Current marketers are eager to learn how to reinforce engagement in social media that delivers competitive advantage in digital marketing practices. To understand meaningful consumer experiences in social media, this study highlights the Snuggie case because it is a well-known product brand, famous for its inimitable TV ads and fun culture among many customers. The Edvardsson and Enquist’s (2010) perspective is used to develop this study which recognizes the Snuggie’s brand experience. To gain insight into consumer experience in social media, this study explores Snuggie’s use of specific brand experience dimensions based on the Edvardsson and Enquist conceptualization of six experience rooms in hyper-reality contexts and social media. The ability to create compelling experiences in social media depends on successful facilitation of electronic Word of Mouth (eWOM), which leads to creative, communicative, and interactive engagements in several experience rooms. Using social media as transaction platforms or as communication media with a diverse digital population can increase business profitability.
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Consumers within the social media context desire “on-demand, personal, engaging, and networked” experiences when they search for products, shop for them, consume them, and receive services (Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009). In 2006, a $20 million donation to “charity: water,” a nonprofit organization, was the outcome of a simple birthday wish by Scott Harrison. Through social media, Harrison shared his ideas and stories and his audience sympathized with him. He asked not to rely on the statistics, but engage in the good work of his brand, “charity: water” (Aaker & Smith, 2010). Harrison’s sincerity in his stories highly influenced others to become involved (Singer, 2011). Many marketers are eager to learn how to reinforce engagement in social media like Harrison did and create a competitive advantage in digital marketing practices.
Mostly, general business communication has no big impact on relationship marketing. The development of the relationship in social media is from noiseless, remote, and invisible communications to noisy, public, and collective engagements (Patterson, 2012). The great power of electronic Word-Of-Mouth (eWOM) in social media encourages consumers to have a deep, personal relationship with the product in addition to the ability to search for new information and share opinions (Chu & Kim, 2011).
Social media helps consumers feel emotionally connected by assisting them in achieving their goals through storytelling, authenticity, and establishing a personal connection (Singer, 2011). Thus, social media have been converted into one of the main consumer experience platforms and marketing communications networks. In this case, an eWOM effect is viable because social networking allows customers to engage, seek, share, and create individual stories regarding Snuggies. Although a few studies have attempted to create reliable experience dimensions relevant to social media, many scholars and practitioners are perplexed about whether a social media platform can drive everything from customer relationships to product development—or if it is just another marketing tool.
To understand meaningful consumer experience in social media, this study highlights the Snuggie case. Snuggie is a famous product brand known for its inimitable TV ads and fun culture among people of all ages. A Snuggie is a blanket with sleeves made of fleece and resembles a bathrobe. However, Snuggie’s marketing strategy is that this simple bathrobe is turned around and worn backwards, thus becoming a new product. When it was introduced in late 2008, the product exceeded its creators’ expectations. Snuggie became popular by early 2009 and received a warm embrace from pop culture (Puente, 2009). Snuggie become so popular it was selling about 4 million units a year. The product was distributed through the Omni-Channel, which consists of online sales, direct sales through TV ads, and traditional retailers such as Wal-Mart and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Given Snuggie’s distribution and marketing features as a seasonal product in conjunction with its pop-culture, understanding the customer experience in social media has the potential to promote the Snuggie brand to more customers and to examine the exclusive nature of customer experience and perceptions in digital environment.
To gain insight into consumer experience in social media, this study explores the Snuggie case to identify the specific brand experience dimensions based on the Edvardsson and Enquist’s (2010) conceptualization of six experience rooms in hyper-reality contexts and social media. The ability to create compelling experiences in social media depends on successful facilitation of eWOM, which leads to creative, communicative, and interactive engagements in several experience rooms. Using social media as a transaction platform or as a communication media with a diverse digital population can increase business profitability.
This study conceptualizes the Snuggie experience as several discrete experiential rooms. Social media is a very powerful tool that can attract consumers by approaching them to share their stories and personal connections with a product (Aaker & Smith, 2010). Interest in the experiential concept has increased; many research studies put effort into explaining the cognitive stage of the online shopping experience (Hsu, Ju, Yen, & Chang, 2007). Consumers must perceive a balance between intrinsically pleasant tasks and self-reinforcement with the pre-requisite of a seamless concentration to experience products or services. Currently, the experimental examinations between multi-faceted experiences are underdeveloped, and there are not enough studies that focus on the experience in individual contexts that direct web usage outcomes.
