By Dr Hongzhi Gao and Dr Mary Tate, Victoria University of Wellington
A new era of marketing with consumers has certainly come. Social media as a powerful tool to connect family, colleagues and friends together, has drawn increasing attention from marketing and information systems researchers and practitioners. In the context of New Zealand tourism, promoting New Zealand through social media channels in China is proving to be an effective way to reach key target markets in China as reported by Tourism New Zealand.
However, more needs to be done to engage with Chinese in-bound tourists via social media and online channels. While reaching potential tourists in China is certainly a good way of employing social media, more can be done to extend and deepen our relationships with past, present and future visitors to New Zealand. We need to engage with in-bound tourists to create positive impressions of the New Zealand travel experience and then translate those positive experiences into a powerful word of mouth influence to other travellers in China. This is a key area that marketing and information science researchers are interested in exploring and investigating on social media channels. This is still an untapped but potentially fertile ground for the New Zealand tourism industry to engage with Chinese visitors.
Dr Mary Tate and Dr Hongzhi Gao from Victoria University have formed a research group by partnering with researchers in China to develop a social media analysis tool to assist the New Zealand tourism and food industry to capture, categorize and analyse how travel and food experiences in New Zealand may contribute to a strong New Zealand country brand in China. Value co-creation is the key concept underlying the social media marketing strategy. Experience sharing is the most critical part of social consumption/value co-creation with regard to a new product/service. The sharing puts the experiential value in use; thereby contributing to the overall value of the product brand. A critical question is how the industry or brand can encourage their customers to share their positive experiences with others via social media. Especially for younger consumers, experience sharing through social media, after touring experiences, is highly influential on attitudes and behaviours towards products and brands. Another important issue is the consistency of social media conversations. If the potential target market receives contradictory accounts of the New Zealand experience via social media, this will largely reduce the effect of social media marketing. Consistent experiences and brand value communications across multiple channels including social media will reinforce the overall value of “New Zealand Inc.”
Social media can also be used to offset negative perceptions of the country brand. The recent social media analysis by Dr Hongzhi Gao, Vallen Han and Simon Young as reported by Victoria University, has found social media posts originating from New Zealand sent a clear message to consumers in China after the Fonterra food scare, that New Zealand is safe and trustworthy. This message is really powerful to many Chinese consumers as it comes from trustworthy channels of Weibo and WeiXin that connect them to the people they personally know from New Zealand who have the first hand experience with the food safety and quality standards of New Zealand. It will be reasonable to expect that this social media response to the food scandal may also have impact on those Chinese in-bound tourists who may initially have hesitated to come to New Zealand due to the negative publicity of New Zealand in this scandal.
In short, a lot needs to be done to find out how social media can be leveraged to co-create value with customers and consumers. Social media has certainly offered an innovative marketing approach to the tourism industry. Now is the time for the industries in New Zealand to have an evaluation of their own social media strategy to engage with Chinese consumers. Tourism broadly impacts all parts of the economy and presents a key component of the New Zealand country brand. It is also the time for us to think about and evaluate how tourism and food industries may be better coordinated and strategically aligned to offer a greater experience for Chinese in-bound tourists and engage with these tourists, potential brand ambassadors and country advocates in China, to co-develop a strong New Zealand brand in China.
For more information contact:
Dr Hongzhi Gao on 021 113 0518 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Mary Tate on 04 463-5265 or email email@example.com
Nov 3, 2013