The profound words by Lori Ruff that “Social media is here. It’s not going away; not passing fad. Be where your customers are. In social media.” There has been a massive investment in social/marketing communication mechanisms by both start-ups and giants across all sectors of our global economy. This is a progressive revolution in promoting dialogue and negotiation between the customers and suppliers in brand consumption. Remember it takes two to tango where the SME should share on the social media what is being offered by the brand at the same time receiving responses from all the prospective customers through likes and orders. Unlike in the past where there was marketing myopia such that the producer was the key decision maker in consumption (by producing what he/she thinks will sell but not what the customers want/need). A recipe for disaster to say. We reflect on the evolution of marketing and agree that social media for branding has changed the landscape. Now we are into relationship marketing were machines talk to themselves and to us spearheading profitable brand decisions. Let’s move with this ascendancy as a bandwagon towards real brand visibility, otherwise we will be left alone in the saga.
Some SMEs in the tourism industry are yet to realise the gains of such a move (and it’s not too late to practice). Here we fuse brand management for tourism SMEs with social media publicity. Where various social and digitally networked modes/tools should been applied in order to communicate and sell tourism brands to the rest of the world. We then infuse and go beyond as we inform how a stronger brand equity for tourism SMEs can be achieved through a well-crafted social media brand strategy.
As announced in some of our previous editions we apply brands in order to improve the value of our businesses in all aspects (mainly profitability that goes into generations). It is no longer only about the figures and balances in our books of accounts but social capitalisation. Some may simplify it to goodwill. When we equate projection of our promises with perceptions of our markets through online-wired and agreed negotiations in the age of digitalisation. It is imperative to note that the traditional brand equity variables still apply in the enterprising for tourism. Now we add-on a flair for the needed well-calculated and networked speed in reaching all potential customers.
As thriving players in the tourism sector there is need to have a positive brand image, high brand awareness, positive perception of the brand quality, high brand loyalty/followership and creation lasting brand associations. The nature of this industry is relationships driven where every visitor should be converted into an advocate/ambassador through talks and proven excellence. This should remain a fact that the tourism nature is people driven hence social networking should lead to brand sustainability in this techno-driven global village. I will not leave my enterprising colleagues becoming extinct through ignorance where social media has proven to be part of our daily constructive mobility from home to the public. We should apply this in our brand marketing as a matter of urgency. Let’s revolutionise brand equity for tourism SMEs through a synergised socio-tech approach in this age.
To start with is the social media for tourism SMEs brand image. Image is the igniter for brand vibrancy/advocacy (all other issues follow). As a matter of fact the tourism enterprising is highly prone to negative image than any other type of industry. This is due to traditional gossips that have been converted if not fashioned into e-word of mouth as techno-driven semantics. Such that now we should reconfigure our brand image strategies riding on specific aspects of the social media for brand marketing communications. The task of an entrepreneur at this juncture is to find and develop those elements/designs/graphics that talk purity of the business and all its belongings then embed them with specific social media communication platforms/tools. It will be difficult to escape under any circumstance when muddling of image comes into play (it will be like a veld fire and unstoppable). Hence, there is need for a hybrid social media brand strategy that always defend such surprises. Here we talk about the offerings, people, partnerships, franchises, achievement and excellence amongst other critical cogs. Let the social media talk about these tourism aspects as they lead in creation of a positive brand. These are the same components that your brand competitors will leverage on in taking you out of the market.
Then we come to the most talked about but with little practise brand awareness. This to me is a movement towards positive brand popularity. Where the tourism operator and its promises is able to reach every potential tourist (locally and globally). When it comes to relaxation and memorable experience your brand should be the first to come into the mind of the tourist. This is what social media in its all packages/forms has managed to escalate through its widespread connectivity. Of course some of our offerings require us to be for a specific targeted niche/segment but with awareness there is no point in time you will say it enough and done. You will become unstoppable. We are talking of that awareness which is sustainable to capture the hearts and souls of both the current and future generations. This is when your website content talks novelty and continued upgrade as the heartbeat of the SME’s existence. Some of the SMEs in this sectors have deliberately limited their brand awareness and existence as they either post little information that can even go for some time without upgrading or totally do not have a website (seriously in this age!). It’s too wrong for this era where social media can even ride on your mobile gadgets and software like Whatsapp, Twitter, Pinterest and any other. The task here is to make sure that every member of the tourism SME (from the general employees to executives/owners) is part of the social branding strategy in this electronic massification. You will find that some of your employees do not even have a cell phone that connects to the wide world through digitalisation (looks like the Iron Age way of managing brand publicity). Invest and provide them as they are part of the locomotive for supreme awareness through digitalised socialisation). The gains here are more than a multiplier. Have the most strongest, quick and reliable internet. As aforementioned it takes two to tango in the market, yourself and the customers. This through giving them more than adequate information about your brand and you being searchable by a click of the button when they plan/shop for a superb touristic experience.
This is an ongoing saga which we cannot exhaust in this edition alone but to continue in the next editions As we further look at other brand equity variables for tourism enterprising driven by social media. Today I leave you to make self-evaluation and reconsider social media in tourism business not as a gatekeeper but game changer and heart for extensive brand tourism visibility.
- Dr Farai Chigora is a businessman and academic. He is the Head of Business Science at the Africa University’s College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance. His doctoral research focused on business administration (destination marketing and branding major, UKZN, SA). He is into agribusiness and consults for many companies in Zimbabwe and Africa. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted for feedback and business at firstname.lastname@example.org, WhatsApp mobile: +263772886871.
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