The influence of the application of online social media on organisational marketing strategy in the UK fashion retail market.January 17, 2022 2022-01-17 19:39
The influence of the application of online social media on organisational marketing strategy in the UK fashion retail market.
The influence of the application of online social media on organisational marketing strategy in the UK fashion retail market.
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Chapter One: Introduction
Strategy is centered on seeking an edge in competition over rivals and sustaining the current competitive advantages with keen interest in preventing their erosion (Day and Reibstei, 2004). Thusly, marketing strategy involves the creation and sustenance of avenues and platforms including online social media through which a firm hinges its improved performance over competitive rivals (Ferrell and Hartline, 2012). In the view of Levinson and Gibson (2010), online social media, attributing to a proliferation in the usage of technology over the last century, is arguably an effective platform in creating competitive advantage. It is thus factual to extrapolate that online social media has a role in shaping the organisational marketing strategies adopted by different firms. On the other hand, marketing strategies are the core of effective competitions and, as per the concepts posited by Day and Reibstei (2004), the fundamentals of a successful organisation. It is therefore important to analyse the relationship between online social media and marketing strategy in an industry characterised with established internet technology usage.
A critical analysis of the UK shows that the country has had a continuous increase in the usage of internet over the years mainly attributing to reduced costs of relevant equipment and data. According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2015), currently, over 87% of the adult population in the UK uses the internet with majority of the users ranging between 16 to 24 years. Though the majority of the users are young people, the country sports an astonishingly high usage among the children below 16 years and old people above 75 years (Haddon, Olafsson and Gorzig, 2011: Moss, Wulf and Mullen, 2013). Among these large numbers of internet users, a majority of them, according to a report by Deloitte (2014), use online social media including blogs, social sites and websites to get acquainted to new contents. In addition, the report notes that the use of social networks has taken over the traditional communication channels thus necessitating firms to adapt to these changes in technology.
Marketing, which entails strategic brand positioning, in the fashion retail industry is greatly fueled by the application of online social media platforms. These sentiments have been put forth by (Gordon, 2014) who further posits the imperative nature of online social media including social networking sites in increasing market share and customer retention in the fashion luxury industry. In other words, the application of online social media in the contemporary fashion industry, as Fasterion (2015) puts it, is more of a necessity than a luxury. And thusly, firms need to engage online social media in order to remain relevant in the highly competitive UK fashion industry. Essentially, most of the fashion brands in the UK have adopted the use of online social media because it has proven being effective in strategic brand positioning as well as sustaining competitive advantage. According to Davis (2015) and Fasterion (2015) social networking are invaluable tools in pushing business brands through online marketing and especially so in the fashion industry. They identify some of the UK fashion giants such as Burberry, Zara, Topshop and H and M as being active online and linking this activity mainly in social networking sites including Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter to successful acquisition and retention of customers.
Gordon (2014) further elaborates the concept of integration between online social media and a firm’s marketing strategy by asserting its crucial nature in local area marketing and in marketing communication. In local area marketing, online social media merges the needs of the parent company in furthering its interest on a franchise and the franchise’s marketing strategy. Similarly, online social media is an invaluable tool in creating and communicating marketing programmes in the UK fashion industry Gordon (2014). SMEs in the fashion industry are also integrating online social media into their marketing strategies. Lee (2014) notes that there has been a tremendous growth in the online retail presence of SMEs over the years given they currently contribute to about 20% of the retail income derived from SME online fashion retail sales. Further, Lee (2014) contrasts the growth in online fashion retail with the shifting customer bases. Essentially, fashion customers in the UK are rapidly migrating to social platforms attributing to, as aforementioned, technological advancements. Lee (2014) basing on research on literature regarding online social media posits that few firms are yet to fully engage and integrated online social media as part of their marketing strategies. In summing up his discussion on marketing, SMEs and online social media, Lee (2014) points out that undeniably, online social media influences the marketing strategies and more so through ease of communication and ability to differentiate.
Despite the aforementioned researches and their discussions about social media and marketing strategies, Blyth (2011) notes there are a gap in regard to the actual contribution of social media to the facet of marketing. Essentially, the issues of the specific activities in online social platforms that lead to profitability are scarcely researched. Blyth (2011) further notes that, for example, the use of viral marketing has been successful in some instances but there are disputing claims that discredit the effectiveness of viral marketing campaigns. Kubacki (2015) in his perspective of online social media points out that business firms have no option other than moving with technological trends including use of the internet and its media. However, he maintains that online social media is a broad concept that can be understood through different perspectives of including business to customer and business to business models. The underlying concept however remains that businesses cannot evade the use of online social media to create a competitive edge for themselves or to match up to the strategies of competitors. The impact of using online social media on organisational marketing strategy emerges as an area to be studied.
The advancement in structure, scope and usage of the internet has grown in the recent years. Tagged along with this growth is the continued application of the internet in daily situations. In addition, the internet has brought platforms that have facilitated social interaction in a more effective way than before. Online social media, specifically, has brought a new dimension in the business to business and business to consumer interactions (Hajli, 2014). As such the traditional role of organisations’ marketing was limited to physical aspects. However, as mentioned earlier, the internet via online social media has caused customers to continuously shift to online platforms (Lee, 2014). Thusly, it is only logical that business follow a similar trend attributing to the fact that the customer is the central point of interest in every business.
