Building and maintaining relationships between companies and customers, known as customer rapport is one of the most important factors in order to stay long in business. This research investigated the customer rapport strategy used by Nintendo to build and maintain their relationships with gamers. As one of the oldest gaming console companies, Nintendo has a long track record of keeping and maintaining gamers, from the first generation of consoles until the current eighth generations. This relationship is maintained by the use of a nostalgia strategy, by re-releasing classic games and consoles, and launching familiar characters in new games and media. This nostalgia strategy has kept Nintendo in the industry as a platform owner of first party developer.
This research investigates gamers’ views about this nostalgia strategy by using two forms of qualitative data, netnography following Kozinets (2002) and interview. The observation of netnography collected data from Reddit forums was used to form an understanding of the type of customer rapport strategies that Nintendo employed and the impact of these strategies toward brand attachment and loyalty. To verify and triangulate this netnography observations, fifteen interviews were conducted with gamers. In both cases, a method of the thematic data analysis was employed.
In order to strengthen on customer rapport approaches, this research concentrates on the gamers’ perception of Nintendo compared to its competitors. Furthermore, the research focused on investigating the application of nostalgia that has been used by Nintendo to build customer rapport and loyalty. This research found that gamers keep loyal to Nintendo due to the customer rapport strategy triggered by nostalgia, iconic characteristics and the casual type of games that Nintendo has offered. Moreover, the research also illustrates the limitations of using a nostalgia approach in maintaining customer rapport.
The video game industry has been around for almost 50 years now, if it is measured by the first released of Spacewar! in 1962. Though it was not until the 1970s that the first video games console released in the market. During this half century, video games transformed from being a technological magic created by hackers to an electronic novelty to a popular toy. Nowadays it has become part of people’s lives, a psychological experimentation, a therapy and many more (Wolf, 2012).
Based on global gaming market report of Newzoo year 2016, The gaming industry is one of the fastest growing industry worldwide (McDonald, 2016). In 2016, it generated a total of $70.4 billion, growing at 17% on a year-on-year basis. This revenue growth was supported by a stronger performance from the top 10 gaming companies who contribute 54% if the total global games market in 2015. With these 10 companies still growing, the gaming industry will definitely still in a growth momentum.
Figure 1 – The top 10 public game companies’ revenues year 2015 compare to year 2016 (McDonald, 2016)
The game revenue data above combines the whole game industry from mobile, console, and PC games both games’ producers of hardware (consoles) and software (video games). NetEase was the most growing company with 50% revenue growth due to its mobile performance in China. On the second place for the highest revenue growth is Activision Blizzard with 42% because of the acquisition of King, producer of Candy Crush. With the growth of mobile game the console market is trying to still make a growth momentum by releasing new hardware consoles. Both Sony and Microsoft are still in the growing momentum due to the launch of Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Unfortunately, Nintendo was the only company in the top 10 whose revenues declined by 6%.
When it comes to gamers, based on Essential Facts 2017 report (Essential Facts: About the computer and video game industry, 2017), gamers pay more attention the quality of graphics. This has been driven by the release of same game on different consoles which lead gamers to be able to compare the graphic support on different consoles. This fact knowledge is a reflection of PlayStation 4 compare to Xbox One games (Daws, 2017). The PlayStation 4 has over a thousand games with 100 of them are exclusives while Xbox One has eight hundred seventy-six games with only thirty are exclusives (Swider and Porter, 2017). This fact somehow shows how some of game titles available for both consoles.
Figure 2 – Factors influencing decisions to purchase video games (Daws, 2017).
Figure 2 above shows factors that influence gamers’ decision-making process in making a purchase, from graphics, price, story, and games’ content. Based on the figure 2 above only 48 percent of customers want a continuation of favourite game series and 47% look for a familiar product from their past experience. This is the factor where Nintendo plays, but based on this data it becomes less important than graphics. Since this paper, is focusing on Nintendo’s approaches, the next section of this paper will focus more on Nintendo’s position in the gaming industry.
Nintendo, one of the biggest and oldest players in gaming industry, based on Metacritic (2017) users’ reviews, recently dropped from first position in 2014, to sixth rank in 2015 and crawled up to third rank in 2016. In 2015, it dropped from 56% positive reviews to just 41% in 2015 and improved slowly in 2016 due to Nintendo’s 3DS games with the remake of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Metacritic, 2017).
The release of the new Nintendo 3DS handheld console seemed lacking in comparison the consoles of Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox One, which were launched in November 2013. Despite always being the winning console for Nintendo, the 3DS would apparently depend on the re-release of Nintendo’s iconic video games. Figure 2 shows that despite the Nintendo 3DS comes third, it only managed to gain 8% of market share compared to 51% share of Sony Playstation 4 and 26% held by Microsoft Xbox.
