It’s tempting to think of consumers in binary terms in relation to the brands you are responsible for: in, or out; buying, or not buying; loyal, or not loyal. But for many brands, the status of an individual can be more complex. At any given point in time, people can take on other roles in relation to your brand, and in relation to your competitors’ brands, that nevertheless have a direct influence on your competitiveness.
4 other ways that consumers can engage with your brand
Supporter – They can be an open and unapologetic endorser of what you do, amongst their friends, on social media, online. Whether they buy from you, and how often they buy from you, in no way changes their status as critically valuable endorsers of your brand through word of mouth. They may support you because of what you stand for, what you make, how they see you, what you sponsor, any number of reasons … and that support may or may not be visible to you through social monitoring.
Keeping your supporters onside and engaged with who you are is fundamental to your brand’s reputational health. It’s important that you acknowledge them collectively and that you openly and generously credit and thank them as a group when they rush to support what you have done or rally to defend a change you have made.
Enemy – The counter-balance to your supporters is the community that, for whatever reason, you rub up the wrong way. They may disagree with your right to exist, what you make, how you operate, the influence you have … and they are often vociferous and persistent in their attacks. You’re never going to win much of this group over in my view and for that reason your consideration of what they say needs to be carefully worked through.
I think there are three aspects to this: take note of the reasonable criticism, and use it to make changes to how you work and what you stand for; disregard the radical criticism altogether and refuse to engage with it or be influenced by it; and finally draw on what is being said about you by these critics to more clearly define who you are and who you are not, what you believe and what you yourselves disagree with.
Spectator – On most days, large swathes of the market are not engaged with you at all. They may see you through your social and paid presences, they may read an article about you through their favourite news source, even stop to look in your window – but for the most part, you’re nowhere near their front of mind and so their awareness of you, and their response to you, is parked. Unless they see or hear something that stimulates them to shift that view, one way or the other, the easiest thing for them is to filter you and the many other thousands of messages they deem irrelevant out of their consciousness.
Many marketers see these people as convertible. They’re not, because until they need to consider you, they won’t. The critical action with this group is what I call non-active interest. You want them to know you and to recognise you, at best, and not to dismiss you at worst. You want to be part of their lifestyle, without necessarily being part of their life (yet). Sam Noble refers to the brands that can pull this off as “participation brands”. He writes, “Making the leap from being another credible choice in a category to being a visible and vibrant participant in the flow of modern lifestyles is certainly challenging. It requires finding valuable and interesting ways to both satisfy the needs and stimulate the desires of increasingly unreasonable consumers. It requires taking a nuanced approach depending on the specific context of the market. It may also require polarising opinion to be distinctive enough to really cut through.”
There. But not too there.
Reviewer – Increasingly, your brand is subject to the whims and personal opinions of those who have experienced what you offer and have then shared with others. The advantages and dangers of review sites like TripAdvisor are well canvassed and do not need to be gone into here, but they are a reminder to all brand managers that the ‘objective’ opinion of others, alongside the pros and cons of supporters and detractors, hold significant sway in some sectors.
You can’t and shouldn’t attempt to dissuade, silence or punish those who have experienced your brand and found it wanting, but neither should you go to the other extreme of only quoting those you agree with. Recognising the influence they have on traveller choices, some of the hotel brands do a very good job of monitoring and responding to reviewers. Timeliness, rules of engagement, courtesy and a gentle sense of humour will all serve you well in these forums.
Within the domains that you are responsible for, specifically your blog and social media accounts, I’m of the view that the right of others to have an opinion is equalled by your right to share or not to share that opinion on your real estate. A clear, simple and actionable editorial policy is vital.
The greatest challenge brands face today is what they do in the huge spaces of time when most people display little or no interest in what they have to offer
Every marketer dreams of making their brand the centre of everyone’s attention. But I think the greatest, and most consistent, challenge brands face today is what they do in the huge spaces of time when most people display little or no interest at all. Who you involve, who you ignore, who you nod to and how you are talked about by others between purchases will influence and sometimes decide the context within which you then must convince. The key to success is mastering the times when most people really don’t seem to care.
Photo of “spectator” taken by istolethetv, sourced from Flickr