Various researches have been done in regard to the facet of online social media and its relations to marketing. However, a notable trend is the tendency of these studies to mostly address social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and advertising. As such, this research intends to offer an addition to this body of knowledge by addressing wholesomely the area of online social media beyond social networking sites and marketing strategy. An important aspect in this study arises in the need for firms to address and tailor their marketing strategies to fit contemporary consumer trends (Lu, Zhao and Wang, 2010). Similarly, it is in the interest of organisations to adhere to industry standards more so outdoing their competition. This aspect emerges from the fact that internet has shifted business models and this means adopting contemporary models such as the use on online social media in marketing. To this end, this research offers an in-depth understanding of the same.
Furthermore, there is abundance in literature focusing on online social media and its elements. It would be thusly impractical for a firm to peruse through all this literature in a bid to achieve a consolidated report that can be operationalised. This study simplifies this task by addressing key issues that are apparent in related literature under the literature review section. Lastly, the research has its focus on an existing industry – the UK fashion retail industry – that is home to numerous firms. It is also important to note that most fashion brands in the UK such as Burberry, Zara and Topshop have shifted to online platforms (Fasterion, 2015). As such, the study intends to solve crucial problems that are imminent in the same industry and possibly the results can be extrapolated to related industries.
Aims and Objectives
A number of studies, including a research by Ngo and O’Cass (2012), have posited the importance of marketing strategies, capabilities and resources in driving the performance of a firm. Essentially, they are the fundamentals of a well-performing organisation. On the other hand, the internet and its development and application have presented online social platforms to which most customers have shifted (Lee, 2014). Drawn from the aforementioned, the aim of this research is to study the influence of application of online social media on the organisational marketing strategy in the context of the UK fashion retail industry. In order to achieve this, the research is guided by the following objectives:
- To investigate the impact of online word of mouth interactiveness on organisational marketing strategy
- To investigate social media activities and trends (such as user generated contents and viral marketing) and their long term impact on organisational marketing strategies.
- To put forth recommendations to firms in the UK fashion industry utilisation of online social media in shaping marketing strategies.
In order to achieve the above listed objectives, this study is categorised into five chapters. The first chapter introduces the study by giving a background to the online social media and the industry of focus. Other important parts in chapter one includes the study rationale which elaborates the relevance of the study in the contemporary business context and the aims and objectives section that offers guidance as to the purposes of the study. The second chapter includes an in-depth discussion on the extant literature regarding online social media elements as well as elements centering on organisational marketing strategies. The third chapter, titled ‘methodology’ offers justification as to the approach, methods, instrument and analysis aspects of the study. In the fourth chapter, the researcher discusses the findings and analysis of the study and in the fifth chapter offers conclusions and recommendations of the study.
Chapter two: Literature review
In light of the stated objectives of this study, this chapter’s intent is to provide an exhaustive discussion of the extant literature related to the major aim of the study – analysis of the influence of social media application on organisational marketing strategies. The chapter does entail analysis of relevant literature found in books, journal articles, reports and credible websites. The specific areas that the chapter focuses on include online social media – their definition and categorization, that is, blogs and micro-blogs, social media sites and virtual communities –, online word of mouth and its relation to marketing strategies, viral marketing and user generated contents and their impact on marketing strategies and in general an analysis of the relationship and impact of online social media on organisational marketing strategies. Following the analysis of the relevant literature, this chapter will attempt to identify gaps in existent literature to which the study can offer recommendations. At the end of the chapter is a summary of these discussions.
2.2. Definition and scope of online social media
Social media is defined by Edosomwan et al. (2011) as the forms of electronic communications including websites used in social networking and for blogging, via which people create and join online communities where they exchange information, ideas among other contents. Edosomwan et al. (2011) maintains that an important aspect of social media is a continuously evolving phenomenon that has been operational for an extend period of time. In relation to business enterprises, Leonardi, Huysman and Steinfield (2013) refer to online social media as the web-based platforms that enable workers to interact and communicate effectively with each other on issues regarding them and their organisations. Hajli (2014) adds the business perspective to social media by pointing out that since online social media platforms are used by customers to interact with each other, they have created a new trend in business where social media has become a front for meeting customers or rather an advertising platform. Markos-Kujbus and Gati (2011) go further and note that social media is essential for every modern day company as part of the marketing tools. They critique the myopic nature of firms that are ignorant to basic elements of social media and marketing strategy integration. Markos-Kujbus and Gati (2011), in their research, posits that most firms can barely distinguish the various forms of social media in existence in the modern day business realms. As such, the following are identified as the mainstream social media platforms:
2.2.1. Blogs and Micro-blogs
Markos-Kujbus and Gati (2011) define a blog as a special kind of website that is mostly owned by individuals and that is used as a form of personal diary to address specific issues surrounding the person. In addition, this definition does not limit blogs to individual ownership as it notes blogs can be owned by firms who use them as a platform to promote products and interact with customers. Rettberg (2013) on the other hand defines a blog as a website that allows the owner to key in entries in a chronological order and have the entries displayed to the readers. This definition puts forth an imperative point about blogs as it mentions the effectiveness of blogs in presenting a personalized message as opposed to mainstream media such as newspapers. This is attributed to the fact that blog owners are their personal editors. Micro-blogs, on the other hand, are tremendous storages of end-user generated information and messages about events in the world (Marcus et al., 2011). Tse and Zhang’s (2013) perspective of micro-blogs is that they are but limited forms of web logs or rather blogs. The limitation is in terms of characters if entry and the fact that micro-blogs are used using mobile devices such as Smartphones. Essentially, blogs and micro-blogs are identified as effective social media marketing tools (Marcus et al., 2011). Micro-blogs, for example, have been identified by Chen et al. (2014) as having a positive impact in their application in marketing strategy.