Figure 3 – Financial performance of console market by Platform year 2016 (Technology.ihs.com, 2017)
The same weakening condition found when looked at the performance of Nintendo’s digital games on console. Games available on Nintendo’s consoles were only able to achieve 5% share of digital games content for year 2016 as shown in figure 4, due to lack of new full games and paid downloadable content releases (Technology.ihs.com, 2017). It could be concluded as not a very good year for Nintendo.
Figure 4 – Financial performance of digital games console by company year 2016 (Technology.ihs.com, 2017)
In November 2016, Nintendo launched the new and compact Nintendo Entertainment System, which is a smaller size version of the 1985 original. It offers 30 games, including classic games like Super Mario Bros, Zelda, and Punch Out. This hardware includes one controller and an HDMI port. The retail price is around $60 in stores, but online price is around $130 and up. This release is part of Nintendo’s nostalgia strategy by recycling the classic games in order to keep the customer rapport (Sawers, 2016).
Aside from recycling the classic games, the nostalgic strategy was also reflected in their new products launched. Some of the company’s intellectual property still managed to find new stories for its iconic franchise in each hardware console launched (Heater, 2017). This includes the re-launch of their classic games like Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros, Fire Emblem and many more.
Nintendo Switch is also part of their nostalgia strategy. It tries to bring back the memory of Nintendo Gameboy. It is a recently released console that gained good responses from the Nintendo’s fans. With several iconic Nintendo’s characters to be featured on this new console, it has a potential for Nintendo to improve its market share performance. Another example of combining past and present is that of ‘Pokémon GO’. The game was able to connect the experience of past memories of catching iconic Pokemon with today technology of augmented reality. While this was not fully a Nintendo’s product, it fits well with Nintendo’s nostalgia strategy.
A nostalgia strategy in marketing is not something new for companies. This strategy was used by many companies in order to make their brand more persuasive, compelling and effective (Baker and Kennedy, 1994; Muehling and Sprott, 2004; Pascal et al., 2002). Nostalgia was experienced as a personal sensation, it is when a person remembers a particular moment or a product during a particular time in the past and reacts emotionally when the same moment or product appears again. This nostalgia effect is mostly found on the entertainment industry. Customers prefer to listen to the same music that they listened to when they were young (Holbrook and Schindler,1989), interested with movies stars and films in their youth (Holbrook and Schindler, 1996).
Nostalgia makes them feel secured and comfortable. Nostalgia connects the customers with their best memories from their past. For marketers, nostalgia has become one of the devices that could help in highlighting the brand when compare to its competition, and can help to make a connection with the customers (Arizona, 2016). This connection or relationship is the one that transforms into customer rapport.
New technologies do not only allow companies to remaster their content but also remonetize content. The company will be able to resell their products to a new audience especially to the parents who wish their children to have the same experience as they did. For example, Disney’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is part of the Star Wars franchise and had earnings estimated at nearly $300 million after its weekend release where parents are familiar with the story and characters and children were intrigued by the new story (Everett-Haynes-Arizona, 2016).
Outside of the entertainment industries, several other industries such as the mobile phone industry and the automobile industry may also employ nostalgia, for example, Nokia with the re-launched of Nokia 3310, Volkswagen re-launched the beetle, or FIAT with the 500. Other examples from the gaming industry other than Nintendo is the RetroEngine Sigma plug-and-play console, which can play games originally released decades ago on Atari VCS, Sega Genesis, and NES, among others (Everett-Haynes-Arizona, 2016).
Despite the many approaches of maintaining and building customer rapport, Nintendo apparently chooses to use a nostalgia strategy. An amusing illustration of this is when in one episode of The Big Bang Theory (The Big Bang Theory: The Indecision Amalgamation – Season 7 Episode 19, 2014), Sheldon Cooper, one of the character, asked for a quick poll of Xbox One or PlayStation 4, when one of the other character, Bernadette mentioned Nintendo Wii, it attracted mockery at her, where the other character called her a grandma. This snippet of episode shows how Nintendo is well known for its nostalgia which could mean it is only for older people.
Thus, in this paper, we are trying to find effective approaches that can be used by Nintendo to maintain and build its customer rapport by evaluating its existing strategy, comparing its stand against competitors. This will be achieved by investigating on the nostalgia strategy that has been used and its effect on the customers, in this case, gamers and if any better strategies appeared that can be used to effectively build and maintain the customer rapport.
The aim of this research is to find effective approaches that can be used by Nintendo to build and maintain its customer rapport, that lead into brand attachment and loyalty. This research follows an investigative and explorative method in understanding gamers’ brand loyalty towards heritage and the famous brands of Nintendo’s video games. The research will show the usage of nostalgia strategy in gaming industry particularly used by Nintendo and its effect towards the brands and company from gamers’ point of view. Moreover, to understand if this approach is effective enough to build and maintain the customer rapport.
All of these will be reached by evaluating on the effect from using a nostalgia strategy in the gaming industry as part of customer rapport approaches. How this nostalgia strategy connects to brand attachment and brand loyalty.
In order to reach the final goal of this research, there are three main objectives as follows:
- Identify and demonstrate Nintendo’s approach to build and maintain its customer rapport by reflecting on the past experience to keep the customer playing with the company (nostalgia strategy).
