I really love this image. It’s one of those beautifully interpreted cultural observations that makes Banksy such an important visual commentator on our age. However, for me, the image symbolises much more than just the ‘Every Little Helps’ generation of BOGOFs and Club Card points; it symbolises the bubble that many brands are living in (not all, but some).
It captures the misguided and vein assumption some brands have that customers are ‘loyal’ patriots who have sworn an allegiance to their brand by hitting the ‘Like’ button on their Facebook page or following them on Twitter.
They forget or ignore the fact that the person that just hit ‘Like’ on their Facebook page has probably also just hit the ‘Like’ button and ‘Share’ button on the picture of their nan’s dancing cat.
Yet many brands still see the number of ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers’ they have as a measure of commercial success and proof of a meaningful ‘relationship’ with ‘loyal’ customers. Some even dare call it a successfully social media strategy until you bring up the thorny question of customer retention, repeat sales and how many of those ‘Likes’ actually translated into hard cash or meaningful engagement that extends beyond the generic ‘hello’ across the room.
You see; the truth of the matter is that your consumers, both online and offline are simply someone else’s consumers who occasionally buy your brand. In one survey, 77% of people said they didn’t have a relationship with a brand. In another, 72% of Pepsi drinkers admitted to also drinking Coca-Cola and I’d have to admit to being one of them.
So what’s causing the confusion? Are we in a meaningful relationship or not?
I suppose in its simplest and most human of terms, you could say that if a brand were to sit down over a coffee and have a chat with the vast majority of consumers, the conversation would go something like this:
[BRAND X] We’re great together, aren’t we?
[CONSUMER] Actually – I only came over because I thought you had something for me.
[BRAND X] But I thought you ‘Liked’ me?
[CONSUMER] I did. But that was then. This is now.
[BRAND X] But I thought we had something special?
[CONSUMER] Look – we’re just in different places.
[BRAND X] But I counted you as being one of my best friends. I’ve told everyone at work all about you.
[CONSUMER] You’re taking this way to serious. I think we should see other people. Bye.
(At this point the consumer gets up and leaves you to pick up the bill.)
OK – so maybe this is an over simplified explanation and a little harsh. But I’ve seen too many companies falling into the trap of misinterpreting the meaning of the word ‘relationship’. They take it literally and try to humanise it. But the reality of the matter is that brand relationships are nothing like human relationships even though we are increasingly using the same communications channels that we’d use to keep in touch with our family and friends.
As much as we’d all love to think that our brands’ Facebook and Twitter followers are loyal friends and stalwart advocates just sitting waiting to hear from us, you only have to watch an episode of Jeremy Kyle to work out that Facebook isn’t the forum for forming loyal relationships – even in the real world.
It’s a forum more given to opportunity than commitment. And for brands, that opportunity is to flirt with someone else’s consumers and invite them over with the promise of something worthwhile. Yes I know that sounds a little seedy, but the number one reason why people say they interact with companies via social media is to get a discount. I suppose that would explain the success of all those annoying websites that compare prices on everything from hotel rooms to home and car insurance. In-short, most people just want to save money and not get drawn into a long-term relationship that they know will always end up in the same place – with them being put in the awkward position of eventually being asked to part with cash.
So what’s the solution? Your brand is ready to settle down and have a committed relationship, but consumers just want to have fun. Well maybe we need to start by accepting that whilst what we’re saying might be really important to us – it’s not really all that important to other people. Not in terms of everything else that is going on in their lives. Remember, brand communications are more often than not an intrusion more than a welcomed distraction. We’re just clogging up Facebook and Twitter space that is needed to find out who is doing what tonight and discuss the really important topics such as, ‘does she really think she has the figure to wear that dress?’ and those obligatory promises of, ‘I’m never going to drink again’ with a choice of happy smiley face or cheeky wink.
So the challenge for brands is to become part of what is important to people. To be part of what interests them. It means taking a position and opposed to simply having a positioning statement.
And remember – not every conversation has to be all about you and how great you are.
TNS Impulse Panel (UK) & IBM in ‘To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple’. Harvard Business Review, May 2012.