2.2.2. Social networking sites
Social networking sites are websites that enable users to interact with each other and share information at a personal level (Markos-Kujbus and Gati, 2011). The main feature of social networking sites that differentiates them from other social media websites is the fact that they allow creation of personal profiles by users and personal accounts through which users exchange videos, photos and audio-visual files. Lenhart et al. (2007) maintain that social networking sites besides allowing users to create personal profiles offers the ability to network widely. Additionally, Subrahmanyam et al. (2008) elaborates the communication aspect of social media and the relation between online and offline activities. The research posits that social networking sites are becoming mainstream communication tools that are continuously being adopted especially by the young generation. In matters of online and offline lives, the research by Subrahmanyam et al. (2008) notes that though online and offline profiles may be different, there is a big overlap that reconciles the two ends. Essentially, the users exhibit the same behaviour considerably the same online and offline. The invaluable nature of social networking site marketing is depicted in Jeffryes’ (2013) work where he points out Facebook, Myspace and Twitter as effective forces in shaping competition and the market strategy.
2.2.3. Content Communities and collaborative projects
Patrut and Cmeciu (2013) define collaborative projects as social media applications under which writing and textual content are the implicitly prevalent aspects. The definition further implies that through the use of platforms such as wikis and social bookmarking applications, end user come together and jointly follow certain objectives to generate contents about various projects being advocated for by an organisation. A similar definition of collaborative projects is given in a research by Markos-Kujbus and Gati (2011) with an added aspect that the end-users also act as the co-creators of the projects. This definition gives Wikipedia as an example of a collaborative project. Content communities on the other hand are platforms through which users are able to share multimodal contents (Janowski and Mohanty, 2007). A difference between the collaborative projects and content communities, according to Patrut and Cmeciu (2013), is that collaborative projects are monomodal, that is, are characterised by writing only, while content communities are multimodal or rather allow sharing of various forms of media. In addition, content communities group people together instead of contents. Examples of content communities are YouTube and Flickr.
2.2.4. Virtual worlds
According to the definitions of Markos-Kujbus and Gati (2011) and Kaplan and Haenlein (2012) on virtual worlds, it can be summarised that virtual worlds are three-dimensional environments where user pick appearances from available avatars and interact with each other as they would in the real world. Further, the research by Markos-Kujbus and Gati (2011) categorises virtual worlds into virtual social world and virtual game world. Patrut and Cmeciu (2013) elaborate the social world majorly on its relative unlimited nature of the virtual world in comparison to other social media platforms. He argues that in virtual social worlds – and virtual game worlds – the users get multimodal aspects of text, sound and visual aspects and added on this are the capabilities of tasting, touching and smelling. Patrut and Cmeciu (2013) posit an important aspect on virtual game worlds where he identifies online games as a popular form of edutainment that organisations use to push their products and services mostly through role-playing games. El-Gohary (2013), on the concept of virtual worlds, maintains that they offer commercial breaks for firms attributing to the shift by most firms in creating a virtual environment. He also points out that revenues from virtual worlds have been on the rise due to concepts such as ownership of assets, in-world currencies and customisation features found in virtual worlds.
2.3. An overview of organisational marketing strategies
Marketing strategy, according to Ferrell and Hartline (2012), is centered on the long term planning of marketing activities with the intent of constantly winning over customers in the dynamic business world. Elaborating on this definition further, marketing strategy is influenced by the nature of trends in the market. Ramaseshan, Ishak and Kingshott (2013) extrapolate this by noting that strategy alone does not provide a win for an organisation. Rather, marketing strategy has to be streamlined through implementation and evaluation mechanisms. In the end Ramaseshan, Ishak and Kingshott (2013) point out that a marketing strategy that seamlessly links the organisation to the external environment offers guaranteed success to a firm. Jaworski, Stathakopoulos and Krishnan (1993) posit that successful implementation of the marketing strategy needs to be done with dire considerations of integrating the implementation, the execution and the external environment. Such consideration is deemed apt by Cravens et al. 2009) since the general capacity to respond to external environmental changes is the fundamental concept in the successful implementation of the marketing strategy. Figure 1 below is adapted from the research by Ramaseshan et al. (2013) that emphasizes the link between areas of marketing strategy and the overall implication to the performance of a firm.
Figure 1: Areas of marketing strategy and their interconnection (Ramaseshan et al., 2013).
