Uploading media

Breach of Personal Space Instagram appears to serve a more informational purpose. It is commonly regarded as a trustworthy source of product review. Fashion accounts

Fashion pages

Product Review Dependability Product review is more plausible when it derives from a well-known source, particularly where personal affiliations subsist. Reliable

Ideal platform for discussion

Opinion sharing

Table 1.

The aforementioned major themes were predominantly discovered within the data amassed from the questionnaires. The researcher then further investigated into participants’ responses via in-depth interviews. This exploration uncovered further pervading themes which, although associated to the themes previously uncovered, required a separate classification. Table 2 presents these pervading themes below.

Major Themes Pervading Themes Key Issues
Invasion of Privacy As social media sites are perceived by many as a digital platform for social interaction, the excess of brand presence is commonly viewed as ‘stalker behaviour’. Invasion of personal account

Awareness that private information is insecure

Product Trial and Analysis Consumers are more inclined to purchase a product once they have tried it on themselves. Not feeling welcome

Fear that the item will diminish their appearance

Table 2.

With an exclusive reference to Twitter and Instagram, the responses collected from both parts of the research provided a significant insight into the relationship between brand perception and social media. Deliberation of individual disparities of social context amongst the participants proved to be challenging. Furthermore, the sheer quantity of individual responses, together with keeping the personal details of respondents’ confidential, prevented the researcher from discriminating such variances during the examination process. Due to the sensitive nature of sharing personal details, participants were given the option to non-disclose information beyond those needed to fulfil the required research criteria. However, the understanding that such elusive differences exist amid respondents must be taken into consideration when formulating conclusions on the findings. With that said, the researchers’ prejudice should be noted as it may have influenced the interpretation of results, thus opening the conclusion up to analysis and criticism. On the other hand, the in-depth interviews allowed for the interpretation of responses to be enhanced. The researcher at this stage in the data collection process, had the aptitude to critic responses provided by those being interviewed on a more personal and exclusive level. Even over the telephone, the expressional manner of participant’s and their overall attitude when responses were given could be taken into account. Additionally, the opportunity to assess the individuals’ responses based simply on their biographic information was also provided to the researcher whilst interviews were conducted telephonically. A total of six respondents were contacted via telephone for interviews. The first employed by Victoria’s Secret, the next by rival lingerie giant, ‘Aerie’ and the final four respondents being the average consumer. The data collected from these particular interviews provided the researcher with an understanding of the social media activities employed by both companies, together with an insight into the fundamental attitudes towards marketing within the industry via digital platforms.

Digital Interaction

When interviewing employees from the lingerie companies, it is particularly important to note the amount of unmistakeable enthusiasm in their responses for the use of social media as an online marketing tool. The main advantage of communicating fashion brands to this set of respondents is the accessibility to a substantial percentage of their objective audience resourcefully.

Backing the above, Respondent 1 (employee at Victoria’s Secret) said the following:

Using social media is an extremely effective way of communicating with your target audience, especially Instagram as both our brand and our brand ambassadors have an extremely high fan following, allowing us to tell our story visually and show how people can actually wear our product. Customers will see a product, buy it and then promote it themselves on their own social media account because they are excited to possess it and basically, it gives them a thrill. Essentially, this is free advertising for us, it spreads the word and it’s great!Marketing across social media sites creates brand loyalty and allows us to obtain authentic consumer feedback which, as a marketer, is incredibly valuable.

 

Breach of Personal Space

The opinions voiced by the respondents imply that a percentage of users view social media, with a particular focus on Twitter and Instagram, as a virtual space where private interactions between their family and friends are made. Furthermore, respondents expressed that online brand presence can be deemed an intrusion.

Respondent 2 (consumer) stated the following:

When I see products or brands being advertised or “sponsored” (where I don’t get the choice to not see the post), especially more recently on Twitter, it reminds me of the sales-people that stop me in the street to sign up to a new service or something when I’m in the middle of shopping or running errands – really irritating! Yet, I’m not too bothered by fan accounts because you are given the option to follow them in that case, so it’s not really an obligation.

Product Review Dependability

The theory of the bulk of respondents was that Instagram accounts are run by your “average” consumer who have tested the product and reviewed it’s worth and longevity; sharing their review online by posting an image of themselves sporting the product and writing their review beneath the photo as their caption. In this occasion, it was alleged that Instagram was the more dependable information source regarding fashion products.

One of the interviewed respondents, Respondent 3 (consumer) said the following:

Even before I go into the store to look at a garment and seek product information, I will use hashtags on Instagram to check who else owns the product, how it looks on them and what they say about it. It probably sounds silly but I trust other buyers more than employees as I know the staff are paid to sell the products to customers, it’s their job!

