[Ong Yu Jun, G2]
My project research focuses on the benefits Instagram brings to businesses that have products that are not as visually appealing as competitors. For the purposes of analysis and scoping, this research will focus on the automobile industry, and in particular household brands Honda, Toyota and Nissan.
This research shall explore how mid market brands leverage themselves against competitors on social media platform Instagram, following which recommendations will be given on how Toyota in particular should focus and align its Instagram strategy to achieve brand love. The research question therefore is this; how can Toyota, a mid range automobile manufacturer, create brand engagement on Instagram to improve brand love?
Strengths of Instagram
Across all three brands, it was clear that brands with a very clear and specific product offering, such as a particular model of car outperformed other competitors, and also its own posts, which did not feature its core products. Although peripheral posts commemorating special holidays could be interspersed with other posts, it was clear even such special dates coupled with product offerings generated the highest engagement. Take for example the Nissan GTR valentine’s post, which generated massive likes, compared to the Easter post with no car and just a rabbit. Companies with strong and clear champion products will find it easier to leverage on Instagram, whilst companies whose services are less tangible will find it hard to capture it well and leverage their Instagram base.
It was clear that companies that leveraged on quirky and tongue-in-cheek hash tags could leverage on generating word-of-mouth messages via its customer base more easily. Take for example Nissan, which used its hash tags like #OMGTR combining the popular acronym “OMG” and its famous GTR model, as well as #TueZday combining Tuesday with the Z models it offered. Generic hash tags just mentioning the cars, such as #hondaaccord and #hondacivic do not fully leverage on the uniqueness of the hashtag strategy.
Despite the lack of share-ability of Instagram posts, users have devised a way to overcome this by tagging friends in comments instead. This however seems to be be triggered on two factors; when a post is deemed as engaging enough, along with a friend that the post is relevant for. Brands that have interesting enough content can leverage on this by using call-to-actions for such content, and ask users to tag a friend in the comments below. This will create further engagement of posts, along with organically build the follower base if new referrals choose to follow the page.
Weaknesses of Instagram
Amongst the three companies analyzed, all three showed a limited number of videos in the two week observed period. One possible reason for the preference of images over videos for Instagram posts may be the limited video editing functions available for video. Inasmuch as the platform still allows for filters, much more variables have to be managed in pushing out a professional video. Another possible reason for a lack of videos could be due to user behaviour itself. With almost all of its users accessing Instagram via mobile, it is highly probable that users browsing in public, yet may or may not have earphones plugged in. This takes away a dimension of video that is extremely crucial, the audio, which may induce users to skip videos instead. On the other hand, Facebook users are more likely to be browsing from their desktops or laptops, and are more likely to be browsing in private, leading to higher views for videos. Other factors that also come into play are the limitations of data without wifi, as well as much lower capabilities of a smartphone compared to a computer in battery life, video graphics quality display and more.
There is limited amount of real estate given for each brand to communicate, with Instagram’s maximum characters set at 2200 characters but users get cut off after 3 lines of text. With this comes limited capacity for brands to tell a story or convey a benefit of a product to consumers. Brands such as Toyota has difficulty communicating the benefits of its Prius and energy efficiency, with users falling back on the post image for information more than the text. Instagram therefore can only be leveraged upon as a supplement to other marketing communications for more intrinsic products. This will probably be an issue as well for B2B businesses or products that are more complex. Once brands are able to overcome the initial education gap, it can then fully use Instagram to supplement its efforts.
Toyota should move away from attempting to communicate benefits to its consumers via Instagram, given the poor response for models such as the Prius. It should instead focus on tried and tested products under its wing, such as the Toyota Camry or the Toyota Corolla. Leveraging on favorable perceptions of its more favorable products, it would more likely lead to overall brand love for consumers towards the Toyota brand. Instagram should therefore be a platform to target car lovers rather than energy efficient, environmentally conscious niche users.
Toyota should also adopt a creative hashtag approach that was used by Nissan. This creates uniqueness and creativity that is ascribed to the brand. Examples of possible hash tags are #CorollaComfort or #CamryConfidence. This can passively associate a quality along with the car models that are offered. The #OMGTR created associations with amazement and wonder every time a user sees a GTR, and it would be beneficial for Toyota to associate strong associations with its cars via Instagram hash tags.
Toyota can also harness a call-to-action for users to tag a friend in post comments. Behaviour of tagging a friend in the comments for Toyota has shown to be effective in its best performing comments post of a Camry doing a reverse drift. Toyota should therefore strive to create engaging content that are relevant to users enough for them to tag their friends. This will therefore help to organically grow the base of followers on Instagram.
Despite there being some inherent disadvantages for brands that do not have visually engaging and intriguing products, Instagram still remains a viable channel for mid tiered brands to reach their consumers. Strategies such as hashtag strategies and call-to-actions can be utilized to fully capitalize on user engagement. Brands should however learn from social media analytics and continually push out tried and tested products that are focused rather than broad to keep consumer top-of-mind awareness.