Marek (2014) in his research on marketing elements for SMEs (Small and Medium sized enterprises) notes that despite notable differences in corporate strategies between SMEs and big corporations, the basic marketing strategies tenets remain the same. He further notes that aspects such as getting close to customers and changing with the trends is as important as all the other marketing strategy components such as segmentation, positioning and implementation. In order to achieve an astute penetration of the contemporary market,
Teece (2010) in his study of business strategy, models and innovation believes that the modern customer has more choice of how to acquire products and services and is at the same time flooded with advertisements from different brands. The implication of this, according to Teece (2010), is that firms have to make their marketing strategies customer-centric. They have to reach out to customers using different means including technological innovations. In regard to e-businesses, marketing strategies and competitive advantages, Shin (2001) notes that most of the firms capitalize on the wrong elements of marketing such as website appearance and advertisement appeal. On the contrary, Shin (2001) suggests that success in online marketing should be coupled with in-depth understanding of the market through market analysis and use of tools such as Porter’s five forces of the market and McCarthy’s Four Marketing Mix Model. A common ground for Teece (2010) and Shin (2001) is that technological innovations and trends are essential in coming up with marketing strategies that effectively reaches the modern consumers. Lastly, the main goal of marketing strategy is to accomplish the objectives contained in the overall strategy (Ramaseshan et al. 2013). However, for sustainability, acquired customers need to be retained and this is a role that marketing strategy accomplishes. Merisavo (2008) offers a perspective and link between marketing strategy and customer loyalty using digital marketing. According to him, digital marketing offers elements such as personalized brand representation, integrative communication and feedback which in turn initiate customer royalty. Thusly, digital marketing emerges as an important tenet in contemporary marketing strategy formulation.
2.4. An analysis of impact of electronic word of mouth on marketing strategy
Word of mouth has been defined by Bickart and Schindler (2001) as the independent opinion and information about a market place – on a product or a service – by parties interacting with the market. The various platforms for word of mouth (WOM) have been identified by Gelb and Sundaram (2002) and Cheung and Thadani (2010) as including chat rooms, newsrooms, bulletin boards, and electronic consumer forms, social networking sites, weblogs and review websites. In the case that WOM is being propagated using the internet then it is referred to as electronic word of mouth. Christened as eWOM, electronic word of mouth is defined by Tseng, Kuo and Chen (2014) as the expression of independent information and opinions about the marketplace through the use of web-based platforms. Cheung and Thadani (2010) define it as any positive or negative comment about a product or a service given by a potential, actual or former customer of a firm. Being differentiated by use of internet platforms only, eWOM and WOM share the basic elements of how word of mouth operates and also share the negative and positive elements that are associated with word of mouth (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004; Doh and Hwang, 2009; Jones, Aiken and Boush, 2009).
The continued growth of the internet, particularly the web 2.0 platforms, has created a fertile ground for eWOM communications and still, projections into the future trends offer evidence of continued growth of eWOM as a communication tool for customers (Lee, Park and Han, 2008). According to Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004), the reason as to why eWOM is gaining popularity among consumers is that it offers opinions and reviews on goods and services based on experiences of other users. This elements often lack in other sources of product information such as advertising. On the end of firms, eWOM is also as imperative as it is to the consumers. Kaijasilta (2013) in his thesis on electronic word of mouth versus company practices posits that for firms, eWOM can be equated to a double-edged sword. On one side, it acts as an effective viral marketing tool that achieves a lot of groundwork in a short period of time. On the other side, it can be detrimental to the brand image and, consequentially, to the sales if it is propagating the negative aspects of a firm or a brand or a line of products.
The impact that eWOM has on marketing strategies is tremendous. Firstly, unlike the less popular WOM, eWOM affects marketing to a great extent because it has enormous scale and is fast (Cheung and Thadani, 2010). Thusly, eWOM opens up the marketing strategies to the possibilities of reaching a larger customer base. Secondly, as Hung and Li (2007) note, eWOM is a multi-way sharing of information and the implication is that details are shared in an asynchronous way. Further, an advantage that eWOM accrues to marketing is that it creates an archive of information (text-based) that is stored on the internet and can be accessed through an indefinite period of time (Hung and Li, 2007). Lastly, a positive impact of electronic word of mouth on marketing strategy is that because in most cases the group interaction in online platforms in anonymous, the issue of receivers prejudging the propagator of a message and his message are attenuated. This means that the message is received as neutrally as it was passed by the propagator (Cheung and Thadani, 2010). Essentially, eWOM, considering the advantages it accrues to marketing, can be regarded as a platform that not only links firms to online communities but along helps firms to exploit the commercial benefits that tag along with such a community. These sentiments are shared by Tseng, Kuo and Chen (2014) who note that online word of mouth practices are bridging the gap between marketers and online communities, specifically, virtual communities.