An observation made by Respondent 4 (consumer) corresponded with the above-stated view, arguing that:

Most representatives are not realistic, although they look wonderful fashioning the product and in contradiction of my good judgment, I visualise that wearing whatever they wear will make me look like them, but in my opinion, genuine consumers active on social media are much more truthful.

 

The above two perceptions support the certainty that consumers gather the majority of product information from Instagram as opposed to Twitter or further alternative marketing methods, for example magazines and television. It is essential to consider, at this stage, that those respondents who follow fashion accounts, are more inclined to rely on product reviews written by family and friends. This influence may have a significant impact on the perception of reliability between the group. When analysing the findings, a recurring theme concerning product review dependability is evident; the overall consensus suggesting that information is more plausible when it derives from a well-known source. It would therefore be logical to eliminate Twitter from the favoured way to obtain fashion product information versus Instagram.

To recapitulate, Twitter and Instagram have been professed substantially different with regards to their impact on fashion brands. Consistencies found in the outcomes between the two digital platforms, concerning their roles in the marketing communication of fashion brands, are independently viewed. Twitter is perceived as a more “virtual social platform” whilst Instagram is perceived as a more “informational serving platform,” whereby certain users are seen as a reference group and in some cases, can essentially influence the consumer purchase decision process.

Although not as conspicuous as the aforementioned major themes, data collected from both the questionnaires and interviews from further analysis exposed pervading themes which are still pertinent to this research study.

Invasion of Privacy

Together with the perception of brand presence on Twitter and Instagram being an invasion of personal online space, the apprehension of invasion of privacy subsists. The general consensus from respondents is the impression that brands are beginning to violate their privacy through social media sites by gaining superfluous access to their personal information, specifically Twitter.

Respondent 4 (consumer) also strengthens the above statement as follows:

I occasionally get the feeling that brands are stalking my social media accounts and I particularly feel this way if it’s not a brand that I recognise, like when somebody on Facebook sends me a ‘friend request’ and I don’t know them, it makes me think that they’re after information that I would never personally give out. I am very wary of these actions and mindful of the negative impacts these brands can have on my confidential data. It does make me wonder if companies steal my personal information as a way of tricking me into buying something. It might sound dramatic but it’s actually quite scary knowing that an unrecognised brand has my personal details on record without my consent. I also think that this cheapens the brand image.

The attitudes conveyed by this respondent reveal that not only is there mistrust of invasion of privacy but also that a brand’s online presence can potentially degrade its value. This would be particularly germane in the situation of less renowned trademarks, as the already well-established fashion brands such as Victoria’s Secret cannot be eliminated simply through a presence on social media.

Product Trial and Analysis

Product trial and analysis was seen to be a successful resource. Today, it is extremely customary for individuals to express their personality through distinctive fashion choices and styles. Therefore, purchasing attire prior to trying it on first can carry a reasonable amount of risk. Furthermore, many garments have the ability to enrich or lessen one’s physical look, thus supporting the previous statement that product trial is essential.

Respondent 5 (consumer) fortified this claim by proclaiming the following:

Usually, I’m hesitant to spend money on buying clothes as I’m a plus size and don’t like to be constantly reminded of my physical appearance when looking at myself in the mirror trying clothes on. I think that more brands should make us ‘larger-framed’ individuals feel more comfortable to shop in store, whether this be by placing plus-size mannequins in their windows or simply employing staff members of all shapes and sizes to work the shop floor. If I want to buy something, I definitely need to try it on as that’s the most important part, it needs to fit and it needs to look right, it’s just an uncomfortable process for me! But of course, if I do end up really liking something that I’ve bought then I will proceed to tell my family and friends about it also!

This particular individual speaks for the majority of the respondents in this study when referring to the manipulating factor of product trialling and its impact on increasing sales. From the responses, it was apparent that consumers still felt the need to try on the product themselves and acquire their own opinion of it prior to purchase, even after family and friends had provided them with recommendations. This is predominantly true of the less-established fashion brands although it remains a fear when renowned fashion giants launch new products. These observations match the reasoning specified behind the certainty that individuals have in product reviews provided by social media accounts, particularly those on Instagram. As previously stated, the common belief is that those who review products and proceed to share their attitudes on social media, do so from their reliable personal experience.

4.5          Summary

This chapter’s core goal was to deliver a comprehensive account of the recurring themes amongst participants concerning their opinions about the impact of social media on brand perception. Introducing, explaining and further justifying the selected data method of investigation, thematic analysis,was equally as important. The closing chapter aims to deliver the conclusions inferred from the findings, together with offering numerous recommendations (in accordance with the results of this study) that Victoria’s Secret could implement, should they wish to do so. Additionally, proposals for further research in this area will be discussed.

