http://dx.doi.org/10.5805/SFTI.2013.15.1.095 Profiling Customer Engagement with “Snuggie” Experience in Social Media HaeJung Kim , JiYoung Kim, and Kiseol Yang College of Merchandising, Hospitality & Tourism, University of North Texas; Denton, TX U.S.A.
Abstract : In order to understand meaningful customer experience in social media, this study profiles customer engage-ment by exposing the essential brand experience rooms in hyper-reality contexts. This study selects Snuggie as a targetbrand as it uses multiple contact points, including social media, to provide meaningful experience to customers. With theirunique marketing strategy, Snuggie became a popular brand among the U. S. customers beyond just a wearable blanket.
Upon analyzing a total of 364 customer reviews about Snuggie in Amazon.com, five experience rooms were exposed;“Physical artifacts” and “customer involvement” are influential experience rooms which signify interactions betweenproducts and customers, while “intangible artifacts”, “technology” and “customer placement” reflect a lower degree ofexperiential engagement. This approach suggests a theoretical foundation in understanding the customer engagementconcepts by the means of brand experience dimensions in social media. The ability to create compelling engagement insocial media depends on the successful facilitation of relationships and information, which lead to a creative, com-municative and interactive experience.
Key words: customer engagement, experience room, social media, Snuggie Snuggie, a fleece blanket with sleeves which is turned around and worn backwards, incorporated creative marketing strategy that The challenge of incorporating digital channels lies in coping led them to become a fun part of pop culture since late 2008 when with the volume, nature, and velocity of the digital content for it was first introduced in the U.S. market. Many similar blanket effective use (French et al., 2012). Delivering brand experience products with varying sizes, colors, styles and qualities of materials through the digital content has been of critical importance as cus- have been marketed by various brands such as Snuggler, Doojo, tomers demand different kinds of relationships with brands online; Toasty Wrap, and Slanket (“How to tell”, 2009). However, Snuggie they check prices at a keystroke; they are increasingly selective got popular by early 2009, which resulted in four million dollars’ about which brands to share their lives with; and they form impres- worth of sales revenue in 2009 (Puente, 2009) due to its multi- sions from every encounter and post withering online reviews.
channel approach including inimitable TV ads, online sales and tra- Indeed, customers desire “on-demand, personal, engaging, and net- ditional retailers (e.g. Walmart and Bed, Bath & Beyond).
worked” experiences when they search, shop, and consume prod- Specifically Snuggie’s viral marketing being referenced or imitated by many comedians or TV shows, created a pop culture phenom- As the critical moments of interaction between brands and cus- ena while exceeding customers’ expectations for a simple seasonal tomers are increasingly spread across multiple channels of fashion product. Their success shows the importance of reaching customers retailing, customer engagement is now every business’ priority through multiple contact points, and providing meaningful expe- (French et al., 2012). Customer engagement goes beyond manag- rience through visible cues that reflect the consumers’ identities, ing different channels, as it motivates customers to invest in an lifestyles, and interests, which reinforce symbolic and social val- ongoing relationship with a product or service (French et al., 2012).
ues, and generate emotional responses (Hamedie, 2011). Over the past years, a wide range of fashion retail companies have To enable customers to have experiences of a product before tried to address customer engagement in more integrated ways; yet, purchase, an increasing number of fashion retailers have begun to companies are struggling to determine appropriate business offer a “test drive” of the brand experience. It is thus apparent that approaches as the spectrum of consumer’s brand choices is broader some of the elements of the service or the product must be sim- ulated. Edvardsson and Enquist (2010) suggest that the simulation of all or part of an experience has been referred to as “hyper-real- ity”. Drawn from the concept of “hyper-reality” as “. . . the multi- Tel. +1-940-565-4109, Fax. +1-940-565-4348 sensory, fantasy and emotive aspects of one’s experience” (Hirsh- 한국의류산업학회지 제15권 제1호, 2013년 man & Holbrook, 1982), several scholars have suggested that ing the six experience rooms from customer review comments drawn “hyper-reality” refers to a simulated (or partially simulated) service from Amazon.com. Identifying dimensions of customer engagement reality (Baudrillard, 1994; Edvardsson et al., 2005; Grove & Fisk, in the Snuggie case will provide the insights on utilizing customers’ 1997; Martin, 2004; Venkatesh, 1999). Indeed, such “hyper-real” brand and product experiences on social media. (or simulated) experiences are common in many retail services par- ticularly in social media. The ability to create compelling experi- ences on social media depends on the successful facilitation of e- WOM (Chu & Kim, 2011), which leads to creative, communica- tive and interactive engagements in discrete experience rooms.