Aside from commercial benefits, eWOM is the key to developing a sound marketing strategy. Silverman (2011) believes that it is possible to get feedback and timely perceptions about current and future customers. Perceptions about customers are gathered and used in profiling the different types of online customers based on their opinions on the products. In other words, eWOM offers the background information that can be used to understand e-customers (Mills and Law, 2004). According to Kirby and Marsden (2006), understanding an online market is not only essential in offering information used in filtering brand contents to what is deemed important to customers but also a way of starting long-term relationships with the customer. These long-term relationships in turn translate to customer loyalty. Besides all these positive elements on eWOM, there are negative influences that result on disrupted marketing strategies. Stokes and Lomax (2002) say that eWOM is one of the hardest approaches to popularising a product or service that a company can take since there is no way to control word of mouth whether online or offline. Another problem associated with eWOM, as identified by Hornfeldt and Cavalli – Abrahamson (2011), is that the ease of users changing identities online or remaining completely anonymous. Internet users can register and re-register as they wish and this offers a leeway to publish negative contents with accountability. In regard to such a negative impact, Dellarocas (2003) offers the solution as being that firms should strive to create relative control over eWOM by limiting the ability of a user changing identity in platforms that are considered reliable sources of information by other users.
2.5. An analysis of the influence of social media activities and trends on organisational marketing strategies
Research shows that a majority of firms consider social media sites as important in their marketing strategies. As DeMers (2014) points out, the act of firms engaging social media sites such as Google Plus, Instagram, MySpace, and Pinterest among others is no longer a luxury but a necessity. DeMeyers (2014) continues to insist that return on investment remain a point of concern for investor who engages social media sites. While consenting to the imperative nature of social networking sites in improving marketing strategies, Assaad and Gomez (2011) identifies the opportunities that emerge in social media platforms that act as competitive intelligence source for firms. In addition to the two mentioned researches, the research by Wright et al. (2010) on lasting effects of social media trends on advertising adds that critical analysis and understanding of social media trends is essential in exploiting the full rewards found in social media. Wright et al. (2010) fault marketers noting that they enter into social media platforms using traditional marketing strategies as opposed to strategies that are solely tailored for online platforms. In regard to the daily trends and activities in social media, Wright et al. (2010) advise that it is crucial for marketers to embrace social media as would an individual person and flow with the trends and conversations rather than disrupt them.
2.5.1. Viral marketing
According to Thrivelearning (2014) viral marketing includes those strategies that are undertaken to propagate marketing messages from one individual to another with the intent of creating exponential growth in the message’s reach and impact. To this definition, Woerndl et al. (2008) adds the perspective of the messages being transmitted through social networks and by people that are age-mates or share other common grounds. Further, Woerndl et al. (2008) believes that viral marketing has the power to manipulate the message and change the contents and it is only forwarded by individuals who are certain that their peers may have interest in the message contents. Imminent in the definitions and elaborations of viral marketing is that it is a huge force to the way marketing campaigns are being propagated online. According to Datta, Chakraborty and Chowdhury (2005), the adoption of viral marketing by firms necessitates a change of strategies applied in reaching customers for example by inducing the desire for multiple visits rather than single visits from the customers end. In addition, Larson (2009) believes since social media is built up through connecting with friends, there is no better way to achieve target marketing than to take advantage of such friendships-oriented networks. This is attributing to the fact that friends better understand their tastes and preferences better than strangers.
In the view of Larson (2009), firms have reached the verge at which they can no longer enact sales strategies that are company-driven. As such, there is a proliferation in shifts towards customer-centered marketing strategies that have been proven to achieve bolstering sales. Thusly, with the new objective for firms being centering marketing strategies on customers, viral marketing emerges as one of the medium through which firms can achieve this (Henry, 2002). Essentially, Viral marketing positively impacts on marketing strategies since Kaske, Smolnik and Kugler (2012), arguing congruent to the above discussion, points out that customer-centered marketing is important to firms as it offers a medium that once was lacking but was needed to bridge the gap between profitability opportunities presented by social media and the harnessing of the same. Needham (2008) and Miller and Lammas (2010) in their researches mention that given the fact that customers are no longer passive receivers of information and the burgeoning of customer-centered marketing practices, brand co-creation between customers and marketers is inevitable. As such, viral marketing – as facilitated by social media – is one of the ways through which customers define brands (Miller and Lammas, 2010).
2.5.2. User generated contents
User generated content, also referred to as consumer generated media, is defined as an aggregation and leveraging of information by website users who can either be individuals or corporate bodies (Manap and Adzharudin, 2013). Adding to this definition, Interactive Adverstising Bureau (2008) elaborate that user generated content is considered to be uploaded by non-media professionals under their own initiatives to social media platforms such as YouTube, Amazon user reviews and Facebook. Alikilic (2008) notes that the trend of user generated content has been around since creation of the internet by with an increase in internet usage in the recent years, user generated contents have proliferated as well. Cox et al. (2008), arguing in support of the concept that user generated content has been a revolutionary trend in social media by Alikilic, (2008), tailors his argument to infer user generated content as a medium of user-to-user marketing with the users having the intent of educating each other. Implicit in all the definitions of user generated contents and consumer generated media is that it is an effort by users to make their “small” voice matter and to benefit from what Tirunillai and Tellis (2012) call the “wisdom of the crowds”.
