Relevance of The Web Equity framework

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Theoretical framework

This section presents a description of the chosen theoretical concept which has been used for investigating the research topic, following a motivation of relevance of the model to the research area. Each influencing component of the theoretical framework will be discussed more in-depth to demonstrate the different characteristics.

Brand equity in an online environment

The concept of brand equity in sharing economy has been hardly evident in existing literature, therefore making it difficult to apply any models directly linked to the research topic. Hence, a model was searched for to gain an understanding of how brand equity is managed and created in regular online settings. When looking upon existing models concerning the area, the model presented by Page and Lepkowska-White (2002) was suitable for our purpose.
To apply the concepts of brand management mentioned above to a context more towards sharing economy, Page and Lepkowska-White’s (2002) Web equity framework will be used, which focus on the online environment as illustrated in Figure 1. Based on the idea of brand equity, web equity is defined in terms of web awareness and web image resulting in customer brand loyalty, and the purpose of the framework is to illustrate the factors affecting these dimensions (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). Kapferer (2012) claims that pure internet brands, or “dot.coms”, are struggling more than other brands to create long-term customer loyalty. Because when behavioral loyalty is extended to the e-marketspace, both the conceptual and measurement issues become more advanced and complex (Gommans, Krishnan & Scheffold, 2001). The essential aspect of the model by Page and Lepkowska-White (2002) is to demonstrate how the four influential factors outlined on the left side effects web awareness and web image respectively and how the sum of these ends up into web equity, automatically affecting loyalty.
The arrow from Marketer and non-marketer communications towards awareness illustrates that customers become aware of the brand through the communication of the company, which is the first and crucial step for the customer to actually form an image of the brand (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). The second arrow show that the communications in turn also affect image. The three remaining factors; Web design features, vendor characteristics and product/service characteristics and their corresponding arrows illustrate that they affect image, positively or negatively, once the consumer is aware of the brand (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002).

Relevance of The Web Equity framework

The sharing economy has emerged from new technologies and the access to online platforms is essential to establish a well-functioning business (Hamari et al., 2015). One might identify an evident connection between e-commerce practices and the sharing economy since they are built upon a frame with similar characteristics. Page and Lepkowska-White (2002) have developed a framework for building brand equity online and outlined four influencing factors affecting brand image for e-commerce businesses. Therefore, a more detailed elaboration of these factors will be presented in the following section to discuss the most recurring elements within each factor. These factors will be applied as a foundation for the interview questions when collecting primary data from the respondents within the sharing economy with the aim to provide relevant distinctions for sharing economy compared to regular e-commerce practices.

Marketer/Non-marketer communication

As illustrated above, brand image and brand awareness is affected by marketer/ non-marketer communication. Marketer communication refers to all the offline and online marketing activities performed by marketers in medias such as television advertising, printed media, outdoor (e.g. billboards), social media, banner ads etc. (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). These different medias are used for advertising with the primary communication objective to raise brand awareness (Rosenbaum-Elliot et al., 2015). Non-marketer communications refer to the tools such as word-of-mouth (WOM) that encourage customers to spread the word about a brand to other customers. Something that can be questioned with regards to this factor is Page and Lepkowska-White’s (2002) phrasing of the factor as Non-marketer communications, which implies that the marketer is not involved in the process of WOM. WOM and customers’ conversations about a brand is something that marketing firms work to influence intentionally and is a growing technique within marketing (Kozinets, De Valck, Wojnicki & Wilner, 2010).
WOM has the potential to generate brand awareness and new customers to a web site in the sense of recommendations from existing customers. It also affects the brand image depending on the state of the discussion about the brand (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). The information communicated through Internet in that form is called electronic word of mouth (eWOM) and is one of the most significant developments regarding consumer behaviour since it requires companies to adapt to a changing technological landscape (Rosario, Sotgiu, Valck and Bijmolt, 2016). Industry reports states that approximately 2.4 billion (Keller & Fay, 2012) conversations regarding brands take place every day, therefore it is crucial for marketers to understand and influence WOM patterns to create a successful business (Berger & Schwartz, 2011). Calle and Vaquero (2013) argue that companies in the sharing economy industry unnecessarily spend massive investments in advertising and marketing. Instead these resources should be dedicated to word-of-mouth marketing due to the credibility perceived among peers using these platforms (Calle & Vaquero, 2013). Except from generating brand awareness, the marketer and non-marketer communications builds a positive brand image if the brand’s website and offerings corresponds with the initial impression created by the communications (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). Therefore, we will further explain the importance of web design features, vendor characteristics and product/service characteristics as potential affecting factors.

