It is interesting that in the previous edition we introduced social media branding for enhanced brand equity of tourism businesses. Surprisingly, it led to confessions for what many of our SMEs have yet to do. The terminology seemed familiar until everyone realized that it was missing from the strategic branding of our tourism providers. Last time we looked at brand image and awareness in relation to the techno-revolutionary world led by social media. Where systems and software have proven to have the upper hand when it comes to reaching all audiences from pole to pole (as these digital innovations reach beyond the sky to cover one continent/country/city to another through satellite systems connect to). We thank the astronauts who have shown their courage to go beyond where we exist and have created these innovations with a global connection.
Now we can go beyond localized brand exposure through social media (without knowing the limits). Social media has certainly proven to be a powerful tool for positive brand image and improving brand awareness. Here we then make the same assessment for other brand equity variables, namely perceived brand quality and brand loyalty. By asking what our tourism providers should do to improve it. It is a positive step forward in our brand roadmap as quality is seen as the result of seeing while populations and loyalty are uncontrollable. Even the Bible has those who claim to be loyal until they prove otherwise (which means brand loyalty reviews are worth investing in).
First of all, perceived brand quality is an opinion that customers have of the quality of your products/services (a measure of belief). Something an SME may not have control over. However, this is the main reason for our tourists to choose a supplier. In my view, the value customers see in your service is determined by the perceived quality. That’s why they say “quality is expensive,” to such an extent that anything cheap is associated with poor quality, or inferior, so to speak. And our SMEs are proven to be the last choice when it comes to quality. Certainly our tour operators do not belong in this category. Here we go the conversation. And as a reminder: quality does not speak for itself, but for each customer in his own way. It is the driver for decision-making whether to consume or not. From a tourism product perspective, our potential tourists base their quality evaluation mainly on performance and reliability. Imagine standing in a long line to be served food at a restaurant (it discourages consumption).
Features are also most important in the same evaluation of quality and this is where social media branding comes into play by sending images and videos or others to the target global customers through specific networks. It is important to us to use colors and objects that enhance the visibility/appearance of quality food, rooms, transportation and resorts as the main offerings of the three key sectors of our tourism industry. In this case, social media contributes to the tangibility that was lacking in the history of service marketing, of which tourism is a part. Our duty as a thriving SME is to combine our quality strategy with the application of social media in the age of entrepreneurship.
Loyalty has been talked about in different ways for some time and in this issue we look at it in relation to our SMEs’ tourism brands. This is so expanded and built on top of a social media strategy. Essentially, brand loyalty leads to great customer engagement. When done properly through the use of social media, there will be leverage. It enables connections with a larger market audience. Whenever there is a discussion about your offers and even more customers are invited to join, this builds your pyramid.
Our job is to know the type of social media that can influence mass connection with the target audience and even haunt those who previously consumed our offerings. Also, accept that loyalty, like trust, is not built overnight. It is then essential to go through a socio-blogosphere to seek and understand the good and bad that the market shares about our brand and its offerings. Either way, it pays to have a listening voice. Imagine providing positive feedback and self-corrective action on some negative Tweets about your brand (it usually pays to say “I’m sorry”). It can even lead to higher loyalty if customers know your brand is remorseful. How would the world be without social media? Social media has helped us understand the loyalty levels of our markets through simple tracks, likes and comments. It becomes a cloud database designed by our customers themselves and tracked by us. Let’s take advantage of this cheap and widespread connectivity.
Social media are therefore an influencing factor for both positive brand perception and lasting brand loyalty in the direction of lively tourism brand equity. Mainly in the sense that it improves consumer engagement, especially when the tourist wants to be socially connected with “brand groups” that follow the supremacy. Because of this, potential tourists follow platforms that talk about the best hotels, lodges and resorts as vacation packages. It’s about the perceived brand quality that drives loyalty through social media.
From the same point of view, social media platforms will help in boosting brand recommendation, which is most needed to improve customer base for SMEs. While speaking and discussing on these platforms, they also recommend each other to take advantage of your offerings through referrals. Such is the power of social media in this age of talking brand entrepreneurship.
As a movement to conclude this issue, here are some recommendations for building strong brand equity through social media, led by excellence and loyalty. There is a need to consistently deliver value and implement a loyalty program. Then we go beyond that and value our consumers in a variety of ways to show them they care about our brand(s). Anyone who buys from us regularly should be rewarded in the form of freebies. Also making social media a proactive platform to address some brand issues before they become an emergency/outcry and difficult to resolve. More can be said about this perspective, but we end here for today.
dr Farai Chigora is a businessman and academic. He is Head of Business Science at 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 active in the agricultural industry and advises many companies in Zimbabwe and Africa. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted for feedback and business at [email protected], WhatsApp Mobile: +263772886871.