- Examine the effect of the past experience’s reflection on gamers.
- Critically evaluate the customers’ opinion and discussions towards nostalgia strategy of Nintendo and how it influences them to choose and be loyal to the video games’ brands.
McLuhan (1964) defined that ‘games as models of the psychological lives that provides a release of particular tensions consist of collective and popular art forms with strict conventions’. Games are dramatic models of the outer cosmic drama. In more detail definition, Juul (2005) described game as:
- A set of system based on rule;
- The outcomes and variables can be quantified;
- Values may vary depend on outcomes;
- Required effort from players in order to achieve expected outcomes;
- Attachment occurred because of the experiences and outcome;
- Actions are negotiable and consequences are optional (re-do-able).
According to Aarseth (2001), video games is another form of games. Video games is a facility that combine aesthetic and social aspects in a different way from regular mass media like movies, TV shows or novel offered. Furthermore, Juul (2005) described the game as ‘half-real’. Half-Real points out that video games contain two different things that emerged at the same time. The real part is because it has real rules that employed for players so they can interact and also to win or lose the game. On the other hand, this winning situation happens because of an unreal event such as slaying a dragon, which is not a real dragon but a fictional dragon. In conclusion, playing a video game lets the players to interact with real rules in an imaginative world.
As part of its games study, Salemn and Zimmerman (2011) explained the experience of playing games can become a ‘meaningful play’ if a deep relationship between game and player is achieved. This means that the realm of experience of the players are embedded in and effected by their social and cultural real life. In summary, the activity of a player in a game relies on the relationship between action and outcome.
On a general note, Mäyrä (2008) concluded that game studies despite being new is a multidisciplinary field of study. Learning about games, its phenomena, news and trends which surround the games, could range from history and anthropology to psychology, sociology, educational and computer sciences.
The video game industry in Japan was established in the twentieth century with four big names: Sega, Taito, Namco and Nintendo. Among those names, Nintendo is one that is still around now, competing with the other big names like Sony and Microsoft (Picard, 2013). The name Nintendo comes from a kanji character nin, ten, and do which means “leave luck to heaven”. It started from 1889 in form of a store that sold playing cards (Harris et al., 2017). In 1948, Hiroshi Yamauchi transformed Nintendo’s store into an entrepreneur company where the main products focusing on toys, and later introduced a new category called “video games”. In 1977, Nintendo launched its first video game system called Colour TV Game with 6 video game versions of paddle and ball games (Sheff, 1993). With the multiple generations of consoles now, during that time, the colour TV game was one of the first-generation video games consoles (Gutenberg, 2017).
It was not until Donkey Kong that Nintendo finally confirmed its new elite status as one of the members of Japan’s video game elite together with Taito, Sega and Namco (Donovan, 2010). In 1986, Nintendo introduced its hardware system, Nintendo Entertainment System, where within four years, it managed to contribute 85% of total sales of video games industry. The video games were until then only played and enjoyed in arcade clubs were brought home by Nintendo. It was undoubtedly the most popular video game system during the time (Provenzo, 1991).
From the success of its console, Nintendo started building its own video games brands. With the role-playing game (RPG) such as Fire Emblem and The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo confirmed itself as a dominant force in Japanese video games business. Not long after that, Nintendo entered international markets like the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Particularly, the Nintendo Entertainment System console became a big success in the United States of America with Super Mario Bros, another big video games’ brand of Nintendo, making the character as one of the most iconic characters in video games (Donovan, 2010).
One of the Nintendo’s greatest invention happened not long after its home console launched. The Gameboy handheld game console, launched in 1989 and marked the beginning of the generation of mobile technology and the growth of omnipresent gaming. Aside from being a convenient console game, it somehow opened up the games market to women and children. Because of the emergence of this new handheld, Nintendo needed to find an appropriate game to enhance the importance of handheld play. Tetris was acquired by Nintendo to answer this need (The Conversation, 2016).
Games and game characters contributed a lot to Nintendo’s fame. Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. have become game cultural and retro cultural icons together with Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog (1991), Namco’s Pac-Man (1980) and Taito’s Space Invaders (1978) (Suominen, 2012). Nintendo’s most popular franchise consists of games such as Super Mario Bros. (1985), Mario Kart (1992), Super Mario Galaxy (2007), the Legend of Zelda (1986) and Pokemon (1996). Their business strategy lies by securing their success and profit with creating products from their own franchise which have already been popular. Nintendo somehow discourages third party game developers to create games for them due to high licence fees for every game products that they sell. (Kerr, 2006).