5           Conclusion & Recommendations

5.1          Introduction

The previous chapter focused initially on analysing the data gathered from the study’s participants. The results were carefully examined and reviewed using the chosen framework before they were sanctioned into either major or pervading themes. The primary concern for this chapter was formulating feasible and practical recommendations that Victoria’s Secret could implement in order to establish the most effective strategies to increase sales and brand reputation through the use of social media; specifically Twitter and Instagram in accordance with the objectives for the study.

5.2          Evaluation Of The Findings

In recent years, social media sites have become a predominant force in the day to day lives of a large percentage of the world’s population. This technological phenomenon has inspired businesses to engage their current and potential customers using the platform, but fashion companies haven’t been fully utilising the platforms’ capabilities. The aim of this research study is to examine the fashion industry, using Victoria’s Secret as a case study, and the impact that social media can have on their brand perception. Questionnaires and interviews completed by employees of businesses within the fashion industry allowed an insight into the impact of social media on brand perceptions, together with an understanding of how this particularly works within the fashion industry.

According to the employees who responded, the benefits of using social media for marketing purposes are mostly understood by those involved in the decision-making division within the company. Regardless, it seems that their current activities on social media aren’t mindful of the concerns that consumers have. Subsequently, executing certain events can be opportunistic but may also carry risks; an employee of Victoria’s Secret stated that social media is an effective way to communicate with their target audience. This may be true but it is crucial to remember that whilst doing so, they shouldn’t invade the personal space of the consumer in an intrusive manner. Equally, a substantial number of participants who were consumers in the survey used social media as an online platform to interact with family and friends, not a virtual space to communicate with companies or brands. However, both businesses and consumers recognise that the platform offers a copious amount of opportunities regarding marketing, if implemented in a way that aligns with the consumers’ boundaries.

Intriguingly, when examining the impact of social media sites on brand perception, the overall consensus between consumers is that both Twitter and Instagram serve as ideal platforms for the purpose of consumer interaction. Competitions held on brands’ social media pages significantly enrich the image of the business and play a huge role in their social media strategy. However, it is important to consider that this preference is dominant amid the younger respondents’ interviews versus those participants’’ over thirty years old. Henceforth, it is necessary to mention that such an assumption cannot be realistically applied on behalf of all consumers across the panel.

It should also be made prominent that although these findings were instructive, several large members within the fashion industry formed a percentage of the studies’ participants. This was mostly owing to a lack of access to individuals within specific industries. Furthermore, time restrictions limited the researcher to conduct a larger number of interviews with employees positioned within the companies’ marketing division. Nevertheless, the results from this study have stipulated a unique insight into the impact of social media on brand perceptions.

5.3          Application Of The Research Data

Relating the aims and objectives set out at the start of the research study with the results is an essential component of guaranteeing that the first-hand data collected from the research is successfully employed. Four main objectives were laid out, the accomplishment of which would establish the success of the research study. The objectives are detailed below.

  1. To analyse existing theoretical models and frameworks relevant to social media and brand perceptions
  2. To assess Twitter and Instagram in their role as reference groups on consumers
  3. To establish the best strategies to increase sales and brand image of Victoria’s Secret via an increased presence on social media platforms; particularly Twitter and Instagram

The objectives listed above will now be separately examined and assessed to determine whether they were reached or not throughout this research study as anticipated,

Objective One:

To analyse existing theoretical models and frameworks relevant to social media and brand perceptions

Former critics on the subject under examination, of what is understood to be social media today, dates back to the 1990’s. Academics concentrated their research efforts on what was once considered ‘electronic media,’ more commonly known today as email. Subsequently, due to social media platforms being virtually new in the way they are used today, limited theoretical research available on the topic exists. However, case studies have provided an abundance of information, especially within corporate companies, where social media sites have been investigated in real life settings. This data has been remarkably beneficial when analysing existing theoretical models and frameworks for this research study.

Objective Two:

To assess Twitter and Instagram in their role as reference groups on consumers

Findings from this research study publicised the way in which consumer perception is influenced by Twitter and Instagram. Remarkably, with regards to their roles as reference groups, both social media platforms are regarded as networking spaces fit for distinctive purposes. Findings revealed that Twitter is perceived as more of a social space whereas Instagram is perceived to serve more of an informational purpose. Similarly, however, both platforms are seen to impact consumers in some, influencing their product choice and ultimately, their brand perception. Effectively, the presence of fashion brands on Twitter is perceived as cheapening the company’s overall image. Participants have also confessed to being manipulated into buying products based on friends’ recommendations derived from status updates. Conversely, findings from this study reveal that consumers expect to obtain reliable product advice from users on Instagram and are greatly subjective to purchasing fashion products that are reviewed and shared through that platform also.

5.4          Implications to Management

This section of the study investigates the primary consequences of the above findings. When research is carried out, it is essential that these consequences concerning the business and its planned objectives are evaluated. It is especially important for brands to attempt to understand the motivating elements behind these research outcomes as a means to understanding the consumer.