The impact of eWOM in social media has grown immensely among consumers because social media encourages consumer engagement not only for personal connection but also for information searches and the sharing of opinions (Chu & Kim, 2011). As a result, social media has become the main consumer experience and marketing communications platform. The eWOM effect is a feasible plan for consumers to get the dual roles of personal connection and access to objective consumers’ perspectives. Engaging personal connections, sharing of consumers’ perspectives, and receiving those insights are great sources for exploration into Edvardsson and Enquist’s (2010) conceptualization of six experience rooms in hyper-reality contexts and social media.
Six Experience Rooms in Social Media
Many brands offer “test drives” for their consumers to have actual experience with a service or brand prior to purchase. Test drives refer to a service offered to customers before they purchase a product/service by pre-use of the product. To manage and articulate strategic test drives, Edvardsson and Enquist (2010) developed the concept of an “experience room” in which test driving takes place. They suggest that an experience room in a physical and/or virtual environment can be specified into six dimensions of physical artifacts, intangible artifacts, technology, customer placement, customer involvement, and interaction with employees (Edvardsson & Enquist, 2010).
Physical artifacts are defined as the physical signs, symbols, and infrastructure necessary to create the physical attributes of the experience room (Arnould, Price, & Tierney, 1998; Bitner, 1992; Edvardsson, Enquist, & Johnston, 2005; Normann, 2001; Venkatesh, 1999). Edvardsson, et al., (2005) explain physical artifacts in the IKEA case as all the products, layout, and signs located within the store. While some physical items in the room have direct influence on consumer experience, other physical items have indirect influence. For example, in the Apple store–a well-known product experience retail store–the physical components, such as visual display and control of the product device, can influence the customer experience. Indirect components, such as the noise and lighting at the store, can also have an effect. In the case of Snuggies and social media, the physical artifacts only relate to the product itself. It denotes material details such as thickness, texture, length, size, quality, design, and pattern or prints.
Intangible artifacts refer to the non-physical infrastructure necessary to create the “experience room” that includes mental images, brand reputation, narratives, norms, themes, and values (Bitner, 1992; Normann, 2001). Intangible components are employed to induce a positive effect on consumers’ experiences and are perceived as the company’s message. They convey the culture and strategy of the company. They ask individuals or groups of customers to imagine how the products and/or services can generate positive feelings and value. Edvardsson and his colleagues (2005) state that experiences through pictures, movies, music, and activities can help customers imagine and create a realistic pre-purchase experience; thus, these methods can be considered intangible artifacts.
Moreover, some intangible artifacts influence the customer experience directly, while others only influence indirectly (Edvardsson et al, 2005). Direct and indirect influences of intangible artifacts are well represented in many symbolic and luxury brand experiences. When the case of IKEA was analyzed by Edvardsson et al., they found that the IKEA catalog influenced customers both directly and indirectly. The catalog itself contains both direct–by listing products and costs–and indirect marketing–by setting up rooms using only IKEA products, allowing consumers to visualize themselves within a comfortable environment. In the Snuggie case, intangible artifacts refer to the mental images created by consumers. Many customers leave comments about the comfort and warmth of a Snuggie. New customers are exposed to commentary on how a Snuggie feels and imagine the use of Snuggies in their lives.
Technology refers to the technological equipment with which customers interact, either actively or passively (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2003; Venkatesh, 1999). Technology is often perceived as the tool of information and communication, but Edvardsson and his colleagues (2005) argue that technology also provides hyper-reality through simulations and conveys quality through meaning, arousal, and excitement from activities and service processes. Self-service technology in particular changes the role of the customer with regard to the co-production and co-creation of experiences (Edvardsson et al, 2005; Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2003). When consumers take dual roles as consumers and producers, their social relationship within a virtual community transforms to an active foundation for virtual engagement through searching, sharing, creating, purchasing, and entertaining behaviors.
The intersecting roles between consumers and producers, which often lead to collaboration among consumers, are becoming popular in social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter (Ritzer & Jurgenson, 2010). With Snuggies in particular, technology facilitates the consumer experience of searching and purchasing in conjunction within the entertaining experience of a computer-mediated environment. In addition, in consumer purchasing, many customers may be concerned about shipping and ordering services because these factors could directly affect consumer satisfaction and trust.
