Saturday, June 19, 2010

May 10 - Engaging consumers

Many years ago, brands spoke to us via advertising and generally we believed what they had to say. And why wouldn’t we, when they spoke to us via the omnipresent box that sat in the corner of every lounge room.

We swallowed hook line and sinker the promise of fun in the sun from Coke, the virtues of hard work and mateship celebrated by Victoria Bitter and the international jet-setting lifestyle of a popular cigarette brand.

Today however things are a little different. Not simply because of the internet, but the unimaginable connectedness of people it has given rise to. I’m talking of course about social media.

Thanks to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, people are more connected than they have ever been. The concept of losing touch with someone, no matter how close you may or may not be to them, is completely unimaginable to the youth of today.

Once you’re hooked up with someone via Facebook, you’re connected forever. Unless you have a falling out and delete them as a friend, obviously!

I can’t remember the names of most of my classmates from my final year at school. Mind you it was a long time ago. Kids today however will stay in touch with school friends, however loosely, for life thanks to Facebook.

It has become an important source of information and recommendation for people. So much so that people are putting less and less trust in the messages spouted by the brands their parents trusted.

In fact, according to Mike Arauz, a Strategist at Undercurrent in New York, “There is no longer any interaction that an individual may have with a brand or service that is disconnected from the people they know.”

Given the sheer number of brands setting up Facebook Fan Pages you have to wonder how much longer social media can sustain itself as a place where friends gather. Once it becomes overrun with ads (or ads that don’t appear to be ads) will people move elsewhere?

I reckon they will.

Regardless of which social network people use, they will always trust the recommendations of their friends. Or will they?

I thought they would, but it appears this may not actually be the case. According to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer report, we seem to be putting a lot less faith in the opinions of our network of friends than we did two years ago.


I’m not sure exactly, although I suspect it may have something to do with the impact of the global financial crisis. With job security weighing heavily on peoples’ minds, they tend to turn to authority figures for reassurance.

According to Patricia McDonald of BBH Labs, “In difficult times, we are drawn to authority: we want there to be expert opinions and definitive answers.”

If this is in fact true, why are we putting less trust in our personal networks?

McDonald believes that, “As the network expands, connections weaken.” I think she may be onto something here. A girl who works occasionally in a friend’s fashion store told me she has over 2,000 Facebook friends.

2,000! That’s just ridiculous. However it may explain why people are not putting as much trust in their network as we imagined; their networks are becoming so large that close friends only make up a small part of it.

Which presents a bit of a quandary for marketers and a tremendous opportunity for switched on agencies.

If people don’t trust brands like their parents did, and if people don’t trust their social network like current wisdom says they should, then how on earth do brands engage with consumers?

Answer that question and you should be able to name your own salary or set up an overpriced consultancy. Just don’t expect your social network of peers and colleagues to recommend you.


Mike Arauz

BBH Labs

Edelman Trust Barometer

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