The Internet is arguably the greatest interactive marketing medium of the 21st century.  Through the Internet, people from all over the world can exchange ideas, opinions, experiences, pictures, data files as well as purchase merchandise within seconds.  The Internet is at its core a tool for interpersonal communications and community oriented interactions and has affected retail marketing strategies.   In today’s fast-moving markets,  brand relevance has sparked vigorous debates between end users and marketers. If a company is successful in building a strong brand, it can realize a price premium and realize sustainable advantages over its competitors. Branding, in effect, is a form of language designed to save consumers time by reducing search costs, providing continuity, and promoting customer commitment.

     While others argue, with the vast amount of information available on the Internet, coupled with intelligent agents and search engines, consumers no longer need to rely on brands since they can gather detailed information and make their own judgments about the value of a product or service for their needs. This access to information has significant commercial implications as it allows consumers to exert greater influence over a wider range of products and brands they buy than would ordinarily be possible without the Internet. Although, marketing professionals cannot directly manage user-generated content, sometimes it is extremely harmful to marketing and branding efforts. Therefore, companies should keep a watchful eye on their brand image and consumer feedback in various online communities.  For example, researchers found 49% of people who attended movies and 70% of people who purchased music CD’s were influenced by user generated content.

     It is our observation that the Internet is creating hybrid brands whereby the brands of traditional retailers are enhanced by the brands of Internet companies.  For example, is a major fulfillment channel for products such as computers, cameras, clothing, jewelry, and tools from manufacturers/retailers such as Dell, Nikon, Calvin Klein, Microsoft, and Hitachi.  When these brands are coupled with product data, user generated content, flexible return policies, and certain guarantees offered by online retailers the picture becomes fuzzy whether the consumer is purchasing the brand of the product, the Internet Company, or some combination thereof.  A balance is needed between protecting the brand equity of an established brand versus corrupting brands as they enter risky new marketplaces. 
     In summary, the retailer that masters how, when, and where to speak to their customers via the Internet, has a better chance of exposing customers to their products/services  and a stronger long-term relationship. 


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