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Jay I. SinhaDomino’s Pizza has cultivated 10 million Facebook followers. Target’s page has collected 20 million. And Nabisco’s Oreo cookie page exceeds 40 million Facebook likes.

Such large numbers demonstrate a shift toward social media marketing and the expanding role of commercial branding in today’s online world, according to Dr. Jay I. Sinha, an Associate Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

Sinha’s latest research publication, “The Risks and Rewards of Brand Personification Using Social Media,” which appeared in the Boston Globe and MIT Sloan Management Review, digs into social media’s role in rewriting the consumer-producer relationship for today’s top brands. More than 92 percent of marketers responded in 2014 that social media marketing is important for their businesses, and 80 percent indicated these efforts increase traffic to their websites, Sinha noted.

“Social media marketing is the new big thing,” Sinha said. “It allows a company to stay close to its customers, being responsive, engaging them, and evolving with them through time.”

Tweeting its core values or responding to Facebook comments about a new product gives a company a human-like presence, Sinha said. This personification, he added, deepens consumer loyalty and buyer-conversion rates, or the number of consumers making online purchases. So whether it’s an international company like Domino’s Pizza, or a hyper-local grocery store chain, photographs, hashtags, and followers are a part of the new normative advertising pattern.

“In the past, a satisfied customer typically told three other people, while a dissatisfied customer griped to 11 people,” Sinha said. “Nowadays, each has the potential to tell the entire world – by virtue of being on social media.

The globalization of online marketing, to Sinha, emphasizes the need for well-written, interesting and visually appealing content. He indicates Whole Foods’ strategy on Instagram that focuses on striking food photography with the use of no captions, while Target uses #tbt, or ThrowbackThursday, to promote its 1980s-inspired fashion line.

Sinha notes the line between trendy and offensive, however, can be a tipping point.

“Firms should not regard social media as the space where they can emulate private individuals and espouse extreme viewpoints, launch attacks against business rivals, or castigate those who post negative reviews,” he said. “This is off-putting and unprofessional.”

To diminish the chance for error, using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest as primary social media platforms is enough, Sinha indicated, as many users are engaged with just two or three of those sites. He also urged firms to cultivate the smartphone app market with which millennials, or those between the ages of 18 and 35, are engaged. YouTube, he continued, is a way to corner members of the baby-boomer generation who aren’t as engaged on Facebook or Twitter.

Expanding on social media brand personification, Sinha said he is currently researching the “culture-jacking” phenomenon, which refers to a company’s attachment of itself to a trending topic in order to increase followers. Companies’ successes with this tactic, Sinha noted, is not foolproof, as there are several documented missteps.

“All of this shows that companies need to use social media with proper judgment and planning, and steer clear of topics that may be remotely controversial,” Sinha said.

Photo of Dr. Xueming Luo
Dr. Xueming Luo

There’s a crucial strategy in online advertising that could revolutionize the way marketing agencies target online consumers, according to Fox School of Business researcher.

Dr. Xueming Luo studied how the strategy of competitor-poaching in online advertising influences consumer behavior. His most-recent publication on the topic was named Best Track Paper in Social Media & Digital Marketing at the 2015 American Marketing Association Winter Educator Conference Feb. 14 in San Antonio, Texas. It also received the conference’s honorable-mention distinction among all submissions.

Competitor-poaching in online advertising is responsible for why consumers can search the term “iPhone” using Google’s search engine, and corresponding ads for the Samsung Galaxy, Apple’s closest competitor, will appear, said Luo, Professor of Marketing, Strategy, and Management Information Systems. In his research, Luo uncovered that this strategy results in “clicks wasted,” as consumers glance over the competitor’s ads while remaining loyal to their initial preferences.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Luo said. “You can increase the impression of the competitor’s brand, but you cannot get consumers to purchase the poaching brand.”

This effect is partly seen because online consumers often develop specific brand loyalties by word of mouth or from reviews that sites like Amazon and Google provide, he said. Firms, Luo found, seek to continually build brand equity and increase positive socialization around their products in order to thwart attempts at online poaching.

“Online poaching impresses non-loyal customers, but fails to get more sales conversion from customers who have high loyalty to the brand under attack” Luo said.

Asking a consumer why they want or prefer a certain product or brand, and how price influences their decisions, can help clarify what incentivizes shoppers, Luo said. Marketing agencies should then target their competitor’s keywords with advertisements that include discounts, he suggested, to capture consumer curiosity.

“To switch consumers from a brand, you need a deeper incentive, such as a 30-percent discount,” Luo said. “If you do this the wrong way, you’ll waste your money. That method can only engender clicks, but not sales conversion.”

This research, Luo said, is a part of his greater interest in how online marketing interweaves big-data analytics, mobile strategies, and consumer insights. As founder of the Global Center on Big Data in Mobile Analytics, which is housed at the Fox School, Luo is interested in investigating how big data gleaned from search engines reveal varying patterns in the evolving sphere of online ads and mobile targeting.

“This is a great way to outsmart competitors and connect customers for superior company performance,” Luo said.

A PhD student from Temple University’s Fox School of Business proved she can stand out in a crowd. Michelle Andrews received the Best Conference Paper Award at the 2014 American Marketing Association Summer Educator Conference Aug. 2 in San Francisco.

Andrews’ paper, titled, “Using Mobile Technology to Crowdsense,” employed crowdedness as an environmental factor that affects how people respond to mobile advertisements. The study for her research paper, which was co-authored by Xueming Luo, a Professor of Marketing in the Fox School’s Marketing and Supply Chain Management department, was conducted within subway trains.

In the context of a subway train, the measurement of crowdedness – a sometimes-abstract entity in research, Andrews remarks – becomes more precise.

“The reason we chose the subway train context was that it was unique,” said Andrews, who will earn her PhD in Marketing from the Fox School in Spring 2015. “During a subway commute, you’re surrounded by others in a public environment with little to do.”

Andrews, who signed a non-disclosure agreement regarding her research paper, could not specify which specific subway system she used for her research paper, but noted it was located in southeastern China, where, as Andrews pointed out, subways are mobile-equipped. That enabled Andrews and her co-authors to determine the number of mobile users within the specific dimensions of a subway train.

“We predicted crowdedness would increase immersion into mobile devices,” she explained. “We found that in congested trains, purchase rates were significantly higher than in uncongested ones.”

Andrews’ winning paper was co-authored by Zheng Fang, of China’s Sichuan University and Anindya Ghose, of New York University.

Also at the conference, Andrews’ research papers earned two further distinctions. The same paper that received the conference’s overall Best Paper Award also garnered the Best Track Paper Award in the Digital Marketing & Social Media track. Another of her research papers, titled “The Effectiveness of Cause Marketing” received the Best Track Paper Award in the Social Responsibility & Sustainability track.

“Michelle is so hard-working and innovative in her thinking for what’s coming next for the Marketing discipline, and the Best Conference Paper Award recognizes her for that,” Dr. Luo said. “Hopefully, this significant award will be influential, not only for our school but also for marketing on the whole, in demonstrating how to connect with consumers anytime, anywhere.”