One of the common ways through which user generated content as a social media trend impacts on marketing strategies is through co-creation. As evidenced in the studies by Miller and Lammas (2010) and Tirunillai and Tellis (2012), social media users are no longer passive receivers of information and, in general, content from brand marketers. Instead, the opinions they express on social sites have become and unraveled force that marketers struggle with. As such, McQuail (2010) notes that co-creation of content has changed the conventional marketing strategies from being publisher-centric to user-centric. This is also attributing to the fact that customers’ feedback has become fundamental in the development of brand content. In addition, Zhang and Sarvary (2012) note that user generated content, in general, serves as a differentiation mechanism for firms as they try to compete for a constant audience on the social media platforms. The importance of user generated content culminates into the summary that Daugherty, Eastin and Bright (2008) offer which posits that since customers are in charge of their media experience, all the other ends of content generation have to tailor their contents to be congruent with user definitions – tastes and preferences. These content generators include marketers, publishers, brand ambassadors, and media suppliers among others.
This section of the study endeavored to explore in depth extant literature surrounding the application of online marketing platforms and their influence on marketing strategies. As such, it can be conclusively extrapolated from the previous researches that online social platforms, including, social networking sites, blogs, micro-blogs, virtual worlds, content communities and collaborative projects have an impact on the marketing strategies. Notably, most recent studies indicate a burgeoning application of social media and its trends in marketing strategies as firms move on from firm-centered strategies to user-centered strategies. In addition, extant research lays great focus on viral marketing – also termed as online word of mouth – and user generated contents as the main online social media facets that have transformed marketing activities globally. It is imperative to also note that online social media presents marketing professionals with the problem of control. This is evidenced by the fact that as research reveals as much as eWOM achieves enormous success in terms of reach; it cannot be controlled due to several factors including anonymity of bloggers. Thusly on a different perspective, though not entirely, online social media is detrimental to marketing strategies.
Chapter three: Research Methodology
Basing on previous theories and researches, this chapter outlines and elaborates the adopted methodology. The researcher discusses the research philosophy, the research approach, the research strategy, the sampling method, the research instruments used, the data collection and analysis methods. Further, the issues of validity and reliability are addressed. Lastly, the section handles compliance of research ethics and concludes with a summary these discussions.
3.2. Research Philosophy
Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009) define research philosophy as the development of a body of knowledge and the relationship that such a body of knowledge acquires in respect to research as a discipline. Johnson and Clark (2006) emphasise the paramount nature of philosophy but noting that it not only represents the researcher’s world view but also shapes the research strategy and understanding of the same. Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009) categorise research philosophy into three facets, that is, realism, interpretivism and positivism. Essentially, each of these advocate for certain beliefs and are thusly used congruent to the research being done. Interpretivism holds that the business realm is complicated and radically changing such that there is no viability in developing rules or laws as they become irrelevant within a short time-span. The interpretivist view advocates that significance is consisted in subjectivity accorded by people to certain occurrences or things. The positivist view, according to Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009) aligns with the philosophical stance of natural scientists. As such, the belief is that rules and laws can be made for business concepts through experimentation involving observation of social reality and guidance of previously made law-like generalizations. This involves collection and analysis of data. Realism on the other hand align to the beliefs of positivism only that it insists social power needs to be critical in research as a way of determining drivers behind people’s perception of the world (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2009).
Based on the research aim – to investigate the influence of the application of online social media on organisational marketing strategy in the UK fashion retail market – this research takes a positivism approach. This approach is appropriate as positivism can be used to establish objective relationships between online social media elements and marketing strategies through quantitative statistical analysis. Similarly, online social media factors and how they influence marketing strategies are dynamic, diverse and differ based on respondent opinions. As such using interpretivism may not establish which factors are key is such a situation. However, using positivism, such factors can be deduced from previous researches and theories and tested objectively. The result is a comprehensive and generalisable analysis. Additionally, since the philosophy of realism intend to portray reality as opposed to depicting correlations between variables then positivism remains as the appropriate philosophy for this research.
3.3. Research Approach
In this research, as necessitated by the positivism approach that was adopted, the researcher applied scientific instruments to collect and analyse data. As such, observable facts were measured using questionnaires as part of gathering evidence that would lead to empirical conclusions. Additionally, the researcher used previous studies and observable facts to come up with research hypothesis on application of online social media on organisational marketing strategies. The gathering of data was conducted by issuing out structured questionnaires and the primary data obtained. This data was later analysed through quantitative scientific methods including scientific packages for social sciences and Microsoft excel by deducing trends and relationships. Lastly, basing on the analysis of gathered data, the researcher made conclusions and recommendations.
As evident above, this research took an inductive approach. Inductive approach sustains that the sequence followed in conducting a scientific research needs to start with observation and collection of data followed by analysis of the data and lastly conclusions that can be added to previously postulated theories on the same area (Wilson, 2010). Additionally, Babbie (2007) observes that the inductive approach needs to apply scientific tools to collect and analyse that offer credibility to the findings arrived at. Following these provisions of the inductive approach, this research, as aforementioned, applied structured questionnaire to gather data regarding the application of online social media and the impact on marketing strategies in the UK fashion retail industry then transitioned to analysing this data and adding to existent theories. The inductive approach is contrary to the deductive approach which tries to ascertain the validity of an existent theory (Babbie, 2007). The following figure 1 summarises the difference in deductive and inductive approaches.
