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«of the AM’s Brand, Corporate Identity and Reputation SIG INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE SESSIONS Sessions chairs The main function of a session chair is to ...»

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Membership in a brand community is primarily a social relationship (Chou, 2010). Contact with a group is associated with feelings of belongingness and attachment (Frijda et al., 1989) that is associated with corresponding action tendencies (Bergami and Bagozzi, 2000). When an individual is committed to an organisation, such as a virtual community, they become vested in the successes and failures of that community (Ashforth and Mael, 1989; Kim et al., 2008). Since a VBC is founded based on a specific brand, it is expected that its members’ community identification will lead to their commitment to the brand as well.

H4: Members’ social identity in VBCs has a positive effect on their brand commitment.

Dholakia et al. (2004) argue that one of the main motivations to interact with a brand community is knowledge exchange. Research on social identity theory suggests that when members identify themselves with a virtual community, they perceive themselves as an actual or symbolic part of that virtual community, and this identification has a positive influence on members’ participation in that community (Casaló et al., 2010). Hence, members have more interactions and communication with each other and with the brand in these firm-hosted VBCs. Communication is a main antecedent of trust and feelings of proximity between the parties in a relationship (Casaló et al., 2008; Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Membership and communication in a VBC increase members’ level of brand experience and brand knowledge and so their trust in the brand (Füller et al., 2008; Ha and Perks, 2005).

H5: Members’ social identity in VBCs has a positive effect on their trust in a brand.

H6: Members’ social identity in VBCs has a positive effect on their brand knowledge.

H7: Members’ brand knowledge in VBCs has a positive effect on their brand trust.

Brand trust is essential to relational marketing (Albert et al., 2013) as a determinant of brand commitment and brand affect (Chaudhuri and Holbrook, 2001). Brand trust results in higher levels of loyalty and commitment, as trust creates highly valued exchange relationships (Matzler et al., 2006). Hence, based on the commitment-trust theory (Morgan and Hunt,

1994) and the customer-brand relationship literature, it seems reasonable to expect that trusted brands evoke a higher degree of commitment in customers.

H8: Members’ brand trust in VBCs has a positive effect on their commitment to the brand.

Methodology/approach Members of an online panel (American residents) who self-identified as current members of real firm-hosted VBCs (visited in the last three months) served as respondents to an online survey. Following Porter and Donthu (2008), the online survey started with a description and several examples of real VBCs to provide a common understanding of definitions.

Respondents then gave the URL address and named a community they were a member of and would refer to during the survey. Over a period of 3 weeks 729 usable cases with no missing data were gathered. Scale items for all constructs were derived from the literature.

Findings In the confirmatory measurement model (AMOS 20) all items load highly on their corresponding constructs (p.001). Cronbach’s alpha for all constructs is above.88, indicating high internal consistency. Construct reliability of all constructs exceeds.89.

Average variance extracted (AVE) is above.69 for all variables, confirming construct validity. Moreover, there is sufficient discriminant validity as the AVE values for any two constructs exceed the square of the correlation estimate between them (Fornell and Larcker, 1981). The overall model fit indices (χ2(324) = 829.931, p.001; RMSEA =.046; CFI =.98; NFI =.96; and IFI =.98) are satisfactory (Hair et al., 2010).

The structural model fit statistics indicate a good model fit: χ2 (361) = 959.211, p.001;

RMSEA =.048, CFI =.97, IFI =.97, NFI =.96. Supporting H1b and H1c, there is significant, positive impact of average time spending on the community website per visit (γ =.22, standard error [S.E.] =.05), and number of posts (γ =.21, S.E. =.03), on social identity, explaining 24% of the variance. H1a is not supported; the effect of times visiting the community on social identity was not statistically significant (γ =.05, p =.07). Supporting H3 and H4, brand identification (β =.53, S.E. =.06), and social identity (β =.65, S.E. =.10) have a significant positive effect on brand commitment. Supporting H2 and H6, social identity's influences on brand identification (β = 1.33, S.E. =.07) and brand knowledge (β =.75, S.E. =.05) are significantly positive. Supporting H5 and H7, social identity (β =.24, S.E. =.05), and brand knowledge (β =.36, S.E. =.05) have a significant positive effect on brand trust. Supporting H8, the brand trust to brand commitment path is significant (β =.16, S.E. =.05). The antecedents explain 34% of the variance in brand trust and 81% of in brand commitment.