Customer placement is the “prerequisite for interaction with others, with products, and the creation of service encounters and events in a defined physical and hyper-real environment in which the customer is placed and staged” (Edvardsson et al, 2005, p. 153). It explains that drivers of experiences, whether they are consumers or producers, can be influenced intrinsically or extrinsically. Here, they focus on extrinsic experiences which are associated with consumer’s cognitive and emotional structure. Customer placement occurs when they desire to use the Snuggie and how they interact with other people to share their stories and memories about Snuggies.
Customer involvement encompasses the roles which are taken and enacted by the customer(s) in the experience room. Customer involvement relates to “the conscious, bridging experiences, connections or references per minute that the viewer makes between his own life and stimulus,” and this “involvement results from an interaction between person, stimulus, and situation” (Swaminathan & Zinkhan, 1996). Although many studies focus on product involvement in consumer purchase behaviors, customer involvement explains how individual customers will likely engage with the preferable experiences, from the interaction with services to specific situations. In the Snuggie case, customers are involved with seasonal gift occasions and family connection memories.
Interaction with employees
Interaction with employees relates to the customers’ ability to interact with service providers to gain useful information for their potential purchase decision in the “experience room.” Interaction with employees can be a crucial dimension for some service contexts such as physical stores, show rooms, and open house days at schools. In the Snuggie case within social media, it is hardly expected to have this experience room because social media does not have a physical store or employees who directly interact with customers.
By employing the qualitative approach, the study explored customers’ Snuggie experiences incorporated in social media. Since late 1994, Amazon, created by Jeff Bezos, has been one of the most popular computer-mediated environments. Amazon started as an online bookstore; however, it diversified and now sells a variety of products such as books and groceries. Amazon is now positioned as one of the largest online retailers. In 2011, Amazon had revenue of $48 billion. It has globalized throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, and China with more than 30 million people using Amazon for their online shopping. Like other online retailers such as eBay or Snuggie’s official website, consumers on Amazon share their opinions by leaving comments. Thus, Amazon is a great social media entity to use to analyze Snuggies in five experience rooms.
Customer reviews posted on Amazon from September 2011 to February 2012 have been collected and may be seen below. Upon compiling all reviews and deleting redundancies, 364 responses were extracted and grouped according to five experience rooms (Edvardsson Edvardsson, & Enquist, 2010). Based on customer perceptions and descriptions of Snuggie experiences on Amazon, five experience rooms were revealed in Table 1.
The content analysis is pertinent to assess average phenomena of a culture (Shaw, 1984). Countless word clusters have been compared to determine patterns of ideas and themes and to make valid inferences from comments (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001). Five experience rooms were identified as “physical artifacts,” “customer involvement,” “intangible artifacts,” “technology,” and “customer placement.” Refer to Table 2.
Result and Discussions
With the advancement of social networking, it is essential to create new ways to engage customers in a product experience or service before they make a purchasing decision (Edvardsson & Enquist, 2010). By examining Snuggie customers’ responses posted in Amazon, where the majority of online sales of Snuggies occur, this study exposes the following five experience rooms where customers experience products, services, and brand significantly and expressively.
Physical artifacts experience (n=168) refers to materials, quality, price, design, and pattern/prints. First, comment (n=64) responses explain thickness, texture, length, and size. “Very thin and slippery” (PA1). “The fleece is so thin that a little light passes.…” (PA25). “The fabric looks very good” (PA15). Second, consumers (n=40) discussed their satisfaction with the quality and the price of Snuggies. “Excellent quality compare [sic] to the cheap price” (PA5). “It is well cut and sewn properly” (PA55). Third, comments (n=36) describe the design of the open back and big pocket. Some customers replied that they liked the design while others did not like the design and felt discomfort. “I like the pocket in the front!” (PA10). “It’s better than a robe because it covers your feet” (PA67). “It’s really nice to be able to use your hands … but the sleeves are loose and large enough to cover hands if you don’t want to have them open” (PA79). Lastly were comments (n=28) about preferred favorite sports-team prints and personal favorite colors or patterns. “Gift for my parents who have been huge Packer fans” (PA120). “This is also his favorite team” (PA115). “I recommend this item to all Cowboys lovers” (PA23). “I recommend this product because it can be customized for many different sports teams” (PA132). Physical artifact comments made up 46.15 percent of the total in the Snuggie case on Amazon.
