Three Myths About Customer Love

First published July 5, 2012 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Today, I want to talk about the last of the three posts by Harvard Business Review bloggers, Karen Freeman, Patrick Spenner and Anna Bird  I have been surveying: “Three Myths about What Customers Want.” Specifically, I want to look at this post’s implications for online marketing.

Myth #1: Most consumers want to have relationships with your brand.

This myth is at the crux of many, many social media campaigns. The theory is, a “like” = “intent to buy.” I have said before that I believe this is hogwash. The HBR bloggers concur:

“Only 23% of the consumers in our study said they have a relationship with a brand. In the typical consumer’s view of the world, relationships are reserved for friends, family and colleagues. That’s why, when you ask the 77% of consumers who don’t have relationships with brands to explain why, you get comments like ‘It’s just a brand, not a member of my family.’”

Marketers being marketers, we tend to think the entire world revolves around whatever it is we’re trying to sell. We believe people actually give a damn. They don’t, at least not in the vast majority of cases.  In contrast, relationships endure. They are there for the long haul. Consumer consideration runs on much shorter timelines.

There are degrees to consider here, however. What consumers can develop for a brand is loyalty. This falls into the category of beliefs, and that is what drives a lot of consumer behavior. We can believe a brand offers good value without having a relationship with it. Beliefs are heuristic decision shortcuts, which help consumers cut through cognitive overload.

Myth #2: Interactions built relationships.

Actually, say the HBR team, relationships are built on shared values:

“Of the consumers in our study who said they have a brand relationship, 64% cited shared values as the primary reason. That’s far and away the largest driver. Meanwhile, only 13% cited frequent interactions with the brand as a reason for having a relationship.”

Values can be a powerful driver of how we form beliefs. The brand I probably have the strongest affinity for is Apple. And it’s not because I have a relationship with Apple (never having visited its Facebook page). It’s because I believe Apple shares my values of creative freedom, uncompromising design and aesthetically pleasing experiences. I interact with an Apple device every day of my life. But I interact with the company only when I need something.

Myth #3: The more interaction, the better.

Marketers want to dominate a prospect’s time, in the mistaken belief that it will make the relationship “stickier.” If “stickier” means frustrating and annoying, they could be right.

“There’s no correlation between interactions with a customer and the likelihood that he or she will be ‘sticky’ (go through with an intended purchase, purchase again, and recommend),” writes the HBR team. “Yet, most marketers behave as if there is a continuous linear relationship between the number of interactions and share of wallet. That’s why, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, you see well-established retailers like Neiman Marcus, Lands’ End and Toys R Us sending customers over 300 emails annually.”

We all have lots to do. The last thing on that list is to spend unnecessary time interacting with a brand because they’ve targeted us as a “loyal” customer. Here’s a question to ask yourself: Who benefits most from all these interactions — the customer or the marketer? If the answer is the marketer, then why should the customer care?

The danger of becoming marketers is that we gain a distorted perception of reality. Our job is to love a brand. It consumes our professional lives. This does weird things to a human brain. It makes it almost impossible to look at our brands the same way the rest of the world does. We care because we have to. We get paid to. The rest of the world doesn’t share the same motivation.

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