There is always confusion on which came first, the chicken or egg especially in sequencing the elements that construct brand equity. Not only with regards to the tourism industry, but across all sectors of our global economy. All I can say is that brand association is an outcome of the branding effort done so far (a composite of all the previously mentioned elements). We can spend more time debating on this but surely the intervention of social media can lead to lasting tourism brand association. In our previous editions we looked at how social media can enhance the brand image, brand awareness, perceived brand quality and brand loyalty of our tourism SMEs. Here we take a step further by looking at the role of social media in promoting permanent brand association of these enterprises.
Sometimes when a phrase is over-talked about, it loses its meaning. I will remind some of our business practitioners that social media is deep-rooted and a thoughtful paradigm. It is entrenched as a construct of communication science and sociology. These terminologies can scare some, it is as if we are going back to the classroom. But in this discussion we simplify education into practise (so we are together). Both concepts are premised on existence and exchange as interactive social beings. Hence they have a strong impact in brand building and market connection by encouraging consumption through a wired social exchange. We have seen that brand awareness for our tourism SMEs can be enhanced/positively influenced by social media. That is the same with brand association. In our tourism showcasing drive we mostly talk and influence people/ tourists’ interest to associate with our brand(s). It is through the same viewpoint that we evaluate social media on its ability to sell/promote tourism brand attributes, the expected benefits in consumption and brand positive attitude as a reflection. Yes, it is easier said than done being the reason we have to walk through these matters together so that we simplify application of social media in brand association by our own home-grown tourism SMEs.
Brand association is an equity measurement that influences purchasing decision by an individual or group of tourists. It might be either as a self-initiative (when one feels like associating with an attractive brand then do a search on social media) or induced by others through electronic word of mouth. But at this juncture our entrepreneurs should know that it is no longer about the brand projection. Now it is the equity that the brand has gained through existence and living the promise. A brand that has managed to turn followers into partners. This goes back to the above mentioned that all other elements equates and results in brand association. The moment when we have unknown advocates and ambassadors selling our own brand(s) then we say it’s done. Most of our SMEs’ brands are on record of creating enemies rather than friends. Though we do not have much control of those who can be our associates or not social media has proved to have that power. In this age, what seats in the mind of a customer is mainly driven/influenced by social media. This platform has helped many in creating global friends, relatives and even marriages. In the same view, it became a low hanging fruit for the needed tourism brand association. Our task is how to connect tourism brand with the minds and hearts of all our potential associates through social media.
The magic of social media cannot be quantified as it goes beyond our existence, through the wide coverage and store/share of good brand memories (as pictures and videos). This is done through various private and public networks. This has escalated tourism brand awareness, brand image and making the intangible quality tangible. Similarly, social media can further add more by increasing traffic of consumers as associates when it links them with our websites and other internal marketing promotion blogs. Tourism operators can use blogs to present their offerings from accommodation to travel and resorts. One can easily see who is connecting with you as a first buyer or repeat and even referrals (and ride on these to convert into associates). That’s where brand advocacy and ambassadorship is born and maintained. The entrepreneur should then invite those with a higher traffic for a treat and give them a permanent stake in the tourism business (social networks powering associations). Surely they will have that sense of brand ownership to invite more future customers than what the SME could have done alone.
Also there is social listening as part of enhancing brand association through adjusting to what the customers say about your brand and its offerings on social media. As referenced in the previous edition, customers develop a strong brand connection when they see that their concerns are attended to and addressed as requested (we should not be defensive to their concerns). With social media you get feedback on what you didn’t ask. Your response should be to adjust rather than keep asking why? That’s when you then blend your brand mixture with the real tastes/preferences as expected by the markets (not blowing your own horn). It will help you create a brand association through offering them what they want.
Most of the times the tourists are left to wonder and make some travelling decisions blindly. Social media has the power to overcome such hurdles too. This is through building supporting communities who assist as brand advocates. These may just naturally develop anywhere in the world for you. Usually in response to your proven dominance, sharing, likes, followership and advertising on the social media (people follow most go to build associations). When tourists ask about your brand and offering they will be an unknown someone to respond and serve that new comer on your behalf (power of association through social networks).
Finally, social media also help in brand psychology support to tourists through blogs like Twitter, Facebook and any other available platforms. They talk, share and encourage each other to consume your brand without any fear of the unknown. The task of an entrepreneur is to constantly monitor and create synergies with these associates and social leaders. I leave you to think beyond brand building. Return on Branding Investment (ROBI) is the association created. As said by Sumeet Singh: “Before the world wide web, brand storytelling was through word of mouth and other mediums that needed dollars to create stories. However, the internet has changed the face of traditional forms of marketing, expanding a brand’s reach, both globally and hyper-locally.”
Dr Farai Chigora is a businessman and academic. He is the Head of Business Science at the Africa University’s College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance. His Doctoral Research focused on business administration (destination marketing and branding major, Ukzn, SA). He is into agribusiness and consults for many companies in Zimbabwe and Africa. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted for feedback and business at firstname.lastname@example.org, WhatsApp mobile: +263772886871.
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