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The Impacts of Viral Marketing on Destination Image

Mariella Su Diploma in International Hotel and Tourism Management HTMi Switzerland

People always have a prejudice and expectation of the destinations that they are travelling to, possibly due to the influence of friends' perception, online research and social media. Trip advisor and WebPages like blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are usually their common sources of information. Reynolds (1965) stated that stereotypical thinking plays a part in forming destination image as well (Govers, Go and Kumar, 2007). As information from different sources slowly builds up, destination image also develops in one's mind (Leisen, 2001). In the last decade, elevation of the technology has brought about much benefit to people all over the world. Exchange of information and communication across borders is much easier as a result of globalization. Competition between different companies intensifies as they introduce more and more new marketing strategies to catch the public's attention. Subsequently, a new marketing trend was observed over the past decade. It is viral marketing, especially electric word-of-mouth (eWOM). As part of their research, Sharma et al. (2011-2012) suggested that the most common and conventional way to spread information was through word-of-mouth (WOM). However, as technology advances, eWOM became more significant in daily communication and marketing.

In 1999, a term named 'e-fluential' was created by Burson-Marsteller to describe the effect of Internet on people's behaviour and thinking today (Burson Marsteller, 2005 cited in Sharma and Morales-Arroyo et al., 2012). eWOM is one of the techniques used to create e-fluential effect on people. Operations and individuals that spotted the great power of social media began marketing through this channel due to its convenience. The combination of both social media and WOM created the buzzword 'viral marketing'. Today, almost every business and individual uses the technique of viral marketing. The constant change of destination image is not an exception too. Through this paper, the author is going to research more about the impacts of viral marketing on destination image.

Concepts and theories of Viral Marketing

Wilson (2012) states that viral marketing is any form of marketing techniques a person uses to spread a message to other people, given that the likelihood of the message will create a huge impact and publicity among the crowd. On the other hand, some argued that viral marketing is an aspect in marketing which aides and supports people in passing a marketing message (,

2013). This strategy is highly effective and allows a message to spread extremely fast within a short period of time (Stewart and Ewing et al., 2009). Today, viral marketing is commonly used to describe marketing of a product or idea on the Internet where information is highly accessible and available. However, viral marketing does not include Internet only. It also includes the traditional WOM. Unlike traditional marketing methods, viral marketing obtains a quick output. In the past, people spread message through WOM, however, with the advancement of technology and globalization, WOM is reinforced to become electronic word of mouth (eWOM) (Howard, 2005). eWOM uses electronic products like Internet and mobile phones to spread messages.

Figure 1: Viral Marketing Model (Sirf Marketing, 2013)

To quote from Parias Jerico (2011), "the main objectives of viral marketing are social profile gathering, proximity market analysis and real-time key word density analysis." The marketing party can pair up with the addressed customers at a profitable position as long as these goals are meet and fulfilled (Jerico, 2011). Through viral marketing, the idea or campaign reach the filtered target market and hence, achieve the goal of making the idea or product the topic of discussion among the people. (Stewart and Ewing et al., 2009).

Concepts and Theories of Destination Image

According to Lawson and Baud Bovy (1977), destination image is formed by a combination of several people or individual's biased and unbiased judgment, feelings and creative thoughts on a specific place. However, Valls (1992) pointed out that, from consumers' standpoint, destination image is the collection of consumers' opinions (Lopes and Others, 2011). The concept of destination image is normally applied in the tourism industry as it is closely related to the decision making process of tourists. The evolution of destination image can be affected by three sources. They are "supply side or destination, independent or autonomous, and demand-side or image receivers" (Tasci and Gartner, 2007, p.415).

Figure 2: Model of the Formation of Destination Image (Beerli and Martin, 2004, p. 660)

Figure 3: Types of Secondary Image (Lopes et al., 2011, p. 311)

Figure 2 shows the formation of destination image. To explain the model in other words, the factors affecting the formation of destination image can be classified into internal and external. Internal factors include personal belief, values, intention and past experience. The visual appearance produced in their mind with the influence of internal factors eventually ends up being the subjective image of the destination (Beerli and Martn, 2004).

In addition, figure 3 elaborates more on secondary information source. Baloglu and Mccleary, 1999, stated that external factors could be further divided into typical and social provocations. They mentioned that typical provocation is media while social provocations are friends, families and word-of-mouth. Reisinger and Turner (2002) also stated that WOM is a vital method to transmit information and influence customers' decisions on destination of travel. In 1986, Phelps (cited in Beerli and Martn, 2004) suggested that the image formed by organic, induced and autonomous sources of information is usually one's prejudice before the experience. In general, destination image is affected by one's emotions and knowledge of the place regardless whether the source of information is self-obtained or induced. Both internal and external sources will form the intellectual image first. Over time, emotion will be attached depending on the positivity of the information. Intellectual knowledge and emotions contributes to the final perceived image of the destination.

Viral Marketing and Destination Image

The aim of viral marketing is to catch people's attention and make them discuss about the product or idea the company is marketing on. To stand out from all the other commercial clips, promotions, viral marketing is a better channel to spread the message, given that the content is interesting and unforgettable (Ackers, 2010). Figure 2 shows the different types of destination image formation; organic or induced. Organic information and illustrations of the destination are usually derived from impartial sources. Whereas, induced image is seemed as the purpose of media promotion and marketing (McCartney, Butler and Bennet, 2008). Viral marketing, which falls under media promotion, is a way to form induced destination image. Therefore, through the use of social media and WOM, destination image can be formed either positively or negatively as messages spread through viral marketing are usually uncontrollable as it is difficult to track who has received it.