Web design features

The impact of a web site’s design features on brand image relates to the importance of a positive customer experience with the website that consequently will lead to corresponding feelings towards the brand itself (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). Some aspects that a brand should focus on is the reliability of the website and being accessible at all times, it should be easy to navigate, provide useful information and provide product comparison (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). One of the biggest threats to Peer-to-peer online practices is the perception of each other as customers and how the web site is outlined to demonstrate information regarding operations (Schlosser, White & Lloyd, 2006; Jones & Leonard, 2008). A good brand often delivers accurate and qualitative information which will generate a positive experience among customers, which in a longer perspective induces a relationship between the customer and the brand (Alam & Yasin, 2010). Hence, customers establish broader knowledge which creates positive perceptions towards the brand (Ha, 2004).
Experimental features such as entertainment on the website increase involvement, the duration of which the customer visits the website as well as enhances brand image (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002; Hausman & Siekpe, 2009). Customers are more likely to have a positive experience with the brand, thus increased brand image if web design features allow customers to interact with each other and having direct contact with support and sales (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002; Gommans et al., 2001). According to Duan, Gu and Winston (2008) web design features such as online reviews are an effective tool to build brand awareness and in turn, brand image. Online customers use reviews as an important source of information to ensure that the products and services offered are to their expected standards (Yang, Sarathy & Lee, 2016). In the sharing economy where you catch rides with strangers through Uber or live in someone’s house through AirBnb, reviews and reputation systems are a way to ensure transactions between customers to be less uncertain (Belk, 2014). Lauterbach, Truong, Shah and Adamic (2009) state that reputation mechanisms are essential for online transactions where parties have little or no prior experience with one another. Following, Jøsang, Ismail, and Boyd (2007) argue that these reputation systems serves as mutual beneficial to peers by gaining knowledge about one another before agreeing to a transaction, creating an incentive to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.

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Vendor characteristics

Vendor characteristics concerns issues such as privacy and security, which also affects trustworthiness towards the vendor. These issues involve how secure the customer feel about their personal information and whom it is disclosed to. Furthermore, it involves the degree of security the vendor can assure in regards to how their information is transmitted as well as stored (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). According to Furnell and Karweni (1999) the perceived security is a major obstacle towards the adoption of e-commerce services due to the perceived effects of data transaction attacks, unauthorized access to your account and theft of credit card information. The perceived security is the degree of protection towards these threats provided by the source (Hsu, Shu & Lee, 2008). Srinivasan (2004) describes perceived security as a dominant factor regarding trustworthiness since many customers feel uncertainties of using online platforms for purchasing goods due to security concerns associated with the buying process.
Privacy in contrast to security concerns the amount of control of your own information which is an important distinguishment. According to (Yousafzai, Pallister & Foxall, 2003) privacy is defined as “customer’s perception regarding their ability to monitor and control the information about themselves”. An underlying reason to many peoples’ concerns is the relatively easy process to collect information about customers and share it with third parties which has emerged from new technologies (Clay & Strauss, 2000). According to Ha (2004), one common scepticism towards online purchases are the lack of control over personal information, thus vendor characteristics are identified to play an important role to overcome the scepticism towards purchases online (Metzger, 2006).
A report by BigCommerce indicate that nearly 29% of consumers had privacy concerns when providing personal information since they felt insecure about how the data collector will process the information (Kelly, 2017). To overcome this issue, earlier research by Hoffman and Novak (1997) suggest that trustworthiness is built through a more cooperative relationship between customers and online businesses, resulting in a more equal balance of power. Metzger (2006) identified vendor characteristics as the most important factor in regards to consumers’ perceptions towards a brand. Handling of personal information creates trustworthiness towards the vendor which in turn affects brand image (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). Vendor characteristics also involves customer service which includes vendor accessibility and responsive rates which increases consumer satisfaction and affecting brand image (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). In the sharing economy where the firm primarily offers the platform where the peers deal with each other, customer service is key to ensure a safe purchase of products and services (Möhlmann, 2015). Furthermore, Möhlmann (2015) argues that when experiences are positive in regards to customer service, the likelihood that the consumer will use the platform again increases.

Product/Service characteristics

The concluding factor affecting brand image is product/service characteristics. In contrast to brick and mortar shopping environments, consumers most often do not have the possibility to see the actual product or service before a purchase. In order for the vendor to overcome this obstacle, product and service information such as usage instructions and attributes are key (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002; Gommans et al., 2001). Product/service characteristics concerns primarily quality, selection and price of product and services (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002). When customers perceived quality expectations are met, there is an increased likelihood that the consumer will visit the website again. At the same time, when the customers expected quality of products and services are not met, the relationship declines between the customer and the firm (Zhang, Fang, Wei, Ramsey, Mccole & Chen, 2011). Even though the quality of product and services offered in a website are essential, factors such as fair and accurate prices and product selections are important (Kim, Galliers, Shin, Ryoo & Kim, 2012).
Customers are expecting both lower prices as well as a wider selection of products and services offered in an online environment (Page & Lepkowska-White, 2002; Zhang et al., 2011). With respect to the sharing economy, the product/service characteristics for some businesses differs from an e-commerce because peers set their own prices, selection of product/services and information about quality, usage instructions etc. For example, Airbnb identified a problem in hosts price settings and therefore implemented “price tips” to ensure efficiency (Gibbs, Guttentag, Gretzel, Morton & Goodwill, 2017). Another challenge for companies such as Airbnb are quality assurance in terms of product/services that meet the customers’ expectations. Since hosts offer the accommodation, Airbnb needs to implement review systems, customer complaint management and extensive information to ensure the quality and price of the accommodation (Priporas, Stylos, Rahimi & Vedanthachari, 2017).

