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Understanding How Customer’s Identify Themselves Online is the Key to ‘Brand Love’

Margherita Pagani sheds light on how marketers can create a stronger engagement with consumers on social networks in her recent research, ‘Antecedents of brand love in online network-based communities: A social identity perspective’. During a period where social networks are upgrading their marketing tools, this well-timed analysis clarifies how to modernize brand strategies accordingly.

Can you explain the brand love concept and the impact your research has on this subject?

Brand Love is still a fairly recent phrase, it describes when a consumer surpasses having a superficial attachment to a company and aspects of their identity begin to reflect the personality of the brand. People with brand love are loyal, enjoy speaking positively about the company and are more resistant to negative information. This research goes beyond discussing how marketers use brand love to influence consumer behaviour, and instead focuses more on influencing the mind-set of consumers to further develop their identity in relation to the brand.

How was this research carried out?

We sent an online questionnaire to the Facebook fan pages of 20 popular brands including Lego, MTV and Coca-Cola. We chose the fan pages based the number of likes and level of engagement on the fan pages.

The questionnaire looked into the users online social experiences and how they portray themselves within network-based online communities. Facebook was chosen because it’s the dominant social network worldwide with 1.27 billion monthly active users and it’s preferred by customers for online brand connection.

What were your findings from the research?

The results confirmed that the positive influence of social-interactive engagement on brand love is mediated by the psychological impact of how members perceive themselves based on their belonging to the social group of the brand fan page. To strengthen the emotional bond with a brand in online network-based communities, managers should stimulate consumers’ social identity by leveraging the experiences which influence social-interactive engagement.

This study is the first to investigate the effects of social-interactive engagement on social identity to enhance the understanding of brand love’s prior impact in specific online social environments.

Do you have any examples of companies who have incorporated this method into their online strategy?

The ‘Lego community’ is a great example of a social interactive platform that encourages followers to engage with the brand through creating and sharing their Lego based ideas to earn ‘clutch power’ – points that equate to collectable badges. Such activities allow users to put their own personalised spin on the ideas, which they’re then encouraged to share with others. Through this process they’re embracing the Lego brand values from both a mental and behavioural perspective to integrate the brand values into their online personality.

How can businesses develop a strategy that successfully integrates the research findings?

Bear in mind that this is not specific to social media sites such as Facebook, but can be applied to any online social interactive platform, as is the case with the Lego community. The strategy needs to observe details such as how active the brand followers are on social network platforms, their preferred ways of interacting, and the image they portray of themselves online. These considerations can then lead to personalized experiences that will positively impose the companies brand values on the development of the individual’s online identity.

Margherita Pagani, emlyon business school

As an Associate Professor in digital marketing and telecommunications, my research work currently focuses on digital marketing, consumer behaviour and new technologies. I am also interested in social media, mobile marketing and the dynamics models within systems that enable us to evaluate the leverage effect of various components of the telecommunications value networks. The impact of consumers’ personal lives on their behaviour within the social media is also something I find very interesting.

More information on Margherita Pagani:
• Her CV online
• Her ResearchGate Page


Further reading…

  • Vernuccio, M., Pagani, M., Barbarossa, C. & Pastore A. (2015). Antecedents of brand love in online network-based communities: A social identity perspective. Journal of Product and Brand Management, 24(7): 706-719.
    View article abstract