The term brand, in the words of Veloutsou and Delgado - Ballester (2018), refers to an ever-changing mental collection of actual and human-like characteristics and associations that convey the benefits of an offer identified through a symbol, or a collection of symbols, and sets it apart from the rest of the competitive landscape.
Brands are powerful social drivers that give meaning and identity to what individuals consume and buy. Individuals express themselves and convey their status in society through brands. Consumers have a growing interest in brands with an increasing desire to co-create experiences through interactions with other individuals. (Veloutsou and Delgado-Ballester, 2018)
The experiential value that consumers receive from the brand appears to have become increasingly influential over the functional value in moving consumers to act (Delgado-Ballester and Fernández-Sabiote, 2015).
Experiences have become an important element in understanding the way consumers understand and react to brands. Individuals engage and assess brands in various ways and want to co-create brand experiences (Rialti et al., 2018).
According to the Mckinsey consumer sector 2030 trends report (McKinsey & Company, 2015), in an era of fast-changing consumer profiles and behaviours, companies are required to strive for a thorough understanding of what consumers want and are willing to pay for, systematically using these insights to inform the evolution of products and brands.
In recent years, research has proven that social media has a strong influence on purchase decisions and that companies should not ignore online conversations. (McKinsey & Company, 2015)
The strong rise in social media and online consumer engagements has also introduced online brand communities (hereon referred to as ‘OBC’) as other players in online conversations. Through brand communities, individuals express and develop their identities through active engagement with brands and other people who admire similar brands (Black and Veloutsou, 2017). Another form of co-creating experiences.
The previously conducted research has examined the use and motivations for co-creation in online communities and its relation and influence on brand loyalty, community recommendations, community participation, and ideation. However, how do co-created experiences relate to brand equity? And how else do these shared experiences have an influence online?
For this study, we will look at online content curators and brand communities as brand advocates for Herbal Life South Africa and their impact on brand experience and measure it against Keller’s (1993) Customer-based Brand Equity Model. Instagram has been selected as the online platform of choice.
Rationale and Relevance
The pace of change in digital revolutions and online platform engagements are advancing brand management and consumer behaviour.
According to Babin and Hulland (2019), when a brand understands consumer online behavior in curating content, this can help brands uncover better metrics for engagement, see perceived brand associations and identify potential strategic partnerships.
Marketing is shifting from influencers to creators. Unlike influencers, creators curate content they genuinely care about and that adds value to their respected communities. (Bakhtiari, 2020). Thus, this study will take an in-depth analysis of various online curated content using Herbalife as an influential brand in Health and Wellness.
In the modern media-driven culture, brands can no longer dictate what is said about them online and how consumers experience them. According to Veloutsou and Guzmán (2017), organizations are shifting from monolithic brand building originating from the company to conversational branding that involves many contributors.
In the words of (2018), the consequences of non-facilitation of communication and social media have led to the enablement of many to voice their assessments and feelings about the brands and reach a wide audience.
Herbalife is one of the key players in health and wellness (Research and Markets, 2020). Therefore, this research will explore the extent to which these co-created experiences impact brand equity.
The purpose of this study is to analyze the online content curation of Herbalife South Africa and its relation to brand experience, perhaps, being impacted by online co-creation. By analysing online content curators and Herbalife brand communities, this paper aims to uncover the relation to brand equity.
What is the effect of online content co-creation on Herbalife South Africa’s brand equity?
How do online consumers experience Herbalife through co-created content?
Does co-creation provide an effective online strategy as a competitive advantage for Herbalife amongst other brands in the category?
What role does co-creation in brand communities mean for managing brands in the fast-changing digital era?
To determine the effect of online content co-creation on Herbalife South Africa’s brand equity
To analyse how online consumers experience Herbalife through co-created content
To understand the role that content co-creation provides as an online strategy and whether this creates a competitive advantage for Herbalife amongst other brands in its category.
To investigate the role that co-creation crafts in brand communities and its meaning for managing brands in the fast-changing digital era
Online Brand Communities (OBC)
Key Theories and Literature Identified
Online curators serve as endorsers and recommenders of content (Villi et al., 2012).
Consumer curators as they connect with an audience serve as a recommendation for others to consume the same curated content and influence others to curate with the same pieces of content. (Babin and Hulland, 2019)
Consumers have moved from passive observers to active contributors in creating the brand, its functional characteristics, and its meaning. Consumers desire to continuously contribute and co-create their desired brands.
Online Brand Communities
An ‘OBC’ takes place in a virtual setting where members’ engagement is online. Consumers involved in an OBC share their interest in a specific brand and express their passion. These social interactions influence the consumer's relation to the brand. Members feel a solid connection to the brand and significantly feel a stronger connection toward one other. Members share a shared feeling of belonging that creates differentiation and separation between users of their brand and users of other brands. (Brogi, 2014)
Brand experience refers to sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioral responses from brand-related stimuli that are part of a brand's design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments.
Keller’s Customer-based Brand Equity Model
Keller (1993) defines brand equity as “the differential effect of brand knowledge on consumer response to the marketing of the brand”.
An analysis of the associations and perceptions held regarding Herbalife online through shared and meaningful co-created experiences will be using the CBBE model will aid in providing insights on brand equity and how it can be monitored and measured.
A qualitative research design will be conducted.
This research study will take an interpretivism paradigm as there is a need to gain understanding from different perspectives.
Population and Sampling
Adult Male and Female social media account users in South Africa with respective #Hashtags linked to #HerbalifeNutrition until a satisfactory point of analysis has been achieved. The purpose of following #Hashtag is to locate content creators for Herbalife.
Sampling: Non-Probability purposive sampling has been selected as it allows usage based on a set list of characteristics. Due to the nature of online platforms, this would be suitable. This method is advantageous as it will ensure that each selected element fits with the population parameters of this research (Pascoe, 2014:143).
Data Collection Method
Primary and Secondary:
Instagram as a visual tool and platform will be used to look at various individual posts and how they relate to and experience Herbalife through anthropology.
An unobtrusive qualitative content analysis will be used. According to Strydom and Bezuidenhout (2014:191), this method involves a systematic analysis of social artifacts for an in-depth understanding of media texts and their specific contexts. This will allow the researcher to synthesize data from various subjects online.
Content analysis of Instagram Herbalife curators using #HerballifeNutrition and related #Hashtags
In-depth interviews with members of the Herbalife South Africa brand and marketing team will be conducted to understand brand management from an internal view and their views on the content online by co-creators and members of brand communities.
Qualitative coding to analyze data
The research will take Trustworthiness into account.
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