Their strategy is to expand and grow their own franchise brands. Now with the established business, aside from keeping their heritage franchise brands, Nintendo is still rejuvenating several of its older consoles in more modern and newer casings, offering a collection of their classic games in one handy machine. Despite lack of supply to meet the demand, the new Nintendo Entertainment System Classic that was launched in 2016, it was one of the must-have Christmas gifts (BBC News, 2017). ‘Playing Mario games has become a sign of history cultural routinization and habituation process’ (Suominen, 2012). It somehow has become a culture in game history. Sheff (1993) mentioned that Nintendo somehow has become a cultural invasion in that. In the 1990, Super Mario was a better recognized character by American children than Mickey Mouse
The knowledge about Mario is passed from the older generation of players to the new one together with the other big characters like Link in Zelda and definitely the newest addition to the list, Pokemon. Pokemon has also been a big success. Starting as a Gameboy game in one single market, Japan in 1996, it managed to expand into a multimedia franchise with movies, merchandise and more. Pokemon also expanded globally and becoming a global household name that associated with Nintendo (Allison, 2003). Nintendo characters transformed from games into television cartoon shows, records, magazines, books, videos, cereals, notebooks, drinking mugs, T-shirts and bed sheets (Mäyrä, 2008).
The historical term of nostalgia, initially started as a medical term. Hofer (1688) used this term to refer on ‘homesickness’. Homesickness was one of the most serious sickness during that time, because it could cause (Avenbrugger, 1763, cited by Kessous and Roux, 2008). The term of “nostos” which means return and “algos” which means pain, were introduced to described people that suffering pain because of being far away from home and have needs to return to their home. Avenbrugger’s contribution was a major progress in medicine, which later contributing to psychology effect of the mind over body (Martin, 1954, cited by Kessous and Roux, 2008).
Subsequently, the term ‘nostalgia’ evolved, and moved away from being a disease. Nostalgia known as a term that refer to time: past, present and future. Based on Turner (1987), in order to be classified as nostalgia, there are four factors that need to be fulfilled:
- An emotional feeling of being lost in space and time
- An emotional feeling due to loss of values and references of civilization.
- A personal loss feeling occurred because of less freedom.
- Insecurity on a mass consumption culture resulted to the loss feeling of simple things, originality and spontaneity.
Subsequently, Holbrook and Schindler (1991), defined nostalgia as a general preference attitude that is very positive towards objects like places, things, or even a particular person that can be shared with others, and felt during young age or even before one was born. Somehow the negative connotation on nostalgia in the past changed to more positive feeling. Furthermore, Nostalgic experiences can be felt through three levels (Davis, 1979). Those levels are:
- Simple Nostalgia: thinks that the past was better and an individual would always want to go back to the past but somehow realizes that it cannot be done.
- Reflexive Nostalgia: displays a complete analysis of the past where an individual considers that the past was awesome.
- Interpreted Nostalgia: measures the meaning of nostalgic feelings compare to present conditions to improve life situation and to locate the source, the disposition and the psychological purpose.
The concept of nostalgia was later introduced in the marketing field to be focus on customer preferences influenced by their emotions. The concept of nostalgia explored to understand customers’ behaviour in present situation as it could be effected by emotional pressure felt in the past. Many researchers have studied on variables that could influence the nostalgia effect on customers. Some of those variables found are age (Holbrook and Schindler, 1989, 1996, 2003; Havlena and Holak, 1991; Schindler and Holbrook, 1993), gender (Davis, 1979; Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981), and the sensory (Hirsch, 1992; Baumgartner, 1992). Furthermore, the usage of nostalgia can lead to brand attachment (Thomson et al., 2005) and brand preference (Holbrook and Schindler, 1989, 2003; Rindfleisch and Sprott, 2000).
Particular possessions can strengthen self-identity that will result in experiences (Richins, 1994). Particular possessions can connect customers with their past through their memories, attitudes and emotions (Belk, 1988). This exploration that is called nostalgia can contribute to the individual identity based on cultural heritage and memories that is shared with group members (Brown and Humphreys, 2002). In conclusion, nostalgia can be a self-identity or a shared experience by group members. Moreover, when that self-identity emerges in a transaction, the likelihood of that transaction to be chosen is bigger (Richins, 1994) and at the end it will give a reason for the individual to do a purchase transaction on a product (Reed, 2002).
When people get older, they tend to re-visit a certain period time of their lives (Taylor and Konrad, 1980); they try to recreate the past experience in the form of a sentimental possession with a symbolic representation (Hirsch, 1992). This can drive people to purchase items in order to re-experience their past (Motley et al., 2003). These purchases represent an identity that links the present and the past which people long for (Belk, 1990).
Nostalgia means a longing feeling for the past or a preference towards a tangible or intangible possessions and activities that can connect to the past. Nostalgia is usually felt when individuals assume they are no longer present on an era they feel attached to (Davis 1979; Holbrook, 1993). Nostalgia resulted in more positive customer responses than negative (Davis, 1979), it can influence customer behaviour both emotionally (Batcho, 1995; Davis, 1979; Hirsch, 1992; Holak and Havlena, 1998) and cognitively (Holbrook and Schindler, 1994; Marconi, 1996; Stern, 1992).