Figure 2: Difference between deductive and inductive approach (Wilson, 2010)
3.4. Research Strategy
Research strategy, according to Baum and Lampel (2010) refers to the overall manner through which the researcher interpreted and responded to the research questions in line with the objectives of the research. There are several strategies that are applied in research including ethnography, experiment, case study, survey, and action study among others (Curwin and Slater, 2002). However, the commonly applied methods are survey and case study (Zhang, 2014). As such, this study applies the survey approach. A justification to this is attributing to the fact that the UK fashion retail industry is enormous in size and thus the study will need to apply the concept of generalisability as found in research. There is variety of fashion retail firms distributed all over the UK and attracting a large number of customers. As the research looks addresses the aim from the side of the customer the generalization thus involved a large mass.
Primarily, according to Rubin and Babbie (2010), survey research is applicable in situations where the sample is selected from a much wider populations and also the sample size is considerably large. Additionally, the survey method has been credited by Check and Schutt (2012) for being versatile given it can be applied to various researches, generalisable to wide populations and efficient since it is possible to measure variables without additional implications in terms of finances and time. The researcher does not have to collect data on the whole population. An additional benefit that accrues from using survey research, according to Saunders, Thornhill and Lewis (2009), is that it often – as in this study – uses questionnaires to collect data. Thusly, the data is highly standardized and easily comparable. Lastly, the method is deemed as authoritative by Saunders, Thornhill and Lewis (2009) as it is easy to understand and explain and also offers the researcher more control over the research process.
Sampling is defined as the technique of selecting a group of individuals that act as a representation of the whole population (Viswanathan, 2003). As Frey, Kreps and Botan (2000) describe it, it is a “subgroup of the total population”. Thusly, the findings that are arrived at using a sample can be extrapolated to be the case for the entire population. According to Saunders et al. (2009), the process of sampling can be categorised broadly as probability sampling and non-probability sampling. The major difference between the two is that in probability sampling all the individuals of a population has equal chances of selection while in non-probability they do not. The non-probability sampling technique – which this study applied – is further divided into snowball, purposive, self-selection, quota and convenience sampling techniques. As such, the research used convenience sampling to arrive at the final sample for the study.
Under convenience sampling, according to Gravetter and Forzano (2015), the sample is haphazardly selected from the general population according to the ease of access. Further, the researcher selected this method due to limitations in time and finances that would facilitate data collection from at retail stores in the UK arrived at using a different sampling technique such as probability sampling. In addition, the researcher considered only those individuals that were available and willing to participate. The research requirement was that the selected individuals were to be adults, residing within the United Kingdom and were to be customers of at least one fashion retail outlet in the UK. Therefore, the researcher used questionnaires to retail fashion outlet customers at the vicinity of the stores. In total, a sample of 150 individuals was selected to represent the entire population. The suitability of the sampling method chosen for this study is also due to, as Saunders et al. (2009) note, the fact that the variability in the individuals of the study populations is low and thus any selected sample can represent the rest of the population.
3.6. Research instruments
The devices or tools that are used by a researcher to collect primary data from a sample are referred to as research instruments (Parahoo, 1997). According to Wiid and Diggines (2010), despite the availability of an array of instruments, questionnaires, interviews and mechanical/electronic equipment are mostly used. The researcher administered questionnaires to customers at different fashion retail outlets in the UK with the aim of gaining the customer perspective of application of online social media on marketing strategies. The choice of using questionnaires was attributing to the fact that the researcher deals with a large amount of population and consequently a large amount of data. According to Saunders et al. (2009), such a quantitative survey necessitates the application of structured questionnaire as they are more efficient and effective as opposed to other method such as interviews. Questionnaires are categorised into two broad groups, that is, structured and unstructured questionnaires (Nargundkar, 2008). Structured questionnaires – adopted by this study – and as pointed out by Nargundkar (2008), carry standard questions and answers in terms of wordings and similarly they take a close-ended design.
The researcher, firstly, conducted a pilot survey as a way of streamlining the questionnaire’s ability to capture the objectives of the study. The resultant questionnaire has three sections including the warm up section, the main body and the demographics section respectively. In the warm-up section, the researcher designed general questionnaires related to online social media and perspectives or marketing by firms as a way of introducing the respondent to the study. In the main body, the researcher designed questionnaires based on the study objectives, that is, to analyse the impact of virtual brand communities, online word of mouth and social media trends and activities on marketing strategies. The questions in the main body were coded using a five-point likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. The last section –demographic section – was tailored to capture demographic data regarding the respondent. The application of structured questionnaire, for starters, attenuated the issues of reliability since questionnaires are highly structured. In addition, questionnaires were imperative in mitigating the costs associated with the study and the time invested in the study as would have the application of interviews. Lastly, the design of questionnaires – close-ended – lessened the complexity experienced in analysis of divergent data resultant for differing responses in open-ended unstructured questionnaires.
3.7. Data collection and Analysis
Data collection implies the process of gathering primary and secondary data using the proposed research instruments (Wilson, 2010). In this study, the collection of primary data was to be done on fashion retail customers of the UK industry. The researcher, as aforementioned, used the convenience method of sampling and consequently the administering of the questionnaires was done on a random basis. The questionnaires were issued to customers outside fashion retail stores. The researcher visited a number of fashion stores during the research period including Zara, Burberry, Mulberry, Marks and Spencer, Prada, Gucci and Primark. The main study area was central London attributing to the fact that all of the above stores are located there and the frequency of customers is high and thus the population sample could be easily achieved. The populous nature of central London also made the probability of finding willing respondents higher.
