For a long time advertising has operated on a conceit that brands and consumers were in dialogue when, in truth, brands were dictating consumer behavior, pushing messaging on the public and often exploiting their trust or gullibility.
Phrases such as “We’re here to help you”, “We put you first” and notions like customer-centric companies sounded good, but as brands discovered more profit could be eked out of customers by manipulating their messaging, such language lost much of its meaning.
Thanks to information on the web and social media connectivity, consumers are now better informed and media savvy. By organizing themselves within social networks they have found their voice. The phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind. Brands finally got the two-way dialogue they’d been talking about.
That two-way dialogue means brands can monitor in real time the hopes, frustrations and opinions of consumers – something they had to second guess before with the aid of research and focus groups. This is enormously valuable. On the downside, it means consumers are calling out brands for duplicity, disingenuous advertising or unconscionable behavior.
Yet brands shouldn’t fear angry customers. In fact, now that a two-way dialogue is in place, the dynamic functions as a self-correcting mechanism that can ensure the longevity and profitability of brands.
If a brand has a defined purpose, clear core values, and consistent communications (wow, that’s some steeplechase), its consumer base can serve as an invaluable feedback loop to keep the brand on track. As that authentic dialogue deepens, mutual trust grows with it.
A great example of this is the t-shirt company, Threadless. While its been rightly lauded for its crowdsourcing economic model, the integrity of the company is what strikes me as most revolutionary. Not only do they make sure that people want their products before they make them, but they never compromise their commitment to their original mission and community, both in terms of who they hire and how they run their business.
Brands that remain committed to their core values will keep and expand their community around shared values. If a brand makes the wrong strategic move, and every one does at some point, the community will set you straight. When they do, the correct brand response is, “Thank you”.
Disgruntled customers serve a compass once you’ve charted a course of authenticity. Better yet, consumers want to help and they’ll do it for free. As this new two way dialogue gets further entrenched through mainstream adoption of social media, the single most important defining quality of successful brands will be the quality of their listening.
Let me know of any good brand listeners? Are there any out there?