Customer involvement experience (n=73) denotes seasonal gift occasions and family connection memories. Most female consumers purchased a Snuggie as a Christmas gift for their families for fun memories of wearing them together. “I ordered 8 of these as gifts” (CI21). “Bought 4 Snuggies from Amazon.com” (CI18). “This was a gift from my cousin this year” (CI54). “I purchased the Snuggie for my wife as a sort of gimmicky gift for Christmas” (CI7). “This was the perfect Christmas gift” (CI1). “It was a great Christmas gift for my mom and in-laws, also my husband got one and he loves it” (CI12). “I saw one on Amazon and got it for my daughter’s Christmas gift and she likes it and I bought a couple more for gifts for my young niece and nephew” (CI29). “One year for Christmas, my mom thought she was cute and funny and got me and my husband a Snuggie” (CI5). In the Snuggie case, 20.05 percent of comments fell into the customer involvement experience room.
Intangible artifacts experience (n=55) reflects mental images of Snuggie, which are comfortable and warm. Consumers highly value Snuggie when they are satisfied with intangible artifacts in conjunction with physical artifacts (quality and price). “I like it, it is very warm and snuggly” (IA1). “Very soft and comfortable” (IA16). “Just enjoy the warmth!” (IA27). “Great for staying warm and cozy!” (IA44). From the total of customers’ comments, 15.11 percent related to intangible artifacts.
Technology experience (n=44) refers to the technology convenience and effectiveness in shipping and ordering services. When Snuggie products arrive at the right time, customer satisfaction and involvement increase. As a seasonal gift, customer satisfaction level is closely related to how Snuggie exactly met customer shipping expectations. They considered the ordering effectiveness that is derived from technology. “Thank you, the package arrived on said date and even though the packaging was a bit busted up the contents inside seem fine and looks of nice quality” (T2). “Item was ship [sic] very fast to my residence” (T7). “The merchandise arrived in great condition in a timely manner” (T32). The technology experience room comments take 12.09 percent in the case of Snuggie.
Customer placement experience (n=29) occurs when customers look at the picture of Snuggie while they are shopping on Amazon. They want to use it during winter for their comfort at home, and/or to buy it as a gift for specific occasions. Consumers interact with other customers, products, and service encounters in a defined physical and hyper-real environment where customers are placed and staged (Sherry, 1995). “I used it all of last winter, and now am using it again, as even in North Florida we find ourselves in below freezing temps” (CP17). “Perfect for a cold evening at TV or a nap in the afternoon” (CP1).Customer placement is 9.97 percent of the total comments in the Snuggie case.
Conclusions and Implications
Consumer expectations for meaningful experiences in the consumption process are transforming the retail industry, which is becoming a network of experiences connected across diverse consumer product lines (Kim, Sullivan, & Forney, 2007). Given the identification of five significant experience rooms, this study explores how Snuggie can optimize customer experiences in the exponentially growing social media. Conclusively, physical artifacts and customer involvement are influential experience rooms which signify interactions between products and customer engagement in the Snuggie brand.
This study provides a theoretical and empirical foundation that serves as a holistic approach to understanding the concepts of customer experiences in social media. However, given the exploratory nature of this approach, there are some limitations in generalizing these findings. First is the purposive sampling from social media; Amazon limits the generalization of the research by restricting the number of experienced customers incorporated in the study. A sampling of Snuggie customers with varied demographic characteristics (e.g., age, job status, and income) may lead to in-depth results. Second, upon reviewing the multi-dimensions of brand and customer experience from previous research, the diverse dimensionality may better capture the multifaceted relationship resources involved in social media. Specifically, there is no room dimension of interaction with employers in this study, which Edvardsson suggested and founded in their empirical studies. Third, the study does not fully cover emotional and behavioral aspects of experience engagement. Other affected dimensions of experience engagements might be driven by social media, but also drive individual’s purchase intentions. Fourth, the study focuses on Snuggies only. Cultural and case specific discrepancies need to be considered when other social media contexts are studied.
Beyond these limitations, there are various directions for future research. First, six experience rooms could be tested at a multi-channel level. Second, beyond individuals’ purchase and consumption perspectives, specific eWOM effects in a collective social media context might provide diverse theoretical understandings. Third, exploring social media and customer experience engagements in the general virtual context may insightfully portray relationship resources and personal commitment towards the virtual environment. Finally, future studies with the emphasis on cross-cultural comparison in different countries may provide a more narrow scope.
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