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Interacting with Brands

May 8, 2011

I don’t often write about what I do for a living (mostly because after doing it all day I need a bit of a break), but I’ve been reading and thinking a lot recently about how consumers interact with brands and how that is redefining what a brand means.  I want to reach out to my readers to see what their opinions are, mostly because I fear there’s a bit of group-think among marketers.

Historically, brands were defined by the very controlled messaging the company released.  This would include products, ads, press releases and comments to the press.  Recently with the rising popularity of social media, consumers have started using brands to brand themselves.

The idea of a ‘personal brand’ receives a lot of flack for being trendy, but even if people don’t realize they are doing it, they are affiliating with other brands to create their own.  This isn’t a new idea – it was popularized in the 80’s when companies started placing logos on clothes as an external marker of the brand (think Lacoste, Nike etc.).  Social media makes it even easier: Facebook users can simply ‘like’ a brand and the affiliation is placed on their profile for the world to see. People also create websites or Twitter handles either building up or tearing down a brand.

For better or worse, the consumer actions actually affect the brand.  If someone searches for, say, McDonalds after seeing a new ad, she is likely to find not only information about the new ads, but also YouTube spoofs and tweets about the ad (behold the power of Google).  As a result brands are trying to find ways to control and direct the conversation online about its brand.  This is the intersection of customer service and PR.

Some brands reach out to the people talking about them.  Some create venues for people to discuss the brand and company.  Others create communities where their fans already frequent.

The first is particularly effective and time intensive, but mostly useful for companies about whom people complain, not as effective for more innocuous brands.

The second is great in theory, but only works if consumers will go to the site.  This means they will have to get something out of it, so likely the brand will have to post and share content (obviously updated frequent to maintain interest).

The third seems to be the most popular choice for the largest number of companies.  It seems like most brands have Facebook and Twitter now – some are even including the tag in the mass ads.  Facebook represents the community of the world where people can not only find and interact with friends, but also with their favorite brands.  People go to our Facebook page to talk about how much they love our product, but also to complain about bad experiences.  We share news, deals, content and more with our community.

That said, I would never personally engage on a brand page.  Being in the business, I know it’s a great way to get an issue resolved quickly (seriously, this is something I lose sleep over as I manage two pages), but I’m not going to go praise my favorite brands for their great clothes this season or thank them for the great experience (this is expected these days anyway).  I also don’t use Facebook enough to keep up with deals or coupons. Though, maybe I can not the target consumer.

I am curious, how have you engaged with brands in the past?  How would you like to interact with them?

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