A new study shows customers don’t want a relationship with your brand, and journalists are the same.
When Brian Solis recently launched his book Engage he urged marketers to “engage or die”, because “social media has democratised influence, forever changing the way businesses communicate with customers and the way customers affect the decisions of their peers.” Solis said: “without engagement in these communities, we miss major opportunities to shape our marketing messages.”
I completely agree, but marketers and communicators need to tread carefully.
“It’s just a brand, not a member of my family”
I recently read a great blog post “Three Myths about What Customers Want” by Karen Freeman, Patrick Spenner and Anna Bird in Harvard Business Review, and think these myths are highly relevant for PR practitioners as well, when it comes to their efforts to create relationship with influencers.
The authors say in the introduction that most marketers think that the best way to hold onto customers is through “engagement” ie interacting as much as possible with them and building relationships. But it turns out that’s rarely true. In a study involving more than 7000 consumers, they found that companies often have mistaken ideas about how best to engage with customers.
Myth #1 is that most consumers want to have relationships with brands. In actual fact, they don’t. Only 23% of consumers in the study say they have a relationship with a brand. The majority of respondents who don’t want to engage or have a close relationship with brands say: “It’s just a brand, not a member of my family”.
The authors say marketers need to better understand who wants a relationship and who doesn’t, then apply different expectations to these two groups and market differently to each. Or at least stop bombarding consumers who don’t want a relationship with endless emails or complex loyalty programmes.
I’m pretty sure that this applies to journalists and other influencers as well. I think the majority of them don’t want a relationship with PR practitioners at all. At least not the kind of relationship that involves as much contact as possible.
Most of the journalists I know use organisations’ representatives as a source. Usually they don’t want to enter into a relationship.
Seek a higher purpose
Myth #2, according to the authors, is that “interactions build relationships”. The truth is: “Shared values build relationships. A shared value is a belief that both the brand and consumer have about a brand’s higher purpose or broad philosophy.”
64% of the consumers who said they have a brand relationship, said that having shared values is the primary reason. Meanwhile only 13% cited frequent interactions with the brand as a reason for having a relationship.
I think one of the ways companies can achieve a great relationship with their customers is to “clean their backyard”. And they need to do their homework when it comes to Jim Collins “Visionary Framwork” – based on 1) “core ideology” including “core values” and “core purpose” and 2) “envisioned future” based on “10-30-year Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)” and a “vivid description of what it will be like when the organisation achieves the BHAG”.
The authors say that visionary frameworks feel authentic to consumers, and provide a credible basis for shared values and relationship building. This calls for marketers to begin a relationship by clearly communicating the brand’s philosophy or higher purpose.
When it comes to PR and the desire to foster a good relationship with journalists, bloggers and other influencers, we all know that a transparent and authentic approach is key to building a fruitful long-term relationship. It’s not what you say you are, but what you do that matters. Don’t bullshit.
It’s all too much
Myth #3: The more interaction the better. According to the authors’ study, there is no correlation between the number of interactions with a customer and the relationship with them. Yet many marketers act like there is.
In fact, the correlation seems to be the other way round: the more you contact your consumers the less likely they are to enter into a deeper relationship with you. A previous article in HBR says that companies “have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more interaction and information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to these increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.”
Journalists often face the same problem. They are drowning in irrelevant and uninteresting information. It’s not the number of phone calls or news releases that matters, but the rare nuggets of gold – the genuine stories. And I think these authors are spot on when they write: “Instead of relentlessly demanding more consumer attention, treat the attention you do win as precious.”