Figure 5 – Nostalgic Preferences Model (Holbrook and Schindler, 2003)
The figure above illustrates that the experience of having intense affective consumption can lead to nostalgic preferences. In order to nurture that intense affective consumption, one has to be in a particular age that attracted to a particular product type that may impact differently towards gender. Moreover, the biological mechanism like age and gender will help to bring up the emotional response. For example, there will be a different emotional push between kids and adults in term of consumption. Kids might not be able to afford the consumption but as an adult, the consumption most likely to happen. Similarly, to product types that evoke interest to particular age and gender will evoke the intense affective consumption push. The environmental forces also come into account such as reference groups and cultural form (Holbrook and Schindler, 2003).
Holbrook and Schindler (1996) found that men are more prone to nostalgia compared to women when comes to cultural products. For example, for automobiles, men will prefer cars that they encountered in their youth. Holbrook and Schindler (1996) also demonstrates that some individuals are attached to a particular significant event in the past and others for a longer period of the past.
There are two ways for people to experience nostalgia. They must have memories about the past either it is lived or learned (Braun et al., 2001; Fairley, 2003). Lived memories usually indicated as real or true or direct nostalgia. They are people’s reflections based on their personal experience of the past rather than from external sources like books and stories (Baker and Kennedy, 1994; Davis, 1979). Nostalgia from learned memories – usually attributed as simulated or indirect nostalgia is nostalgic feelings toward an object that occurred not because of direct experience during that time but because of influence from books or stories, where the object came or introduced to the individuals. (Baker and Kennedy, 1994; Stern, 1992).
Collective memory of nostalgia is established, passed and shared by a group of people in modern society era or even in virtual reality (Holak et al., 2008). Collective memory usually happens if a particular person experiences historical nostalgia regarding an event in their past that usually combined with fantasy. Historical nostalgic variables include historical event, inspirational characters, romantic events and even exaggerated moments (Stern, 1992).
Marchegiani and Phau (2011) proved that historical nostalgia can lead into cognitive and attitudes changes leading to purchase intentions. There is a significant increment of purchase intentions every time, there is an increment of nostalgia. Positive attitudes about the past have big potential to affect customer decisions. A particular preference for the past could increase the possibility that items that have been purchased when one was young and will be purchased again as an adult.
On a study done by Sierra and McQuitty (2007), they found out that attitudes about the past and that feeling of longing for the past is positively related to purchase intention of the nostalgic products. This purchase action is affected by emotional and cognitive factors. In the same study, it was discovered that the nostalgia is measured through emotional level. It is clearly stated that nostalgia is purely an emotional push that can lead to a purchase action by customers who have experienced the nostalgia in the past.
Nostalgia can affect customer behaviour and bring competitive advantage when used effectively. The fact that many people want to re-experience the past times gives marketers a chance to boost up sales by enhancing current products and improving image through the “good old days” (Sierra and McQuitty, 2007).
Game studies suggests that game is an emotional experience between the game and player due to the expected outcome (Juul, 2005). Understanding that emotional factor is important in the gaming activity, some game companies are trying to exploit this by trying to regenerate that old interest and re-releasing classic game titles or utilizing familiar characters to attract that emotional attachment of its customers.
Retrogaming specify to a practice of both playing and collecting original (classic) videogames from the era of the 1970s, the 1980s and the early 1990s. This practice also includes using emulators for playing the games. Other activities around it such as production of customer products, collecting T-shirts or accessories, music videos related to games, games literature, various artistic, museum and academic practice until online circulation of the information and discussion around classic games, are some of the activities of retrogaming(Suominen, 2008). Hence, retrogaming does not only discern point of view of customers or gamers, but also aesthetic expression, experiential arts and research, institutional game preservation, discourse of taste and cultural industry motivated by the producers and game companies.
Keeping gamers interested is important for game companies. Their affiliation to games can be cognitive, emotional and nostalgic. Some may use this affiliation to trigger gamers’ memories. Games stir the emotions and arouse the senses of gamers (Swalwell, 2013).
An interesting aspect of nostalgia in video gaming is that the re-released of video games somehow could result in a player to return in an exact same familiar place, a virtual environment that was already there when they originally played that particular game and still available in an unchanged state. With this, it allows the player to experience nostalgia that might not be found in non-virtual environments (Heineman, 2014).
On the other hand, despite the fact that the player can go back to where they left the virtual environment at the exact same state, Molesworth’s (2017) study shows the effect that nostalgia is more than that. Molesworth (2017) stated that players’ motive to play old or retro games is to access their past collective memories of an enjoyable time, but because of the fact that they are older now, that particular feeling and experience no longer exist.
Molesworth (2017) found that this motive does not necessary lead directly to satisfaction as players could never re-created to the experience that was occurred in the past. The players who become adults now, soon realize that the games that are available now is just regular and feel more like a ‘routine’. That positive experience of nostalgia that appeared together with familiar graphics, characters and controls soon fades away.
