What Role Do Bloggers Play In Shaping E-Commerce Brands?

BY S.A.M.M

An insight brief that uses the ‘Elaboration Likelihood Model’ to discuss the persuasive role of blogs in forming positive attitudes towards e-commerce brands.

This insight brief is part of a theoretical series of 'Critical Essays on Fashion' written and compiled by the Kung'ara team in an aim to attempt to discuss the role and effectiveness of blogs as persuasion tools in online marketing campaigns, and the importance of understanding the nature in which blog readers process brand-related information. More specifically, the brief will discuss how this information consequently shapes blog readers’ purchase intention behaviour.

Firstly, the Elaboration Likelihood Model developed by Petty and Cacioppo will be used as a framework to explain the central and peripheral routes to persuasion. Secondly, the brief will discuss how blog readers simultaneously use the central and peripheral route to process brand-related information on blogs. Thirdly, the perceived credibility, expertise and trustworthiness of bloggers will be analysed as examples of variables that persuade blog readers to form positive or negative attitudes towards e-commerce brands.

Lastly, the brief will describe the advantages gained when digital marketing managers collaboratively engage with bloggers as part of their brands' marketing strategy. Drawbacks and tensions may arise if brand-related blog posts induce unfavourable thoughts about the brand itself; therefore this brief will explain how companies, particularly those that have an online presence or an e-commerce platform, can overcome the negative implications of incorporating blogs in their marketing campaigns.

The Elaboration Likelihood Model

Before addressing the effectiveness of blogs in advertisements and marketing campaigns, it is necessary to define the underlying factors that contribute towards positive or negative attitude shifts and purchase intentions of blog readers as consumers. According to Petty and Cacioppo (1983), the ‘Elaboration Likelihood Model’ is a theory that explains the processes that occur in an individual’s mind when an attempt is made to change the individual’s attitude through communication, and the effect that different variables or stimuli have on the level of persuasion. There are two routes to persuasion: the central route or the peripheral route, both which occur along a continuum. Kitchen et al (2014) support this definition by suggesting that the motivation and ability to evaluate a message can be high or low depending on the cognitive resources that the individual possesses.

The extent to which individuals scrutinise information presented to them may depend on their mood or previous knowledge, as well as the credibility of the source of the message itself.  If an individual’s motivation and ability to scrutinise a message is high, then information is processed via the central route. Additionally, when the message induces favourable thoughts in the mind of an individual, then a positive shift in attitude could occur, depending on how strong or weak the argument presented in the message is. It is notable, however, that if the individual already has a negative attitude towards the message, a boomerang effect may occur whereby the message is met with resistance (Foregger et al, 2007).

Conversely, when an individual’s motivation and ability to scrutinise a message is low, then variables such as the source attractiveness and heuristics become effective determinants of persuasion. Additionally, Petty, Brinol and Priester (2009) explain that when individuals identify with the source, it is likely that a temporary, positive shift in the individual’s attitude will take place. By contrast, if the cues are not noticed, then an attitude change may not occur.

 

The role of blogs in persuasive communication online

There is a growing body of literature that recognises the strategic importance of brand-related information on blogs due to the increased personalisation of mass media. The emergence of Web 2.0 has not only given rise to social networks and blogs, but has also shifted the nature in which people access news and information (Chu and Kamal, 2008). A study conducted by Impact (2014) reveals that 175,000 blogs are created daily and 57 million Americans aged 18 to 30 years read blogs. The same study reveals that 89% of blog readers are persuaded by product reviews on blogs and 87% discover new products on blogs. Moreover, 90% of readers in the same study claimed to share blog posts to their personal networks and 78% of respondents agreed that blogs are more credible in comparison to print media. Additionally, British citizens now spend more time online using digital platforms than traditional media (Cohen, 2013).

Taken together, these results strengthen the argument that e-commerce brands should incorporate blogs as part of their digital marketing strategy in order to sustain a competitive advantage. Xifra and Huertas (2008) lend weight to this argument, by suggesting that blogs are effective in online marketing due to the blogger’s ability to influence opinions of the public. Furthermore, Cialdini (2001) explains that the ‘social proof’ principle of persuasion states that when consumers are unsure about a certain brand or product, they tend to look for cues from people within their environment for more information, and in effect, consumers tend to emulate the actions of those that they have sought an opinion from.

A study conducted by Impact (2014) reveals that 95% of Australian bloggers incorporate social networks to engage their audience. The implication of this for marketers is that engaging with bloggers who have a wider reach and whose posts are more popular may increase the brand’s visibility online. Blogs, in this case, are a point of reference, as the narrative nature of blog posts are similar to testimonials given by customers. The blogger, who acts as a customer, descriptively reviews products that may then be purchased by the consumer if the narrative is convincing.

In the context of blogs and consumer behaviour, Chu and Kamal (2008) argue that the blogger’s perceived credibility; trustworthiness and the argument quality in their blog posts are key factors that determine the blog readers’ attitudes towards brand related information on blogs. Huang (2013) explains that bloggers who disclose whether they are compensated by brands are more likely to be perceived as highly credible and ethical, and therefore foster a positive attitude shift in the mind of the blog reader. Additionally, when a product review done by a blogger is highly detailed and requires a higher level of cognitive effort, blog readers’ may perceive the blogger as credible, and are more likely to have a positive attitude towards the brand.