Social media is a group of internet-based applications that build This experiential perspective expands the scope of online consumer on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, behavior and provides practical applications of brand experience allowing the creation and exchange of User Generated Content research to the marketplace. Therefore, given Snuggie’s viral (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Within this general definition, there power in conjunction with its integration with pop culture, exam- are various types of social media such as Wikipedia, YouTube, ining customer engagement exposed in social media may provide Facebook, Second Life as well as blogs, twitters and many brands’ potentials to promote brands to diversified global market segments.
websites that need to be distinguished further. Regardless of types Online customer reviews have been found to improve customer of social media, it allows consumers to feel emotionally connected, perception of social presence of the brand or product (Kumar & helps brands to achieve their marketing goals through storytelling, Benbasat, 2006). Reviews have the potential to attract consumer and establishes a personal connection with a brand (Singer, 2011).
visits, increase the time spent on the site, and create a sense of com- Brands can aim for maximum viral effects among engaged cus- munity among frequent shoppers (Mudambi & Schuff, 2010).
tomers as social media allows customers to engage, seek, share, Compared to other online retailers or social media such as eBay or and create individual stories regarding brands (Divol et al., 2012).
Snuggie’s official website, Amazon.com is ideal for customer Although a few studies try to comprehend reliable experience engagement as its instantaneous platform enables customers to cre- dimensions relevant to social media, many scholars and practitio- ate, share, exchange and comment among themselves (Layton, ners are perplexed about its effectiveness; whether a social media 2012). Amazon customers actively share their opinions and stories platform can drive everything from customer relationships to prod- by leaving their review comments, which incorporates the value of uct development, or if it is just another marketing tool. customer reviews as part of the product or brand descriptions.
When relational resources (e.g., trust, norm of reciprocity and Aamzon.com has become the leading source of product reviews social identity) are optimized within the virtual social networks, which lures more customers into the brand’s website (Mudambi & these motivate consumers to voluntarily share and gather infor- Schuff, 2010). Further, the customer review system of Ama- mation in order to reduce uncertainty, gain insights into knowledge zon.com strategically allows customers to get engaged as it encour- shared in the virtual learning communities, and consume and ages them to respond to others’ reviews. For example, after each obtain services (Koh et al., 2007; Wu & Liu, 2007). This process of customer review, Amazon.com asks, “Was this review helpful to building commitment is often referred to as engagement (Mathwick you?” and provides helpfulness information alongside the review et al., 2008). Many scholars (Brown & Duguid, 1991; Nahapiet & (e.g., “26 of 31 people found the following review helpful”). Ghoshal, 1998; Wasko & Faraj, 2005) explicate engagement expe- If information, consumption, and experiences are intersecting riences as a critical element of virtual behavior, emphasizing the across the global market, the global fashion industry can make an role of information gathering, knowledge sharing and interactive informed decision and gain tools for predicting, measuring, and learning. Not only are users able to share information with virtual configuring this uncharted experiential paradigm. Yet, generalized friends with common interests (Blanchard, 2004; Haubl & Trifts, knowledge from the conventional consumer behavior paradigm 2000; Sismeiro & Bucklin, 2004), but also make contributions to makes it difficult to address inimitable nature of multifaceted cus- knowledge building within the virtual community (Humphreys & tomer engagement (Kim, 2012). In order to understand customer Grayson, 2008; Ritzer & Jurgenson, 2010). experiential engagement in social media, this study employs While the practitioners' view of engagement has focused on the Edvardsson and Enquist (2010) conceptualization of six experi- outcome such as attaining a competitive advantage (Roberts & Laf- ence rooms in hyper-reality contexts. By focusing on the Snuggie ley, 2005), the scholarly view tends to use other constructs to assess case, this study aims at (1) exploring the underlying dimensions of the consumer engagement experience. Mollen and