5.4.1         Devaluation of Fashion Brands Through Their Presence on Twitter

Participants from this study frequently repeat that they value Twitter as a platform where they can have personal interactions between family and friends. A correlation was found between privacy concerns and online behaviour, interestingly users concerned about their personal information’s privacy weren’t careful when it came to safeguarding it (Awad & Krishnan, 2006). Parallel thinking is visible among younger respondents, participants under thirty had a rather fickle omission regarding fashion brands exposition on Twitter. This particular set of respondents believe that Twitter is a perfect platform for fashion brands to communicate with their consumers as long as discounts or offers are supplied. It appears that contact with fashion brands is only acceptable if the consumer is rewarded with discounts. Considering this, it appears that there are ways to avoid the potential risk of devaluing the brand via Twitter.

5.5          Recommendations

The third objective is effectively addressed in this section, which was to establish effective strategies that improve the sales and brand reputation of fashion companies by increasing their presence on social media platforms; specifically, Twitter and Instagram. With knowledge of the aforementioned discussion there are practical solutions that Victoria’s Secret can introduce so as to completely leverage both the present and potential benefits of social media platforms.

5.5.1         Social Media Sites as a Sample Distribution Vehicle

Consumers expressed that they feel daunted while purchasing a new or unknown product even from an established brand due to the personal nature of fashion products. Using Twitter and Instagram enables Victoria’s Secret to potentially communicate with new customers along with strengthening the relationship with their existing customers. From the findings one can infer that Twitter, although it may be a private space for digital interactions, it can still function as an ideal platform to offer free samples to consumers as a way of lessening any concerns. As found through the study, Twitter and Instagram are often the first point of contact when it comes to discovering new fashion brands along with product reviews. Victoria’s Secret has the opportunity to ‘reward’ patrons by offering discounts or offers through brand fan pages as well as fashion specific Instagram profiles where their merchandise has been reviewed. Consequently, alleviating some of the pressures connected to new purchases.

5.5.2         Management Of Consumer Comments in Virtual Spaces

In this study, it was found that when consumers complain on Twitter and Instagram, they are using the platform as an outlet to voice their disappointment with the brand with the hope of their message reaching them. This is even true when it comes to the complaints on their personal Twitter updates. It’s believed that even with a disgruntled consumer there is potential for them to become a supporter. It is of course a significant challenge for even a fashion titan such as Victoria’s Secret to be able to discover all the negative comments on social media. Yet, this is manageable on brand fan pages. When a brand fan page has been created and consumers have joined it, it is tremendously risky to leave the comments on that page unattended. If possible, the brand must address all the issues raised on the platform due to that it is extremely likely that other consumers share the same concerns. Responding in a timely, efficient and personal manner could potentially reassure not only one consumer but the multitudes of others that visit the page and read the comment. In doing so, eWOM can somewhat be managed.

5.6          Conclusion

In recent years’ companies have continually contemplated whether social media is a valuable channel to invest significant resource into. Although many feel that traditional marketing avenues are a suitable means of reaching and communicating with consumers of fashion products, but companies that intend on remaining relevant cannot ignore the growth of social media. In accord with the findings from this study, the notion of solely using social media to positively influence the brand perceptions of consumers can be detrimental. Also evident throughout this study, is that consumers expect to find information concerning fashion brands one way or another on social media.

Intriguingly, empirical findings from the study show a minor discord concerning consumer expectations and marketing initiatives used on Twitter and Instagram. Both parties do agree that potential lies within Twitter and Instagram with regard to communication of fashion products; the challenge clearly lies within the implementation techniques. In order for social media to positively impact brand perceptions, it appears that the campaigns implemented using these platforms need to be aware of the needs, outlooks and feelings of the consumers regarding these digital spaces. The development of these strategies in a holistic manner with respect given to the consumer’s opinions following the rationale of their purchasing decisions is pivotal.

5.7          Further Research

This study strictly concerned itself with social media sites pertaining to Twitter and Instagram only. The multitude of social media platforms available weren’t covered in the scope of this study, however respondents repeatedly mentioned them in the findings, specifically Facebook and YouTube. Unfortunately, time and resource constrictions didn’t allow for these areas to be investigated within this research study. Furthermore, it seems that other social media platforms can impact the brand perceptions of several product groups in various ways. Investigating these areas could potentially reveal different results from this study.

5.8          Summary

This final chapter concludes the research into the impact of social media on brand perceptions. The primary objective for this chapter is to recap the findings of the study and transform them into applicable information of value to Victoria’s Secret. Reviewing the research aims and objectives ensured that they were appropriately addressed and that they had been answered. Conclusively, suggestions were made to the management that summarising the benefits of each platform along with providing a path for further research upon this study.

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