Furthermore, source attractiveness of blogs, which is determined by highly visual blog posts as well as the physical appearance of the blogger contribute towards the perceived social value of the blog, which consequently determines whether the blog is perceived as credible (Chu and Kamal, 2008). The higher the level of attractiveness, the more likely that the peripheral route will be taken when processing the brand-related message, which in effect could lead to a positive shift in the attitude of the blog reader. Conversely, blog readers who consider the blogger to be untrustworthy may form a negative attitude towards the brand, as they would take the central route when scrutinising the quality of information presented on the blog.

Cialdini (2001) lends support to this argument, as the ‘liking principle’ states that consumers are more likely to be influenced by people they like, or those who are similar to them in terms of tastes and preferences. What this means is that brands that work collaboratively with bloggers are able to increase their sales by requesting that the blogger honestly reports about the brand’s product while imparting some brief knowledge about the brand itself in any given blog post. 

The application to digital marketing managers

This section discusses the benefits, potential drawbacks and implications that marketers may face if they engage bloggers in various marketing campaigns. Sedeke (2012) explains that sponsored blog posts are a cheaper marketing strategy in comparison to traditional media platforms such as television and radio. Bloggers are ideal brand ambassadors for delivering authentic content in a cost-effective manner through a series of brand-related blog posts, as the brand’s values and ethics are conveyed to blog readers via the blogger through promotional messages such as giveaways and product reviews. The implication this has for marketers is that it is crucial that marketers spend time researching on appropriate bloggers who have an extensive knowledge of the brand’s industry, the brand’s target audience and where the brand is positioned, because this determines whether the message will have any personal relevance to the blog reader and whether the message will positively shift the reader’s attitude in order to increase the purchase intention of the reader.

Secondly, marketers should be able to understand the elaboration level of a blogger’s audience. This is important because the effectiveness of a sponsored post in creating a positive attitude, for example, depends on the perceived credibility of the blogger to the message recipients, in this case, the readers (Rucker and Petty, 2006). Thirdly, marketers should consider the characteristics of the message being conveyed. What this means is that strong arguments in blog posts for example, that necessitate careful scrutiny may be more effective while cues such as source attractiveness which require low cognitive effort may be more effective depending on the objectives of the marketing campaign.

Fourthly, when information is processed via the central route, the attitude change is likely to be sustained over a long period of time, while information processed via the peripheral route mostly elicits a short-term shift in the individual’s attitude. The implication this has for marketers who wish to engage bloggers in any form of online corporate communication is that in order to sustain a positive corporate image online for a long period of time, then the argument quality in a sponsored post should be strong to elicit a central route of information processing. Alternatively, the aim of the marketer could be to create excitement around a new product launch, which would result in impulse buying or acquisition of new customers. In this case, a short-term attitude shift may be more effective to encourage sales, therefore the cues conveyed in a sponsored blog post may need to be appeal to readers in a manner that will require them to use the peripheral route to analyse the message.

A way to achieve this through bloggers is to build a narrative through films produced by the bloggers. Yu and Chang (2013) explain that short films are more likely to be interpreted through the peripheral route of persuasion if a popular figure endorses the brand. What this means is that consumers with low involvement are less likely to scrutinise the messages conveyed in the advertisement if a blogger that they recognise is in the film, as they are less likely to devote cognitive effort in order to evaluate the brands attributes.  A good example of this is the “Winter Dream” short film produced by popular fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni for the Cartier Brand (Keinan et al, 2015). It is notable however, that this type of marketing campaign through bloggers may not lead to a positive attitude shift, especially amongst loyal blog readers who are already familiar with the brand and may devote a higher level of cognitive effort to analyse the message conveyed in the film (Yu and Chang, 2013).

Lastly, it is notable that incorporating blogger placements in any brand’s digital marketing strategy may not always be effective. According to the elaboration likelihood model, sponsored posts can induce a negative attitude towards a brand, especially if the message is perceived as unfavourable. Chu and Kamal (2008) suggest that blog readers may lose trust in a blogger if the blogger is found to have communicated brand-related information in an unethical manner, such as giving highly favourable product reviews only because the blogger has been paid by the brand. Furthermore, even if a positive attitude shift occurs in the reader’s mind after processing the message in the blog, a lack of resources such as funds may limit the purchase intention of the reader. The implication this has for digital marketers is that a more rigorous analysis, such as data analytics for example, is necessary to evaluate whether a sponsored blog post has been successful or not.

This insight brief has demonstrated that the dual processes in persuasive communication can explain the attitude changes as a result of being influenced by bloggers. The relevance of bloggers in influencer marketing is supported by the studies that indicate that consumers now turn to blogs for information about brands. The focus of this brief has been limited to the Elaboration Likelihood Model which has helped to explain how consumers’ attitudes towards brand-related information on blogs depend on the argument quality of the blog post, as well as the perceived credibility of the blogger. Lastly, in order to increase revenue, maintain prestige online and effectively target niche segments, digital marketers should understand the bloggers’ audience beforehand and should collaboratively create content that has personal relevance to the audience, in order for the audience to be persuaded into purchasing products or forming positive attitudes about e-commerce companies.

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