Theoretical implications The findings of this research clearly show that the more members spend time on the community website per visit and the more they post, the stronger will be their social identity.

However, members’ frequency of visiting does not have a significant impact on their sense of identity in VBCs. The findings of this study point to the crucial role of social identity in cultivating members’ relationships with a brand in its virtual community. VBCs are platforms for individuals to share their brand experiences and values, and thus enhance their members’ social identity within the community. As member social identity within a brand community increases, greater involvement with the community and the brand takes place. This involvement promotes the assimilation of the brand’s image into a member’s identity, increases his/her brand knowledge, and so their relationships the brand.

Practical implications Findings of this study have significant managerial value because they link the influence of VBCs to customer-brand relationship that will affect profitability and provide useful materials for marketing managers who then can advocate building VBCs for their customers.

To manage customer-brand relationship through use of VBCs, companies must cultivate members’ social identity. Specifically, the results suggest that by focusing on factors that will influence customer social identity, brand managers can achieve important and desired consequences. Managers can build competitive advantage and nurture members’ social identity, and so their brand relationship development by encouraging members to spend more time in the community per visit and by encouraging them to post comments and/or questions more frequently on the community website.

Limitations This study suggests directions for future research. First, the sample members of this study are residents in the USA. Testing for cross-national and cross-cultural effects enhances the external validity of research results. Second, future research can consider the moderating role of member participation type on the model. Does a lurker (who visits but does not post comments) or a poster (who posts comments) status moderate the effects of social identity in VBCs and so their relationships with brands?

Originality/Value The findings of this study offer a promising contribution to the growing research on VBCs.

This research developed and empirically examined a framework for a mechanism through which a high level of member brand relationship would emerge in VBCs. Implications of this research will allow managers to know how individuals’ participation in a VBC promotes pathways to brand trust and brand commitment and so how to utilize a virtual community as a channel to develop and maintain strong relationships with their customers.

Keywords Virtual Brand Communities, Customer-brand Relationship, Social Identity, Brand Trust, Brand Commitment References Albert, N., Merunka, D. & Valette-Florence, P. (2013) Brand Passion: Antecedents and Consequences. Journal of Business Research, 66(7), 904-909.

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Bagozzi, R. P. & Dholakia, U. M. (2006) Antecedents and Purchase Consequences of Customer Participation in Small Group Brand Communities. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 23(1), 45-61.

Bergami, M. & Bagozzi, R. P. (2000) Self-categorization, Affective Commitment and Group Self-esteem as Distinct Aspects of Social Identity in the Organization. British Journal of Social Psychology, 39(4), 555-577.

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Casaló, L. V., Flavián, C. & Guinalíu, M. (2010) Relationship Quality, Community Promotion and Brand Loyalty in Virtual Communities: Evidence from Free Software Communities. International Journal of Information Management, 30(4), 357-367.

Chaudhuri, A. & Holbrook, M. B. (2001) The Chain of Effects from Brand Trust and Brand Affect to Brand Performance: The Role of Brand Loyalty. Journal of Marketing, 65(2), 81Chou, S.-W. (2010) Why do Members Contribute Knowledge to Online Communities?.

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Füller, J., Matzler, K. & Hoppe, M. (2008) Brand Community Members as a Source of Innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 25(6), 608-619.

Ha, H.-Y. & Perks, H. (2005) Effects of Consumer Perceptions of Brand Experience on the Web: Brand Familiarity, Satisfaction and Brand Trust. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 4(6), 438-452.

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A Global Perspective (7th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

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Negotiations in Cyberspace. Advances in Consumer Research, 29(1), 344-349.

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Perceptions of branded entertainment in South Africa Musson, Ninel Bick, Geoff Abratt, Russell Purpose This study explores the views of Branded Entertainment as an experiential marketing tool in South Africa. Branded Entertainment is a relatively new field that calls for more research to focus on how Branded Entertainment works, and how it can meet the various marketing and communication challenges in the current global marketplace (DeLorme, Reid, & Zimmer, 1994; Russell & Stern, 2006). Previous academic research has focused on research in the USA and Europe (Chan 2003), and no previous studies have been identified that have focused on Africa or South Africa. This study fills a gap in the literature as it specifically reviews the perspectives of South African practitioners of Branded Entertainment and discusses the utility of Branded Entertainment as a useful experiential marketing tool in South Africa.

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