This paper explores the issue of movement through different, usually disparate, digital environments and the relation to market communications, specifically branding. This inquiry represents the intersection between digital literary theory, new media studies, marketing communication and finally branding.
The use of “digital channels” in marketing communications, and particularly branding, has during the last decade almost fully transformed the so-called “marketing mix” (Boden 1964), i.e. the portfolio of marketing strategies and communication channels used by a particular organisation, of marketing communication departments, but also recast the very organisation of these departments. Practically all consumer-oriented companies/organisation have now digital marketing departments, and many have during the last few years also dedicated staff for the strategic use of social media (D'Angelo 2010) by means of e.g. social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Moreover, social media which is primarily (and has been historically) seen as a business-to-consumer tool has recently also been popularised by business-to-business companies/organisations that are targeting niche audiences of industry professionals predominantly as part of CRM strategies or support services. This development adds yet another layer on top of the already crowded media landscape – a professional/work-related dimension in addition to the usually pre-existing personal/private communication sphere, which is expressed most vividly with services such as LinkedIn (“a professional network service”) focused on a more official and professional networking separated from the private sphere, or in other services such as Facebook or Google+ whose broader social networking focus frequently generates a delicate and blurry mix of private and public/professional life.
The migration of users/readers from one digital communication sphere to another is an escalating challenge for market communication managers as communication strategies must adapt to the growing bifurcation of the contemporary media and communication landscape (Smith, Coyle, Lightfoot, & Scott 2007). In essence, marketing communication must now follow every step of the diverse and fickle media uses of the consumer, which are changing at an ever-accelerating pace. According to some sources the number of advertising messages an average consumer in the USA is daily exposed to 500 to 1000 commercial messages (Arens, Weigold, & Arens 2010). A new smartphone “app” (software application for smartphones) can grow explosively, as illustrated by the impressive popularity of the “location-based social network” Foursquare that in two years time has gathered more than 10 million users (Indvik 2011) – which in terms of audience makes it more popular than the third biggest newspaper in the world. The paramount question now becomes: how do companies/organisations, and more specifically brands, communicate in this dynamically expanding communication landscape?
Since approximately a decade we are seeing the rise of a new field of “digital branding” that is using elements from the fields of new media, word-of-mouth marketing, online communities, game design, entrepreneurship, user interface design and others, and combines these dimensions with “traditional offline” branding theories to create an integrated approach to the challenges of the modern communication realm – a so-called Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) approach (Pickton & Broderick 2001). Furthermore, the global nature of Internet adds further complexity by introducing a significantly more tangible cross-cultural dimension where centralised communication has to be adapted to local markets while still being accessible from every country in the world (Hermeking 2005).
How do we theoretically interpret communication across this cultural, technological and communication-based fragmentation of the marketing communications sphere – and more importantly: how is communication coordinated cohesively across this multitude of channels? A common way, as well based on industry practice (Revis 2012), is the notion of storytelling, which is presented as an eclectic approach to multi-channel communication, where “stories” and “narratives” are told in a distributed way (Alexander 2011 ; Meadows 2003 ; Qiongli 2006 ; Smith et al. 2007). A mosaic of messages communicates aspects of the “overall picture” through various channels and those are later assembled into a cohesive message by the reader/consumer. This stems from the “narrative turn” in the social sciences (Atkinson & Delamont 2006 ; Berger & Quinney 2005) and particularly relevant, within organisation/management studies (Czarniawska-Joerges 2004), where narratives and personal accounts are used as the foundation for perceiving and even defining organisations and their internal and external dynamics.
This paper will introduce an alternative and rewarding perspective based on a significantly more formal, literary and material framework: the perspective of digital space exploration. This is a perspective that posits the user/consumer/reader as moving and migrating through fragmented digital spaces. A prominent analysis of exploration of digital spaces has been put forth by Jenkins (Jenkins 2003) who defines the design of digital media/video games as a type of narrative architecture which can be divided into four ways of mapping narrative possibilities onto digital spaces: evocative spaces, enacting stories, embedded narratives and finally emergent narratives. Janet Murray, the most eminent proponent of digital media/cyberspace as interactive narratives, considers cyberspace to be enhanced by the spatial property characterised by its ability to represent navigable space (Murray 1997). Unlike “linear media” such as books and film, Murray claims that only digital environments can present space that users can move through, which is further elaborated by another digital narratologist Marie Laure-Ryan (Ryan 2001) who posits the spatiality of display as one of the major properties of digital media.
This paper aims to explore the implications of spatial exploration as analytical framework for market communication through the contemporary fragmented digital media landscape.
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digital market communication, digital branding, public relations, cultural industries, multichannel marketing