The Use of Viral Marketing in Different Industries

Viral Marketing in the General Business Industry Based on the definition, concepts and characteristics of viral marketing, more and more companies from different industries are beginning to adopt this

marketing technique. For example, Business industry (Dobele, Toleman and Beverland, 2005), Tourism industry (Jalilv and Samiei et al., 2012; Schlegelmilch and Ollenburg, 2013) and Food and Beverage industry (Kathryn and Chester, 2009). Jim Nail even (cited in Ferguson, 2008) claimed that viral is the next development phase of loyalty regimen. Successful viral marketing campaign should connect to the audience emotionally, seize their imagination (Sterne, Priore, 2000; Dobele and Lindgreen et al., 2007) and be directed to the right market (Dobele and Lindgreen et al., 2007; Ferguson, 2008). According to Ferguson, 2008, (cited from Inc. magazine) viral marketing technique is adopted by 82% of the aggressively developing individual companies. Viral Marketing in Hospitality and Tourism Industry Jalilv and Samiei et al., 2012 discovered that tourists view the sharing of past experience from surrounding people and online reviews extremely important. From future, probable visitors' point of view, suggestions from past travellers are most reliable (Jalilv and Samiei et al., 2012). Pleasing experiences tend to create an urge in tourists to share their wonderful experience with either their families or friends or through the internet (Jalilv and Samiei et al., 2012; Yeoh, Othman and Ahmad, 2013). Furthermore, results have proven that online comments and reviews made by tourists can affect people's travel motivation former to the trip

(Sharma and Morales-Arroyo et al., 2012 and Jalilv and Samiei et al., 2012). The key to knowing the constant-changing preferences of the tourists and their thoughts is for brand or destination managers operator to collect tourists' online reviews and comments (Litvin, Goldsmith and Pan, 2008; Jalilv and Samiei et al., 2012). This can help to resolve the current problems faced and protect the destination brand or image from further harm. In relation to Hospitality and Tourism, Food and Beverage industry has identified adolescents as the biggest target market as because most of them are active on different media platforms today. Thus, viral marketing campaigns can easily catch their attention. Past research done have also shown how reciprocal digital marketing is found to be the most effective (Montgomery and Chester, 2009). The six highlights mentioned are pervasive relatedness, customization, participation, engagement, mutual connection through Internet and lastly, idea formation. They are the aspects that should be fulfilled before claiming the campaign successful.

Destination Image in relation with Tourists' Motivation and Perception

Many past researchers have looked into the topic on destination image and how it is inter-related to tourists' desire and perception. (Ekinci, 2003; Govers, Go and

Kumar, 2007; Lin and Huang, 2009; Stewart and Ewing et al., 2009; Chen and Phou, 2013). Some of them did case studies on specific countries. For example, Russia (Stepchenkova and Morrison, 2006) and Taiwan (Lin and Huang, 2009; Chen and Phou, 2013). In the studies done on Taiwan, tourists' perception which then affect their ambition can be classified into five main aspects. They are firstly destination brand, atmosphere, culture and tradition, environment and lastly entertainment and activities (Lin and Huang, 2009; Chen and Phou, 2013). On the other hand, for tourists travelling to Russia, the nine main aspects of destination image which can affect their interest are conventional tourism, framework, niche tourism, safety, history, food and culture, service, adventure and family/adult (Stepchenkova and Morrison, 2008). Based the findings done, the author assume that before travelling, tourists first look out for basic necessities like safety and physiological needs before considering other factors like entertainment since most of the aspects covers the bottom layers of Maslow's pyramid on hierarchy of needs.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The author discussed and explained the theories on the formation of destination image. They can either be due to the influence of foreign sources or personal experience/impression of the place. On the other hand, viral marketing, especially with the use to technology, is said to be the most effective way to spread information, as transmission is instant. Past research and studies have shown that successful marketing campaigns are able to connect with their target market emotionally. With proven results on the effectiveness of viral marketing, from the scale of countries, industries to individual, they can check if they have fulfilled the necessary requirements to creating a successful viral marketing campaign. There is never a limit to creativity, as long as there is a fresh, unique idea or selling point, it is most likely going to be well-received by the public. However, market research should be done to evoke feelings from the audience and campaign should be targeted at the right market. The paper also mentioned a little on the impacts of viral marketing on destination image. In simple words, the direct impact is either valuable or harmful to the image. Additionally, it can also affect the decisions and thoughts of tourists. During the research phase, the author was not able to find many articles that investigate thoroughly on the impacts of viral marketing on destination image.

Only minimal evidence and results proved that viral marketing is the most effective marketing technique. Future researchers looking into this topic should create a viral marketing campaign that helps to measure the effectiveness of viral marketing. To ensure the fairness and credibility of the findings, statistics should be collected from a group of people with different gender, age, nationalities and backgrounds. In this paper, the author did not elaborate in details the impacts of viral marketing due to limited or irrelevant information from the sources. To the industry, the author would suggest them to explore deeper into why certain campaigns are more popular and vice versa. This will link to the topic on consumer behaviour. Studies should be done in conjunction for both topics so that a best conclusion can be drawn. Countries and operations will then be able to cater better to tourists' and customers' needs. As a result, a win-win situation can be obtained, satisfaction level of the tourists increase.

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