Wilson (2010) customer engagement in the Snuggie consumption; and (2) identify- have recently defined the online engagement as a cognitive and Profiling Customer Engagement with “Snuggie” Experience in Social Media affective commitment to an active relationship with the brand as personified by the website or other computer-mediated entities It pertains to physical signs, symbols, and infrastructures designed to communicate brand value. In addition, the definition of necessary to create the physical attributes of the “experience room” engagement is enriched to behavioral manifestation toward a brand (Arnould et al., 1998; Bitner, 1992; Edvardsson et al., 2005; Nor- beyond purchase (Vivek et al., 2012). Besides the conception of mann, 2001; Venkatesh, 1999). Physical artifacts of experience emotional engagement as cognitive processes of reasoning, deci- room might directly influence customer experience across diverse sion-making, problem-solving, and evaluation (Kearsley & Schnei- type of brands, products, and stores features. For example, Bitner derman, 1998), engagement is defined in relation to users’ (1992) suggests that the physical environment of store conveys behavioral stance as repeated interactions (Sedley, 2010), knowl- implicit and explicit signals about the place to communicate with edge co-creation (Sawhney et al., 2005), and event or activity par- ticipation (Vivek et al., 2012). However, customer virtual engage- ment has not yet been fully developed into a construct as a dynamic, tiered spectrum which can capture consumer’s virtual It stands for the non-physical infrastructure that includes mental behavior (Doorn et al., 2010; Vivek et al., 2012). images, brand reputation, narratives, norms, themes, and values Customers tend to engage with social media when they perceive (Bitner, 1992; Normann, 2001). Intangible components induce a a balance between intrinsically pleasing tasks and self-reinforce- positive experience and are often perceived as brand message that ment with the prerequisite of seamless virtual experience that conveys company’s culture and strategy. They let individual or allows them to navigate, search, and experience products or ser- groups of customers imagine positive feelings and value that brand, vices. However, current literature lacks the examinations of multi- products and service can generate. Experiences through pictures, faceted virtual experiences that incorporate engagement, emotion, movies, music, and activities in relating product and service can cognition and behavior. In addition, there are limited studies focus- help customers envisage and create a realistic pre-purchase ing on brand experience in individual contexts that direct web experience; thus, they can be considered as intangible artifacts usage outcomes. Therefore, this study aims to conceptualize cus- (Edvardsson et al., 2005). Direct and indirect influences of intan- tomer brand engagement which has discrete underlying experience gible artifacts are well represented in many symbolic and luxury rooms following the framework of Edvardsson and Enquist (2010).
brand experience. Edvardsson et al.(2005) suggest that catalog influences customer engagement directly and indirectly, as an 2.2. Six experience rooms in social media Customer experience is defined as a customer’s subjective inter- pretation of their experience with a brand (Frow & Payne, 2007).
When the fashion retail company becomes customer experience It refers to the technological equipment with which customers oriented, the company changes from the traditional marketing to a interact, either actively or passively (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, holistic approach to co-creation of customer experience. For a pos- 2003; Venkatesh, 1999). While technology is often perceived as the itive customer experience, Gentile et al.(2007) suggest that cus- tool of information and communication apparatus, scholars tomers should have multidimensional experience composing of (Edvardsson et al., 2005) suggest that technology can provide cognition, affect and sensation, which depends largely on interac- hyper-reality through simulations. Indeed, such “hyper-real” (or tion between customer and brand. Thus, brand must provide the simulated) experiences are common in many “everyday” virtual necessary stimuli and the right context for this co-creation of expe- services. For example, people experience a travel destination or a hotel by experiencing a virtual tour in which experience is simu- In this necessity, many brands offer test-drives or pre-purchase lated in various ways while others visit an online store of a fashion experience of their products and service while providing informa- brand to experience simulated settings and events of various sorts.
