Too many brands continue to fail at convincingly placing what they have to offer inside the lives of the people they are trying to reach. A lot of that seems to come down to a simple mis-alignment of priorities: whilst marketing teams ponder data and speak earnestly about really understanding their buyers as individuals, those interests are not reflected as clearly as they should be in what they end up saying.
Brands often seem most interested in talking about:
- Who they are
- What they sell
- What it retails for
- Their size and geographical spread
- Their ownership
- Who their customers are (usually in demographic terms)
- Their financial performance
- Their innovations/news
- Their CSR and what they sponsor
- Their social media/content marketing initiatives
Contrast that with the priorities that play on the minds of consumers:
- Is the brand desirable both aesthetically and functionally?
- Does the brand’s image and reputation fit with who they are? Is this a brand they will be proud to be seen with?
- Is the brand well made?
- Is it well supported across a range of channels? Can it be easily accessed? Does it respond?
- Is it made by a company that behaves ethically?
- Is the brand interesting? Is it in the news? Do people talk about it?
- Who’s the brand associated with? Who speaks for the brand? Are they someone the buyer admires?
- Is the brand consistent? Do consumers get what they think they’re getting?
- Is it easy to find? Is the choice set manageable and not overly-complicated?
- Is it priced right?
So while companies focus on what they are doing and think about that quantitatively and in terms of deliverables (because that is how they are judged internally), consumers focus on how the brand makes them feel and which of the many brand options available to them feels most like them (because that’s how they make their decisions).
Inclusion not intrusion
The contrast between marketer and marketed also reveals itself in how consumers feel about brand intrusion into social channels. In an article in Forbes, Avi Dan quotes research from Altimeter stating that 42% of companies considered social media monitoring one of their top three priorities last year. Yet research from JD Power shows that 64% of consumers insist that they don’t want companies to step in and respond to social comments unprompted but rather only when spoken to.
In short, too many brands are trying too hard to be friendly. The result is an uncomfortable over-familiarity.
The onus in my view is on brands to make a shift to a more human level of interaction with their buyers. It’s not enough for companies to listen and respond to what their research tells them, because in the hands of a major brand that simply becomes another intrusion. To be truly responsive, and not just processive, brands need to find ways of talking to their consumers that are more natural sounding, more personality based, more give-and-take, more intuitive, more versatile. They need to put in place Relationships teams whose role is not to slavishly respond to the analytics but rather to swim deftly in the social tide.
I suspect that’s the real role of social media going forward and that brands will devolve to using social media this way once they have worked through their instinctive need to sell or talk about themselves. Doing so will require marketers to intrinsically change not just the nature but the speed of relationships. Alongside carefully crafted campaigns designed to instil image over years brands will need to engage in very short response programmes that take place in real time as ideas and mentions ebb and flow as trends. Different conversations, some scheduled, many not, taking place at different times across a finite range of topics.
The step-away approach
Interestingly, some brands have chosen never to engage. As Lakshmipathy Bhat observes over at bhatnaturally, Apple has gone out of its way not to engage with consumers in one-on-one conversations. Instead it has fostered affinity by doing the exact opposite – raising mystique by keeping the walls up. The George Clooney strategy. It’s a reminder that there is room in every market for one player at least to pursue the absolute opposite of what everyone else is fighting about. In a world of clamour, Apple have chosen to shut up, and their customers love them all the more for doing so.
Photo of “Starbucks love” taken by rekre89, sourced from Flickr