The researcher issued out 150 questionnaires in total and 135 (90%) of them were successfully filled in and returned. Thusly, the usable questionnaires in analysis were the 135 returned copies. In regard to secondary data, the researcher used extant literature. Noting the wide scope of literature on online social media and its impact on marketing strategies, the researcher focused an in-depth critical analysis of literature only relevant to the objectives of the study. The secondary sources focused on include peer-reviewed journal articles, books among other scholarly sources. The analysis of data was conducted using statistical tools such as statistical packages for social sciences (SPSS) and Microsoft Excel. Essentially, the aim of the research necessitates an establishment of relationship – causal relationship – between the online social platforms and organisational marketing strategies. As such, the analysis of data involved describing the data through charts, tables and statistics which, according to Sunders et al. (2009), assist in capturing the aforementioned relationship.
3.7. Research Validity and Reliability
Research validity determines whether the findings of a study are exactly what they profess to be about. Essentially, validity culminates around the effectiveness of the instruments used to measure the elements that they were intended to measure (Grantton and Jones, 2004). According to Saunders et al. validity is often compromised if the research is done hastily thereby denying the researcher enough time to study elements in their proper natural context. Similarly, other issues such as maturation, testing, ambiguity in causal relationships affect validity. Validity is categorised into internal validity – the extent to which findings represent what was intended by the objectives – and external validity – the extent to which the findings can be generalised to other contexts (Berg and Latin, 2008). Reliability on the other hand is defined by Saunders et al. (2009) as the measure to which the techniques and instruments used in collection of primary and secondary data will replicate the findings, observations and conclusions in research by others. In addition, a critical issue to reliability is how sense was made from the raw data obtained. Reliability is often compromised by bias on the side of the observer/researcher. Conclusively, reliability and validity are essential in offering credibility to data.
In this study, as a way of mitigating issues of reliability, the researcher conducted a pilot study. Using the pilot study, the researcher was able to; firstly, rid the questionnaire of any ambiguous questions and secondly add relevant questions. Similarly, the questionnaire was further improved to maintain clarity in the questions. Specifically, the researcher maintained the use of simple and clear language for the questions as well as the responses. As Foddy (1994) notes, reliability can be achieved if the questions are understood by the respondent the same way they are understood by the researcher. Regarding the issues of validity, since the researcher focused mostly on internal validity, the measure taken to ensure this was ensuring the objectives of the study and the questions included in the questionnaire were congruent. This way, the study measured exactly what it was intended and more-so accurately.
3.8. Research Ethics
In general, research ethics refer to the correctness of the behaviour that the research upholds with regard to the rights and privileges of the persons that are subject to the study in whichever capacity (Saunders et al., 2009). Research ethics also concern on how the researcher formulates the topic, designs the study, gains access to study areas, collects and analyses data and how he makes it accessible to third parties. Thusly, the entire research needs to be morally defensible to anyone that should be concern. Research ethics can be viewed from two different perspectives namely the deontological view and the teleological view. The difference is that from the teleological view, the end-results of the study are justified by the means and thus the ethical concepts of the research can be argued out based on their contribution to the study findings. Deontological perspective sustains that ethicality is absolute and cannot be compromised even if better results were to be obtained. In respect of the aforementioned, this research takes a deontological perspective on ethics and thus all issues that appertain to ethics were observed.
Firstly, the researcher sought the consent of the respondents before administering the questionnaires. In the instance of first interactions, the researcher explained to the respondent the major reason of the research and the application of the findings. Additionally, the researcher asked for a verbal response as to whether the respondent consented to the requirements of the study. In mention was also the right of the respondent to pull out of the study in the case that they were not comfortable. The researcher then addressed the issues of privacy particularly in the design of the questionnaire in which case no contact details were captured by the questionnaires. The respondents were also assured of the privacy of whatever information they revealed attributing to the fact that the researcher stipulated clearly that the information gotten was to be used for the purposes of the study only. Further, the data collected was disposed off through shredding to avoid access to it by third parties. Lastly, as a way of observing the law, the researcher limited the study to adult persons past the age of 18 years. This is majorly because soliciting for personal information from minors is considered illegal.
This section sought to offer a justification of the methodology that was adopted in the conduct of the research. As such, to begin with, the research adopted a positivism approach attributing to the fact that it intended to establish a causal relationship between online social media and organisational marketing strategies. Further, the research adopts an inductive approach which is described as a down-up approach – starting from general observations then narrowing down to a specific theory than can be compared to other theories. Data collection was done using structured questionnaires which offered advantages in regard to the time taken for the study and the finances used by the researcher. Primary data was complemented by secondary data obtained from extant literature. The collected data was then analysed by the use of statistical packages including statistical packages for social sciences and Microsoft Excel. This analysed data was presented using charts, tables and statistics which are effective for establishing and portraying causal relationships. Lastly, the research observes all the ethical standards that are necessary for research by taking the deontological view. Issues of privacy, confidentiality and consent were observed.
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