tion through brochures, videos, or website. Recently, Edvardsson These experiences and settings are engineered to allow consumers and Enquist (2010) developed the concept of the “experience to vicariously experience brands, products or services. As such, a rooms,” in which test-drives take place. They specify six dimen- customer’s interaction with hyper-reality can create an experience sions of “experience rooms” in physical or virtual environments as that is more distinct, unambiguous, powerful, and believable, follow: physical artifacts, intangible artifacts, technology, customer which ultimately impacts customer purchasing behaviors. Tech- placement, customer involvement, and interaction with employees.
nology also conveys the quality perception through meaning, 한국의류산업학회지 제15권 제1호, 2013년 arousal, and excitement from the activities and the service process.
rooms. Many customers perceive the personal interactions as main Particularly, self-service technology may change the role of the drivers of their experience and significant factors of their decision customer with regard to the co-production and co-creation of expe- making in the physical store. Thus, companies should provide riences (Edvardsson et al., 2005; Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2003).
opportunities for the customers to interact with its employees in the When consumers co-create the brand experience through their “experience room”, even through web sites (Edvardsson & social relationship within a virtual community, they virtually engage in searching, sharing, creating, purchasing, and entertaining behaviors. These intersecting roles between consumers and pro- ducers, which often lead to collaboration among consumers, are becoming popular in social network sites such as Facebook and By employing content analysis of customer reviews, the quali- tative study explored customers’ Snuggie experience incorporated in the social media, Amazon.com. The content analysis is pertinent It refers to the precondition for interactions with others and prod- to assess average phenomena of a culture (Shaw, 1984). Countless uct, and the creation of service encounters and events in a defined word clusters have been compared to determine patterns of ideas physical and hyper-real environment in which the customer is and themes and to make valid inferences from comments (Ander- placed and staged (Edvardsson et al., 2005). Customer placement son et al., 2001). In relation to the Snuggie brand or product, a total focuses on extrinsic experiences associated with consumer’s cog- of 742 customer reviews posted on Amazon.com during six months from September 2011 to February 2012 was retrieved.
Upon compiling all reviews and deleting redundancies, a total of 364 responses were compiled for the content analysis. By con- Involvement results from an interaction between person, ducting the constant comparative method and open coding (Kim et stimulus, and situation (Swaminathan et al., 1996). Customer al., 2007), broad themes were identified, and then subthemes were involvement relates to connections or references per minute that the traced and analyzed to create a unit of meaning. Following the viewer makes between his own life and stimulus. Edvardsson et al.
elimination of superfluous phrases and sentences, themes and sub- (2005) focus on how individual customers engage with preferable themes were coded. After the coding of each review, relationships experiences from the interaction with services and situations. between themes and subthemes for each question across review comments were analyzed and conceptually labeled. Eleven key words were extracted and grouped, applying the Interaction with employees has a strong impact on customer framework of six experience rooms (Edvardsson & Enquist, 2010) experience (Edvardsson & Enquist, 2010). It refers to the with inter-coder reliability of 0.86 to verify the accuracy and reli- consumers’ ability to interact with service providers to gain useful ability of the coding. Upon compromising the disparities between information for the potential purchase decision in the “experience two coders, as a result, five experience rooms were identified as room.” Interaction with employees can be a crucial dimension for “physical artifacts”, “customer involvement”, “intangible arti- some service contexts, in such case as the physical stores and show facts”, “technology”, and “customer placement” (Table 1).
PA5: "Excellent quality compare to the cheap price" PA10: "I like the pocket in the front!" PA23: "I recommend this item to all Cowboy lovers" IA1: "I like it, it is very warm and smuggly" Shipping services & Ordering services T7: "Item was ship very fast to my residence" CP1: "Perfect for a cold evening at TV or a nap in the aftemoon" CI1: "This was the perfect Chrismas gift" CI12: "It was a great Christas gift for my mom and in-laws, also my Profiling Customer Engagement with “Snuggie” Experience in Social Media Interestingly, the second experience room is depicted as “cus- tomer involvement” (n=73) with the key words of seasonal gift By examining Snuggie customers’ responses posted in Ama- occasions and family connection memories intrinsically. Many zon.com, this study profiles five experience rooms where custom- female consumers purchase Snuggie as a Christmas gift to their ers experience products, services, and brand significantly and family for fun memories of wearing it together. “I ordered eight of meaningfully. Expressively (Table 2), it was hardly expected to these as gifts” (CI21). “Bought four Snuggies from Amazon.com” expose the experience room of “Interaction with employees” due to (CI18). “This was a gift from my cousin this year” (CI54). “I pur- Snuggie’s virtual social networking context.
