Debate around the role of brands has been endless, and there is no end in sight.
Is it all too complicated?
Is a brand simply something that is there when you need it, at the right "investment" cost, that you trust to deliver, and for which you have little affinity except for those reasons? Loyalty isn't a key determinent in this process - but just the tendency to buy the same brands or products is.
Doug Garnett provides a sharp analysis in his post Humanity, Humility, Statistics & Brands. Thoughts About “How Brands Grow” by Byron Sharp. He also hits out at social media:
New media theorists seem think that a consumer loves nothing more than to spend their life searching for brand related content on Facebook while trying to learn the latest social media engine. Truth is that we spend a lot more time thinking about other things (like family, work, money, vacation, …) and don’t think about brands all that often.
According to Garnett, Sharp finds that:
- brands don't become big on the sales of their most committed customers. Rather, big brands are big because a lot of people buy a little from them;
- statistics show the 80/20 rule is wrong. This rule suggests that 80% of revenue comes from 20% of customers. Research shows that isn’t true;
- statistics show that what most marketers think of as “consumer loyalty” is non-existent. What consumers do is simply have a tendency to buy from a few brands.
Those insights are based on deep and wide statistical analysis.
To me, as a simple person on the street, those insights and Garnett's comments all ring true. That's why I recommend reading his post.
How can we apply these insights to social business?
There's no doubt about the ROI success of businesses becoming more social - there are numerous and well-known examples. It also makes "human" sense that this works. Not because people are buying "brands" but because they are getting responsiveness, convenience and their tendency to keep buying is reinforced.
But isn't the buying cycle and buying behaviour changing?
Economists are reknown for basing predictions on past behaviour, and therefore often getting it completely wrong e.g. the GFC. Is this research and the book likely to suffer from the same problem? Are we in a completely new era - shaped by online and digital? It could be. That's a potential concern in marketers taking the past analysis too far - how much have things really changed?
What does this mean for social business?
Let's say things aren't going to change all that much.
What does that mean for "social business" which is something for which Doug Garnett appears to have little time? Could it mean that the essence of social business is really just about customer service? Being responsive, being perceived as trustworthy - and at its most basic that's about delivery -and having a little edge in maintaining the "tendency" to buy?
Doug Garnett is an insightful guy, you might also find his Shelf Potato blog worth reading for its pragmatic advertising and brand advice.
Do you think that there is more to social business than just great customer service?