Brands are investing heavily in content marketing within digital communication channels, yet there is limited understanding of the effectiveness of this content on consumer engagement. This paper aims to examine how consumer engagement with branded content is created through consumer-initiated online brand communities (OBCs) and brand-initiated digital content marketing (DCM) communications. Self-brand connections are examined as an important antecedent to the cognitive, affective, behavioural and social dimensions of consumer engagement and the subsequent impact of engagement on loyalty is explored across these two channels.
A survey approach was used with two consumer samples for one focal retail brand, namely, a consumer-initiated OBC (Facebook) and email subscribers of the retail brand’s DCM communications. A multi-group analysis of structural invariance procedure was used to comparatively examine the formation of engagement for consumers within the OBC and DCM channels.
This study demonstrates the different ways in which engagement forms across different digital communication channels. Self-brand connection (SBC) was found to strongly drive behavioural, cognitive, affective and social engagement. The cognitive, affective and behavioural engagement was found to mediate the self-brand connection and consumer loyalty relationship. Overall, this relationship was most strongly and significantly mediated by affective and cognitive engagement within the OBC channel when compared to the DCM channel.
The findings of this study should be interpreted with several limitations in mind. First, the research was conducted within the confines of one OBC, within one social networking site platform characterised by self-selected membership based on a passion and immersion with the brand. This means that consumers within the OBC were highly connected to one another and the retail brand and highly socialised in-group norms and mores. This type and intensity of connection may not be the case for all forms of OBCs. Second, this study was limited to one retail brand, from one brand category. Future research should examine OBCs across a range of utilitarian and hedonic brands to comprehensively contextualise the dimensions of engagement. Third, the data for this study was cross-sectional. The use of netnographic analysis and qualitative interviews across a range of OBCs would support the triangulation of the findings of this research, especially with regard to the narrative that consumers’ express when discussing how their SBC manifests through the dimensions of engagement. Fourth, this study explored a single antecedent of engagement, namely, self-brand connections. Future research may consider how SBC operates in conjunction with other complementary factors to enhance consumers’ affective, cognitive, social and behavioural engagement such as brand awareness, satisfaction and participation/interactivity. In addition, future research could examine an expanded array of engagement outcomes such as purchase intention, the share of wallet and reputation. Finally, future research should examine the operationalisation and validation of the dimensions of engagement using multiple competing scales to assess the suitability of these engagement scales across multiple brand categories and contexts.
Given the increasing investment in branding within social media and the fragmentation of brand communications across multiple communications platforms, the management of effective brand communications remains a significant challenge. This study found that the relationship between self-brand connections, affective, social, behavioural and cognitive engagement and loyalty was context-specific and moderated by a digital communication channel (OBC vs DCM email marketing), thus providing insights as to the effectiveness of OBCs and DCMs as two tools for enhancing consumer loyalty.
This study makes a novel contribution to the engagement literature by examining the antecedent role of self-brand connections in predicting consumers’ engagement; the moderating role of digital communication platforms (OBC vs DCM) on the formation of cognitive, affective, behavioural and social engagement; and the mediating effect of these dimensions on loyalty.
Bowden, J. and Mirzaei, A. (2021), "Consumer engagement within retail communication channels: an examination of online brand communities and digital content marketing initiatives", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 55 No. 5, pp. 1411-1439. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-01-2018-0007
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