Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Brands Mate via Social Media

How is a conversation with a brand consummated?

Earlier I had written about influence as it relates to a product recommendation between two people. In short, influence can be thought of as the effects of experience, relevance, and brand charge. A person's recommendation has more influence if it comes from an 'expert' and is made in a straight-forward manner. Repeated or collective recommendations ultimately surpass a threshold and a purchase decision is made.

But what happens when one of the participants is a brand or company? (I continue to think that most products can't talk, but their minders can.)

Clearly experience and relevance play a role, but what about charge? Is it safe to think that a brand will only talk about itself in a positive form? While chest beating may be common in advertising, there are counter-examples.
  • Progressive provides information on the consideration set for those seeking car insurance.
  • Some brands admit their mistakes publicly; product recalls and help lines may fall in this camp.
  • Behavioral targeting, although crude from a conversation point of view, is an attempt to get the timing right.
But there is something missing in this brand-person interchange that is usually present in person-to-person activities. The ability to go back and forth in order to clearly understand the need is missing. For most brands, understanding the specific individual needs to be satisfied is still guess work or the presumptive result of focus groups and research (which may also be a guessing game.)

Helping align solutions to needs may be the right role for social media since it allows for a modicum of two-way conversation. This give and take seems like a mating-ritual: are you right for me and am I right for you?

However, the analogy of mating starts to break down in terms of scale. It seems unrealistic to talk to everyone individually. Maybe the role of all communications - Advertising, PR, Customer Service, Analyst, whatever - should be to foster one side or the other of the alignment by either helping me to articulate my needs better or clearly explaining the advantages of your offer. In the end we both want to be compatible in an eHarmony kind of way.

Before you ask for my hand in marriage let's make sure we're a match.

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