On her book, Hamlet on the Holodeck, Murray (1999) mentioned that the challenge of having a meaningful digital story in games lies in the longing of nostalgia for older media. She mentioned this should not be a block, the digital space should be studied deeply to entangle together with existing cultural elements. The digital game moment should act as an extension of history, rather than a new beginning or a terrible end of nostalgia (Margini, 2017).
Rapport has not received much attention in the marketing literature (Gremler and Gwinner, 2000) and when it is discussed, the literatures focus more on the service industry because of the existence of the interpersonal relationships. Study about rapport has included educational settings, roommate relationships, psychotherapist-client interactions, qualitative data collection and business transactions. In this study of rapport will focus more on business transaction.
Rapport can be as simple as when people ‘click’ with each other because of ‘chemistry’ (Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal, 1990). While on the other hand, the real meaning of rapport is ‘a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). This simply means a relationship that is maintained between parties. In the marketing or business sector, this mainly means how companies can maintain relationships with their customers.
Gremler and Gwinner (2000) defines rapport as ‘personal connection between the two interactants’, which can influence customer satisfaction that lead to loyalty (Gremler and Gwinner, 2000; Hennig-Thurau et al., 2006; Verbeke et al., 2008). These two particular variables will sooner or later have an impact on company profitability (Anderson et al., 1994). For services business that requires intense interactions between employees and customers, the interactions are formed by intimacy, high quality information exchange, historical and long interaction time and sometimes deep emotion (Kellogg and Chase, 1995; Parasuraman et al., 1985).
In their study, Price and Arnould (1999) found that commercial friendships are related to three marketing objectives: satisfaction, loyalty and positive word of mouth communication. Customers’ rapport with the company will result in repeat purchases (Barnes, 1997). Customers often become loyal as a result of a strong connection that leads to developing rapport (Price and Arnould, 1999). Furthermore, the rapport relationship can yield significant loyalty towards the company (Reynolds and Beatty, 1999).
Figure 6. Structural Model of Customer Rapport in Service Industry (Gremler and Gwinner, 2002)
Based on figure 6 above, Gremler and Gwinner (2002) conduct research on two types of business, bank and dental. Both industries show different results where Bank appreciated enjoyable interaction and personal connection in their customer rapport building while personal connection in dental industry does not have significant impact to satisfaction, word of mouth communication and loyalty intention. In summary, customer rapport can be built through enjoyable interaction and personal connection. Enjoyable interaction can lead to satisfaction, word of mouth communication and loyalty intention, but personal connection will not necessarily impact to satisfaction and loyalty intention. Though, need to note that this study by Gremler and Gwinner (2002) focus on service industry where the physical and personal interaction are common to happen. This study managed to illustrate that in order to build a rapport with the customers, the emotional of having a pleasant interaction is important. Furthermore, the relationship built through rapport will lead to loyalty intention.
Weitz et al. (1992) defines rapport as ‘a close, harmonious relationship founded on mutual trust’. LaBahn (1996), in his article about relationship between advertisement agency and clients, defines rapport as ‘the client’s perception that the personal relationships have the right ‘chemistry’ and are enjoyable’. Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) describe rapport as ‘a sense of genuine interpersonal sensitivity and concern’. Rapport is also developed where there have been repeated interactions within the same producer (Gutek et al., 1999). Moreover, rapport is achieved when a satisfactory communication and mutual understanding occurred. (Gfeller et al., 1987). In summary, a rapport is an experience that is achieved through enjoyable interactions where the participants relate with each other, with producers, on some level.
An experience with the brand starts when consumption occurred. These consumption experiences usually are multidimensional including emotional feelings, and fantasies (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). In those brand experiences, there are some short-lived brand experiences and some that could stay longer. The long-lasting brand experiences are usually saved in memories and can result into customer satisfaction and brand loyalty (Oliver, 1997; Reicheld, 1996).
Traditionally, customer satisfaction is one of the factors that determines and are essential to have in order to attain long term customers (Yi, 1990). The more satisfied customers are, the more likely they are retained as loyal customers by the brand (Anderson and Sullivan, 1993; Fornell, 1992), it can generate positive word of mouth (Reichheld and Sasser, 1990; Schneider and Bowen, 1999), and at the end deliver financial benefits to the companies (Fornell et al., 1995). However, satisfaction does not guarantee that repeated purchase (Jones and Sasser, 1995). Satisfaction may be one important driver, but trust and switching barriers are also able to influence customer retention, both as independent factor and as a group. Trust and satisfaction can be built by rapport with avoiding the switching barrier.
Furthermore, brand attachment with positive reactions can lead to satisfaction (Oliver et al., 1997). Attachment is critical to obtained as it is personal experiences and at the end can build strong connections between customer and brand. Obtaining brand attachment from the customer can influence their behaviours that will result to value for the customers and positive brand profit (Thomson et al., 2005).
