Cultivating more consumers who buy more, more often, & tell their friends!
You probably have read the popular quote from a tech exec who said “your brand isn't what you say it is, its what your consumers say it is”. This infers that in today’s increasingly social world, that consumers are the ones who control the dialog and direction of brands.
Obviously, this sentiment is popular among social media professionals who, in addition to posting it profusely, make their living by advising the online social efforts of their (increasingly frightened) clients.
While the line acknowledges the rising power of social media, it blatantly misrepresents the nature of consumer behavior. It’s just plain wrong. Here’s why:
Although consumers today are definitely more circumspect about marketing, this cynicism usually acts as an “ad filter”. It buffers us from the thousands of marketing messages that bombard us daily. We simply ignore most messages. For those that do break through though, consumers - for the most part - take them at face value. We basically believe what we are told, until we have reason not to. This is similar to how we engage with new people. We’re out at a party and meet someone. She says she’s a epigeneticist or a nuclear physicist or a CIA agent or whatever. Unless presented with evidence to the contrary - we believe what we are told. It’s the same with brands. If told that a new brand is the “quicker picker upper”, then absent conflicting evidence - we believe it.
This aspect of consumer behavior is actually the essence of brand marketing. Marketers determine what to say to inspire consumers to connect to their brand and buy. Brand management is all about identifying a strategic and compelling brand positioning - and then ensuring that every consumer touch point - including, of course, the product or service itself - is consistent with that message, look, and feel.
For brands that do this well, consumers continue to believe what they are told and go happily about their lives with the brand filling the physical and emotional space carved out for them. Social media is an important platform for friends, and whole communities of people, to share with each other their consumer experiences - both positive and negative. Of course, companies love when we tell our friends about how good their product is. This is perhaps the most powerful form of brand advocacy.
But, and this is where the aforementioned quote comes into play, if you fall short in meeting the product or brand expectations articulated in your marketing, then (depending on the scale of the breach) consumers are apt to feel betrayed and will share this negative experience with their friends as well. Consumers who feel “taken” or otherwise duped will lash out to even the karmic scales of justice. And in the same way that social media can propel a high performing brand forward, it can also tank underperforming ones.
That said, it’s more accurate to characterize social media as an incredibly powerful social microphone. The microphone itself is merely a tool to boost what is communicated through it. It's not a threat to companies nor does it challenge the role of brand management in marketing. In fact, social media has been extraordinarily helpful to some brands (just ask Old Spice). High performing brands can look forward to social media amplifying their messages in strategic ways. Frankly, social media can (and should) be a marketers best friend!
In the end, this is all about trust. As shared in The Simple Key To Consumer Satisfaction, marketers just have to deliver on their promises. As in human relationships, just do what you say you’re going to do and you’ll be fine.
Contrary to the essence of ‘your brand is what consumers say it is’, if you’re keeping your promises, marketing is really the same business tool that its always been. Just now, social media is around to allow consumers to much more freely share their feelings with each other - whatever they may be.
Even in the social media age where information and social sharing is much more available, consumers consider and interact with brands as they always have.
Brand strategy and marketing works the same as it always has.
Social media is simply a powerful catalyst to heighten the sharing that's always been a part of consumer behavior and marketing.
Contrary to popular opinion, brand management is not dead! In fact, it can be argued that brand strategy is even more important now to best leverage the relatively new multiplicative power of social media.
The real problem is that so many companies, particularly on the tech side (where the quote came from), don’t understand much about brand strategy or marketing. They market without the benefit of a strong and strategic brand identity. In those cases, they, effectively, abdicate control of their brand to consumers who - based upon the ups and downs of product development cycles - decide what it is. And therein lies the real problem.