chase the Snuggie for my wife as a sort of gimmicky gift for Christ- A total of 168 responses (46.15%) posted in Amazon.com is mas” (CI7). “This was the perfect Christmas gift” (CI1). “It was a related to the “physical artifacts” experience room with key words great Christmas gift for my mom and in-laws, also my husband got of materials, quality, price, design, and pattern/prints in conjunction one and he loves it” (CI12). “I saw one on Amazon.com and got it with their preference. The salient response (n=64) concentrates the for my daughter’s Christmas gift and she likes it and I bought a product attributes of thickness, texture, length, and size: “very thin couple more for gifts more my young niece and nephew” (CI29).
and slippery” (PA1); “the fleece is thin that a little light passes” “One year for Christmas, my mom thought she was cute and funny (PA25); and “the fabric looks very good” (PA15). The second and got me and my husband Snuggie” (CI5).
group of response (n=40) highlights customers' satisfaction over For the third experience room, a total of 15.11 % (n=55) the quality and the price of Snuggie product: “excellent quality responses refers to “intangible artifacts” reflecting two key words compares to the cheap price” (PA5); and “it is well cut and sewn of comfortableness and warmth, which are of mental images of properly” (PA55). The third response group (n=36) describes the Snuggie. Interestingly, customers highly value Snuggie when they design feature such as open back and big pocket. Some customers are satisfied with intangible artifacts (comfortableness and warmth) like the design, while others do not like the design and feel uncom- in conjunction with physical artifacts (quality and price). “I like it, fortable: “I like the pocket in the front!” (PA10); “it’s better than a it is very warm and snuggly” (IA1). “Very soft and comfortable” robe because it cover your feet” (PA67); and “it’s really nice to be (IA16). “Just enjoy the warmth!” (IA27). “Great for staying warm 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” With key words of shipping and ordering services efficiencies (PA79). The fourth group of responses (n=28) describes their pref- based on the advancement of technology, a total of 12.09 % cus- erence for their favorite sports-team prints over personal favorite tomers (n=44) consider the fourth experience room as “technol- colors or patterns. “Gift for my parents who have been huge Packer ogy” experience which emphasizes the technological convenience fans” (PA120). “This is also his favorite team” (PA115). “I rec- and effectiveness. When Snuggie products arrive at the right time, ommend this item to all Cowboy lovers” (PA23). “I recommend the extent of customer satisfaction and involvement are increased.
this product because it can be customized for many different sports Since many customers purchase Snuggie as seasonal gifts, cus- tomer satisfaction is directly related to the on-time shipping. Cus- Table 2. Profiling of five experience rooms The physical products of materials, quality, price, Snuggie is positioning to the customer(s)' seasonal gift occasions and family connection memories.
The non-physical which refers to mental images of Snuggie such as comfortableness and warmth.
The technology convenience and effectiveness in shipping When customers look the picture of Snuggie while they are 한국의류산업학회지 제15권 제1호, 2013년 tomers also believe the ordering effectiveness is derived from sions and family connection memories. It is identical in many ways technology. “Thank you, the package arrived on said date and even to the types of consumption collectivities that marketers and though the packaging was a bit buster up the content inside seems researchers are interested in cultures and brand communities (Kozi- fine and looks of nice quality” (T2). “Item was ship very fast to my nets et al., 2008). When customers share their Snuggie experiences residence” (T7). “The merchandise arrived in great condition in a in the customer involvement room, Amazon.com bridges an indi- vidual customer experience to the collective context in which The fifth experience room is “customer placement” experience Snuggie combines memories and profit, adult-like utility and the based on 29 responses (9.97 %) with the key word of pre-look pic- ture. When customers look the picture of Snuggie product while Besides two core experience rooms, intangible artifacts, tech- they are shopping in Amazon.com, they want to use it during win- nology, and customer placement experience rooms support cus- ter for their comfort at home, and/or to buy it for gift of specific tomers’ interaction with other customers, products, and service occasions. Consumers interact with other customers, products, and encounters in a defined physical and hyper-real environment where service encounters in a defined physical and hyper-real environ- customers are placed and staged (Sherry, 1995).