Brand attachment can be obtained by reaching the accessible memory network of customers that contains emotional feelings and logical thoughts about a particular brand. Furthermore, brand attachment can be defined by the strong relationship of the brand with its customers (Mikulincer and Shaver, 2007). There are two components in brand attachment: ‘brand connection and brand prominence’. Brand connection means the relationship and connection between customer and brand, that usually felt as emotional feelings (Chaplin and John, 2005; Escalas, 2004). These feelings can be felt by the customers when the brand is separated from the customer. These feelings may contain satisfaction, sadness, or even anxiety. This effect could happen to the customers because the particular brand was able to represent the goals, concerns or even life objectives of the customer (Mittal, 2006).
Brand prominence is a connection that is built over time. It resulted from a person’s memory, because its nature of personal memory, this experience is felt variably. Both brand prominence and brand connections will give affect to brand attachment and brand relationship (Escalas and James, 1998; Fournier, 1998). The more attached a customer to a particular brand, more likely the brand will be preferred and will be able to continue brand-customer (Aron, Aron, and Smollan 1992; Mikulincer 1998).
This research employed an explorative and qualitative approach. The investigation method was conducted by developing concepts to understand social phenomena in natural settings and articulate the meanings, experiences and views expressed by the participants. The aim was to study the stories and cultures of a gamers to develop an understanding of their natural behaviour. The data was analysed by categorizing the data in order to extract useful concepts, to answer the research questions (Mays and Pope, 1995).
The method was used to understand participants’ feelings of Nintendo’s nostalgia strategy, its effect and its limitation. The method should also find if the nostalgia strategy is an effective approach to maintain the customers rapport, that could lead to brand attachment and loyalty towards Nintendo. This research employed two methods, netnography and interview that will be expanded upon below. Both methods worked together to help the researcher to extract the useful concepts and develop a deeper understanding regarding Nintendo’s approaches to build customers rapport.
The participants sample of this research are gamers that have experienced playing with video games consoles. A gamer in this research is defined as ‘a person who plays video games’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). Particularly for this research, the gamers are defined as people who have encountered and experienced playing and/or still playing with any Nintendo video games using any Nintendo game consoles.
The first research method used in this research was an explorative qualitative method using netnography (Kozinets, 2015; Molesworth and Denegri-Knott, 2004). Netnography or ‘online ethnography’ can be applied to answer questions regarding social problems that interest social researchers, from human sexual expression (Correll, 1995; Turkle, 1995) to disabled groups (Nelson,1994) to game playing behaviour (McMahan,2003). Netnography is a study of online communities using ethnography principle. Etnography is the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits and mutual difference (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017) While netnography is the ‘study of cultures and communities emerging through computer-mediated communications and uses information publicly available in online forums’ (Kozinets, 2002). Based on Kozinets (2002), there are several considerations to be aware of:
- It needs to relate to the research questions
- The forum needs to contain different point of view, unless the aim of the research is to seek deep understanding without vary opinions
- Provides detailed and rich data to analyse
- Contains plenty of social interactions.
This research paper investigated gamers’ communities through online forums. The online gamers’ communities are a big population, they contain different point of view and rich data to analyse. The specific netnography that is used in this research was to read conversations, understand the meanings of those conversations, analyse and group them into themes. It is the kind of netnography as content analysis as how Langer and Beckman (2005) does in their research.
Furthermore, Belk (2006) argues that netnography should encompasses multiple methods, approaches and analyses. This research used a form of observational netnography (Kozinets and Sherry, 2004; Langer and Beckman, 2005). Kozinets (2002) argued that the strength of netnography is in its unique ability to create an opportunity to study and observe defined groups of online communities and conclude from their online conversations. These unique and useful assumptions can be determined from observed small number of conversations and messages. Netnography is influenced by natural customer interaction and conversations. Netnography aimed to help in discovering and understanding natural insights, motivations, consumption habits and symbolic behaviour of the customers (Kozinets, 2002; Weijo et al., 2014).
Thus, this research used an observational netnography where the researcher tried not to disturb the nature of the conversations within the online communities, rather we quoted them directly, grouped these quotes then analysed the meaning of the conversations. The investigation of this research is an analysis of the behaviour of customers towards Nintendo’s video games as the result of Nintendo’s costumer rapport strategy. The qualitative method aimed to prove their emotion and opinion regarding Nintendo. In summary, we intended to understand the undisturbed behaviour and perceptions of the gamers toward Nintendo.
The main source of this netnography data were online forums which facilitate online communities of video games players. These online forums are online social gatherings of gamers. Observing gamers’ conversations through netnography assisted in forming an exploratory understanding of how nostalgia strategy used by Nintendo establishes the customers’ loyalty. Kozinetsz (2002) advises that the online communities being investigated should connect to the research aims, have a high number of posts by users, have high frequency of member-to-member interactions and have the capability of sending discrete messages.
Online community forums from gaming websites are very famous among gamers. Examples of such forums are are IGN, Gamespot, Kotaku, Reddit even Youtube (Lee, 2016). Because of time restrictions and to keep the research focused, this research investigated the popular Reddit forum considering that the United Kingdom is the third biggest user of Reddit after Canada and the United States of America. In the United Kingdom, there are 6.6 million active users per month with ‘games’ and ‘gaming’ in the top ten most popular Reddit conversation threads (BBC.co.uk, 2015).
