What would you Like?

In this discussion on whether Liking a brand on Facebook makes you more inclined to be positive about that brand, writer Gregory Ferenstein says that rationalisation theory suggests “our actions secretly influence our opinions”.

I’m sure that’s right. We do something and we justify that action to ourselves. When we “like” a brand, we tell ourselves it’s a better brand than we might have thought it was otherwise. We make a public endorsement and we stand behind it. When we pay for something that makes us feel good, we feel better about that brand. And when we buy something alongside many others, we feel more secure because we are not alone.

The dealmaker or breaker though is that we do get what we thought we were getting – and this is where brands need to be so careful in framing expectations. If I take an action, and the action turns out to be better than I expected, I will be pleasantly surprised and I will naturally carry that through to my view of the brand. Zappos 101. Happy actions make for happy opinions.

But brands can get it very wrong in two ways.

The first is that they induce people to take actions under an expectation that never is going to be met. You see this with budget airlines all the time – where people buy expecting that they will get some semblance of the full service they’re used to. When they don’t – and they’re charged for bags or barred because they’re late – their opinions go through the floor. The actions that were taken didn’t align with the actions they were expecting, and as a result, they are bitterly disappointed.

Here’s the question. Who’s at fault? The airline – for not being clearer about expectations? Or the customer for not understanding what they were buying? I blame the airline – and here’s why. They have more to lose. If you want to avoid having disappointed customers, you have to presume that people assume. For the sake of your brand, you need to start from the point of view that unless and until your customers are told they can’t have something, they’ll assume they can. You can’t just hide that in the T&Cs.

In other words, if you want people to “like” what’s happening, you have to tell them what they don’t get – and you have to link that to what they are getting. “We close our flights off 30 minutes beforehand because …” And the “because” needs to be something that is relevant to the customer not the airline. So don’t talk about resourcing or policy or anything like that. Link it to the buyer.

For example, here’s how you might get someone to “like” the luggage policy. “Bags are heavy, and weight uses up fuel. The less bags you travel with, the lighter our planes and the less fuel we have to burn, which means you continue to pay lower fares. You can bring more bags if you want to, but you’ll have to pay for them. We think that’s fair to everyone.”

The second way brands can get it so wrong is when they think customers are taking one action when in fact, they are taking quite another. For example, offering a brand at a discount may entice people to buy – and brands may think that because customers have bought once, they will buy again, only next time at full price perhaps. The good old lost leader theory.

Except that’s not the real action in many cases. The real action – the one customers who buy this way are really liking – is not paying full price. So the real opinion that such an action influences is that the brand is not worth paying full price for.

Be careful how you judge the likings of others. What and why they “like” may be different from what and why you’d like them to “like”.

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