ment (Sherry, 1995). “I used it all of last winter, and now am using However, this study is not able to explicate the experience room it again, as even in North Florida we find ourselves in below freez- of “interaction with employees” due to Snuggie’s product and ser- ing temps” (CP17). “Perfect for a cold evening at TV or a nap in vice feature provided from Amazon.com. The conceptualization of five experience rooms is consistent with the initial study (Edvard- sson et al., 2005) of the prepurchase service experience. Never- theless, Edvardsson and Enquist (2010) recently emphasized “interaction with employees” experience dimension in analyzing Customer’s engagements in social media are becoming increas- the IKEA showroom and the MBA program experiences since ingly recognized as the driving force behind many of the fashion many customers perceive personal interactions as key drivers and retail companies. By employing the experience room perspective significant factors in their decision making (Edvardsson & Enquist, of Edvardsson and Enquist (2010) in the virtual context, this study 2010). Indeed, fashion retail companies designing “test drives” in profiles the emerging sentiment of customer engagement with a social media should enhance opportunities for interaction, even via brand in social media. The presence of customer reviews on social media has been shown to improve customer perception of the use- Nowadays, various social media outlets (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, fulness and social presence (Kumar & Benbasat, 2006). Upon ana- Instagram) are available to engage customers to become brand lyzing a total of 364 customer responses about Snuggie in fans. In this environment, profiling the social media experience Amazon.com, five experience rooms were exposed. “Physical arti- could be a useful tool for brands (Divol et al., 2012). Such profiling facts” and “customer involvement” are influential experience should be hardwired into the business to shorten response times rooms which signify interactions between products and customers, during real and potential crises, complement internal metrics and while “intangible artifacts”, “technology” and “customer place- traditional tracking research on brand performance, give consumer ment” reflects a lower degree of experiential engagement with feedback into the product-development process, and serve as a plat- Sunggie brand. In addition, the eleven key words pertain to mar- form for testing customer reactions. More customer interactions keting implication for fashion retail brand in the social media envi- across multiple touch points are shaping the degree of consumer Sunggie customers mostly engaged in tangible artifacts of prod- This study provides a theoretical foundation for understanding uct including thickness, texture, length, and size. This finding is the concepts of customer engagement in social media. However, consistent with many conventional studies despite the currency of given the exploratory nature of this approach, there are limitations new product and new market environment. For example, Abra- in generalizing these findings. First, the purposive sampling from a ham-Murali and Littrell (1995) argued that styling was the influ- particular brand (i.e., Snuggie) from a single social media (i.e., ential factor in purchase intention followed by fabric, color/pattern/ Amazon.com) limits the generalization of the research by texture, and construction. Due to the unique features of Snuggie restricting the number of experienced customers incorporated in product and Amazon.com’s virtual nature, tangible artifacts often the study. A sampling of customers of various different brands in affect consumer perception and purchase intention. The second the same product category may lead to in depth results. Further, experience room is customer involvement with seasonal gift occa- cultural and case specific discrepancies need to be considered in Profiling Customer Engagement with “Snuggie” Experience in Social Media future studies. Second, upon reviewing the various dimensions of on customers and employees. Journal of Marketing, 56(2), 57-71. customer experience through social media, the multi-dimensionality Blanchard, A. (2004). Virtual behavior settings: An application of behavior setting theories to virtual communities. Journal of may better capture the multi-faceted relationship resources Computer Mediated Communication, 9(2). doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.
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