The data was collected over period of three weeks with the topics observed were posted by the gamers between the months of January 2011 and July 2017. This time period demonstrates substantial evolution and development of Nintendo’s iconic video games brands as it covers around two to three Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft’s consoles launches. This time range was able to capture unprompted conversations about the three main players in console gaming. Topics generated during the period were about behaviour, experiences and reasons of playing console games both home and/or handheld console particulary Nintendo’s consoles.
Interviews were particularly useful for getting the story behind customer experiences in order to get in-depth information (McNamara,1999). Interviews were conducted to produce retrospective (and prospective) accounts of past (or future) actions, experiences, feelings and thoughts. The interviews were standardized and open-ended where the same open-ended questions are asked to all interviewees. This form of interviews involved asking questions, listening, and recording answers from the participants on a structured format in an in-depth manner. This approach facilitates faster interviews that can be more easily analysed and compared (Seale et al., 2007).
Furthermore, the interview is following a broadly ‘discursive’ approach (Wetherell, 2001). The discursive approach is a method of analysing the conversation in the interview session as natural as possible. The researcher is not trying to develop an assumption toward interviewees’ actions, experiences, feelings and thoughts. The analysis focuses more on how the specific answers are produced, sustained and negotiated. This in order to build precise analysis towards the participants (Seale et al., 2007).
The interviews were useful in digging deeper into the gamers’ emotions and focusing on their experiences towards Nintendo. The interview focused on the reasons gamers play Nintendo’s games. The data was used to check on the existence of rapport because of the knowledge of nostalgia that may lead to brand loyalty. In summary, the interviews were to build a deeper understanding upon netnography findings relative to the research questions.
The United Kingdom has a long history in video games. It is the fifth largest video game market based on customer revenues in 2017. The United Kingdom ranks lower than China, the United States of America, Japan, and South Korea in terms of numbers of people who played games with approximately 32.4 million game players (Ukie.org.uk, 2017). With this fact, the research decided to conduct interviews in the UK.
In term of age profile, the researcher used data of game users profile in Gametrack (2017) published by IPSOS in table 1. Based on the data in table 1, the biggest age bracket for gamers in UK is on six to fourteen years old, then followed by twenty-five to forty-four years old. Due to the aim of this research is to explore on the customer rapport that has built over time and to check if nostalgia felt by gamers, thus this research focus on older age group.
|% Playing ANY type of game by age group||UK||France||Germany||Spain|
|Aged 6 – 10||72%||86%||76%||75%|
|Aged 11 – 14||77%||93%||88%||78%|
|Aged 15 – 24||57%||78%||86%||69%|
|Aged 25 – 34||36%||66%||61%||47%|
|Aged 35 – 44||37%||62%||58%||37%|
|Aged 45 – 64||21%||39%||33%||16%|
Table 1: Gaming industry players by age in any format or device
Furthermore, the interviews’ participants recruited were 15 adults who grew up and had experienced multiple console platforms particularly Nintendo, Xbox and Playstation. The participants should have played Nintendo’s classic games and franchises like Mario Bros, Zelda and Pokemon. In summary, the interviewees’ profiles were as follow:
- Age: 25 – 44 years old
- Geographical based: UK based
- Male and Female
- Have played multiple console particularly any Nintendo’s classic game, such as Mario Bros, Zelda and/or Pokemon.
In order to ensure no ethical violation occurred while conducting this research, the ethical guidelines of the University of Southampton’s Ethics and Research Governance (ERGO) was obtained before the research began. Specifically, in using netnography methodology, ethical conduct is essential due to its nature of public online environment (Kozinets, 2015). With that public information that easily available in online environment, there are apparent ethical risks such as revealing the identities of individuals, and/or sharing sensitive, private information that may disturb an individual’s privacy or cause potential mental distress to participants (Kozinet, 2015).
The public nature of the forum and threads, conversations can be quoted and analysed. However, there is a recommendation that the sources should be anonymised if used (Kozinets, 2015). In conducting this research, there is no direct contact with the participants which means there will be no gap in users’ anonymity.
Video gaming forums are open and interactive. This virtual environment provides many opportunities for customers to interact with each other and to exchange knowledge both online and offline (Belk, 2006). In this research, the netnography method was the first method to explore and identify natural emotions of gamers had towards Nintendo, its brands and the nostalgia strategy. The observation was enhanced by further qualitative interview data
Of the second method used, interview, the interview schedule of questions was submitted for ethic’s approval before any interviews were conducted. The same set of questions were asked to all of the participants. The interviews were audio recorded and the interviewees signed the letter of consent. The interviewees aware on the condition that they were being interviewed for the purpose of completing dissertation. The interviewees also indicated understanding that their name and age might be quoted directly within the findings and analyses. While the data collected have been stored and sealed in a private space by the researcher.