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This section will first include the choice of research strategy, research approach and research philosophy. Furthermore, it will describe authors the methodological design, sampling procedures, how data has been collected along with a motivation of interviews as a way to collect primary data. Lastly, the credibility of research will be discussed through the measurements of reliability and validity.

Research strategy

This study was conducted using a qualitative research method based on “grounded theory” in terms of individual in-depth interviews with firms operating in the sharing economy. Glaser and Strauss (1967) developed the concept of “grounded theory”, which comprises that the theory is derived and built upon the collected data itself (Taylor, Bogdan & DeVault, 2016). Flick (2011) suggests that by using grounded theory and a qualitative method, the researcher is able to find important conditions of the topic throughout the research process. The reasoning behind using a qualitative method is to get a deeper understanding of the relationship between sharing economy and the factors affecting brand image. According to Eisenhardt (1989) qualitative research methods are useful and suitable in order to understand the dynamics of a relationship. Continuously, Eisenhardt (1989) suggests that qualitative methods open up the opportunity for the researcher to find relationships that may not be salient and obvious. The aim of this paper is to investigate the factors affecting brand image in a sharing economy context. Therefore, the use of a qualitative method is suitable to recognize and find the characteristics influencing this relationship. To understand the emerging concept of sharing economy, the use of a qualitative research method lays a foundation for insights and understanding patterns in data. Additionally, it helps to develop concepts instead of collecting data biased from assumptions from already existing theories and hypotheses (Taylor et al., 2016).

Research approach

In terms of research approaches, there are primarily two types used: inductive and deductive (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 2009). Deductive reasoning comprises building hypothesis through existing knowledge and literature, which are most commonly used in quantitative research methods (Ghauri & Grønhaug, 2010). In qualitative research the use of an inductive approach is most common, referring to collecting data and relating it to literature (Saunders et al., 2009). Abductive research is characterized as a mixture of an inductive respectively deductive approach, thus brings two separate approaches together (Haig, 2005). By using an abductive approach, the researcher is able to go back and forth between data and literature relevant to the subject of investigation. According to Dubois and Gadde (2002) the use of an abductive research approach is appropriate if the research objective is to discover new observations.
An abductive approach lays the foundation for development of new theory and theoretical models similar to grounded theory, instead of affirmation of already existing research (Dubois & Gadde, 2002). The concept of sharing economy is an emerging trend that creates new social perspectives, thus an abductive approach is used in this study to identify and observe factors affecting concepts in this phenomenon. Ong (2012) suggests that by using an abductive approach, the researcher is able to develop new theories since the researcher challenge the current social perspectives. By using an abductive approach, the aim is to contribute to this field of research by collecting qualitative data and using the empirical evidence to develop theory in relation to sharing economy and branding.

Research philosophy

When conducting research, our values impact the way we make decisions and pursue our research (Saunders et al., 2009). In terms of research philosophies and the way we think of research, there are primarily three ways: epistemology, ontology and axiology (Saunders et al., 2009). Ontology concerns assumptions about the nature of the world and how the reality really works (Brinkmann, 2017). Epistemology on the other hand is based on the study of knowledge, constitutes what it is and whether the field of research is acceptable. Axiology concerns how researchers sees the role of values in the process, which is important in terms of the credibility of your research (Brinkmann, 2017). There are mainly four different research philosophies used in business and management: positivism, interpretivism, realism and pragmatism (Saunders et al., 2009). Interpretivism is the philosophy most applicable to this study due to its characteristics, often used in qualitative research methods with in-depth interviews and small samples. This philosophy sees the world as far too complex to be investigated in a quantitative manner due to that every situation is unique and have different circumstances. Interpretivism take the complexity of conducting research among people into account which adds a complexity that differs from research in terms of objects such as machines. Furthermore, interpretivism focus on situations, the underlying details behind these situations and the influencing actions of the situation under investigation (Saunders et al., 2009). Many researchers argue that interpretivism is the most suitable for business studies, particularly in the field of marketing as well as how organizations behave and function (Saunders et al., 2009).

Table of Contents
1.1Problem discussion
2.Literature review
2.1Sharing economy
2.2Brand management concepts
3.Theoretical framework
3.1Brand equity in an online environment
3.2Relevance of The Web Equity framework
3.3Marketer/Non-marketer communication
3.4Web design features
3.5Vendor characteristics
3.6Product/Service characteristics
4.1Research strategy
4.2Research approach
4.3Research philosophy
5.2Data collection
5.3Primary data
5.4Credibility of research
6.1Marketer/Non-marketer communication
6.2Web design features
6.3Vendor characteristics
6.4Product/Service characteristics
6.5Additional component
7.1Revised framework of factors affecting brand equity
7.2Marketing communication
7.3Web design features
7.4Vendor reliability
7.5Product/Service characteristics
7.6Peer trust
9.1Further findings
9.4Suggestions for future research
10.Reference list

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