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STHM professor wins best-paper award for brand-loyalty research

By: Courtney Kubitza
First Published: October 6, 2015
Topics: In the News, STHM School

Dr. Ceridwyn King’s involvement with the tourism and hospitality industries stems beyond her award-winning research into customer engagement and brand loyalty. She also enjoys the opportunity to work in “a people industry.”

“Tourism and hospitality is an inherently human and positive industry,” said King, an Associate Professor at Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM). “It’s creating experiences based on innovation, imagination and escapism.”

King’s most recent co-authored publication won the Article of the Year Award at the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education (ICHRIE) conference, held in July 2015.

The article, titled “Customer Engagement with Tourism Brands: Scale Development and Validation,” and published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research, delves into the tourism industry’s measures of customer engagement with a brand beyond the initial transaction.

“Loyalty development is often associated with the actual service encounter,” King said. “But advances in technology, particularly social media, have allowed the customer-brand connection to be enhanced.”

Developing a social media campaign that appeals to the company’s targeted audience provides the ability to foster customer engagement, King said. Or, as she explained it, can create a psychological connection with a particular brand. For example, King mentions in her research that if a customer is truly engaged with a particular brand, and that brand faces scrutiny in the public eye or in the media, the customer will take it as a personal affront.

This emotional connection, however, doesn’t always result in an increase in purchasing, she said. Understanding the gap between transactional behavior and customer engagement is where King’s research offers companies a leg-up. The scale developed in her research suggests that a strong customer-brand relationship is more powerful than purchasing habits.

“Traditional assessment of a customer’s relationship with a brand has always been related to purchase actions,” King said. “Now we can give insight into how customers think, feel and behave toward a brand to predict future brand intentions.”

In researching customer loyalty behavior, King discovered that traditional loyalty programs aren’t having the desired effect on consumers. Her article, “Where is the love? Investigating Multiple Membership and Hotel Customer Loyalty,” explores this phenomenon. The article, co-authored by STHM PhD alumna Dr. Lina Xiong, and published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, received the Premier Award in the 2015 Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence.

King’s research uncovered the increasingly polygamous relationship customers share with industry loyalty programs, and the detrimental effects they have on fostering enduring relationships.

 

“Some senior leaders in the industry say there is no such thing as loyalty anymore, which I find interesting,” King said. “To me as a marketer, if you say there’s no such thing as developing an enduring connection with your customers, then what is my role? No service business wants pure transactional relationships because it’s unsustainable.”

Consumers who join loyalty programs for perks such as complementary Wi-Fi or airline points eventually grow out of the initial allure of these freebies and look for something far greater, she added.

“Loyalty that is based on financial incentives is often unsustainable in our industry,” King said, “but having a customer advocate for you is an enduring and powerful thing.”

How can companies get customers to advocate for them as unbiased representatives? In addition to providing exceptional service, social media can play a factor, King said, as can blogs and online travel sites.

“If we want people to be engaged, they have to associate with something that means something to them,” she said. “It’s about projecting an image with which a customer group can identify and remaining relevant. That’s Branding 101.”

In her current research, King is exploring how employees can foster a positive connection to a brand.

“Customer engagement and ultimately brand success starts and stops with employees. The decisions they make bring this brand to life,” she said.

–Lora Strum