Humans are social creatures. We build relationships to survive, to grow, to reproduce, to learn, to understand. In all of these relationships, we communicate content that we put into a context based on the relationship we have with the person we’re communicating with. It means the words I won’t take no for answer are very different from your parents to your crazy ex. Like this content and relationship, brands and consumers have this exact relationship.
For years, brands have built relationships with you based on necessity. You need them. And so their content has matched the relationship they’ve sought to build with you. This means their communication have behaved through the mediums of interruption based media. Radio, tv, print ads, outdoor etc. Advertising that is designed to catch your attention long enough for you to qualify it, digest it and hopefully act upon it because you think you need it.
With the introduction of the internet, the distraction media approach turned to pop up ads, banner ads, SPAM and even Google adwords. It seemed logical. New medium, same techniques. More money.
So forever and a day, people were segmented by how they interacted with the commercial world. There were those who were attracted by the businesses then there were those who had to find the businesses. It meant that businesses controlled the communication, the message, the brand, the PR, the talk on the town. If customers didn't like it, well there was only really a suggestion box on the top floor.
The companies were the voice and the people were the listeners. At least that's what they thought. You see people have talked behind people's backs since time began. It's not about deception but about people having corporate face, then people having personal face. The two had just rarely mixed in the corporate world because well to them, business isn't personal.
It meant that companies behaved as they pleased sitting behind the power of a brand. They could give, they could take, they could keep you waiting and they could give you a token gesture now and then. It's unlikely you knew of the pros or cons until you had experienced it for yourself and provided they kept up a positive advertising presence you were even told to doubt yourself.
Furthermore for ad agencies, when the campaign worked they were given accolades, when it didn't work well it was put down as a branding exercise. Provided they had a recognisable brand, kept the competitors at bay and they kept up their advertising, people sucked up their pride and continued to shop at Telstra. Oops I meant, at companies.
The reach of people's communication was limited. Before the speed, accessibility and ease of communication, talking about a brand experience was often limited to a select group of people that you knew, provided that you remembered to tell them when you saw them next and often voicing your concern was a lengthy, painful procedure. Sure you could voice it, but did it really change anything?
Writing a letter, an in-store complaint and perhaps even the odd A Current Affair appearance for the die hards. It meant we were material girls living in a material world and as much as it displeased us a times, we never considered what having a voice would feel like. So we just accepted things and companies didn't mind.As a result there was no need to change the model because it worked. They told you what you wanted and needed and most people obliged. Business was booming and customers had a quality of life and communication that was managed for them.
Then someone invented the internet. Then someone else invented bulletin boards. And then they expanded them into forums. Then some forum users were so passionate they put their rants on a website and called their web log a 'Blog.'
Then lots of other people wanted to rant too so they made blogs too. Suddenly everyone was starting a blog and opinion was becoming trendy. Whether it was about your cat, the footy team or your view on hot topics, people started talking without concern who they upset or offended. After all we live in a world of free speech right?
Well free speech had its limitations. It was all becoming too much to digest so Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone decided to limit how much people could write to 140 characters. Twitter was launched and whilst it was designed to make people's rants more succinct, people just started writing more rants.
So then Apple fronted up with the iPhone to let people write these thoughts from wherever they were and whenever it came to mind. People sprung up everywhere making applications to make feedback, ranting and comments even faster, easier and more directed.
And the companies didn't do a thing. They paid another TVC bill and continued to talk at people about how good they were and patted people on the head condescendingly when it came to their opinion. As long as they ignored it, it wasn't really happening. Kind of out of sight, out of mind.
Unfortunately for the companies at the same time, people now developed safety in numbers and it was becoming cool to voice your opinion, to rant, to swear and to name and shame. The people were gaining courage, confidence and leverage and they were doing it in serious numbers. Before you knew it the people working with the companies tried to warn them, but the companies weren't going to fall for THAT old sales trick.
So the companies went on doing their thing. They showed up to work every day and thought it was curious that people laughed at them on the bus but they figured it must have been their new tie. Then one day as one of the workers in a company was ranting about their bad experience at a coffee shop, it twigged. Hang on. If I'm complaining about this company, what could people be saying about MY company?
The company rushed to the office, picked up the phone and yelled anxiously into the phone. They were being bullied by the public and they needed to defend themselves. So in came the digital media professionals and patiently advised the companies what they needed to do.
They explained that the internet unlike any other medium before was a social interaction. Like a BBQ, it wasn't about how loud you were but your conversational skills, your attitude and your sincerity towards relationship. They advised to just chill out a bit and just get into the groove of the party and not watch it ready to pounce like that creepy neighbour next door.
The companies all nodded and agreed that they needed to understand this internet and felt relationships were important because it meant they got paid money. So the companies all registered Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts and sent out lots of email marketing campaigns. They took their brochures to the BBQ just in case they could prospect someone and made sure they had plenty of business cards stashed in their jacket pockets.
Unfortunately everyone was there to eat meat and drink beers, not to hear a sales pitch but the company didn't know that. In fact it seemed like a gold mine to the company as every single prospect they could dream of was at this party! It was just a matter of setting some traps and waiting for the dollars to roll in. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel!
Embarrassingly, the company wasn't very perceptive and just kept trying to sell to the people playing beer pong and couldn't figure out why everyone didn't want to know about their great offer. After all they were targeting the people that would buy it so what was wrong with them?
Finally the company found some people to talk with who were chilling on the balcony. After finishing their awesome pitch about what they do and why they needed the company, the guys and girls laughed and told them how crap they thought their products were and started telling each other stories about why they thought it was so crap.
Outraged, the company stood up, grabbed the loudest guy by the shirt and threw him off the balcony! As the crowd stood there silent and stunned the company smiled and thought to themselves, &quot;Perfect. If he's not here to complain, then the people can't hear him so they won't think bad things about me! Remember I'm the company and I'll tell you what you need to know.&quot; The others backed off quickly.
On the way home later that night, the company thought back about its wild night and concluded that whilst these digital specialists thought it was appropriate to attend this BBQ, clearly it wasn't as the people at the party weren't interested and well they were rude. They were also bit weird and not very accepting so maybe they shouldn't be so worried after all.
The end. Well it's not the end is it? The companies go on talking AT people, the people go on talking WITH other people, and in the end people talk back AT the companies. After their third consecutive quarter loss, the company blames the global financial crisis and downsizes its workforce.
So what has happened here? Well you could say there has been a breakdown in communication, in understanding, in knowledge and in attitude. Pretty much all of the fundamental requirements to leading and managing successful relationships whether personal, commercial or intimate. And if it's so simple why won't more companies act?
Well it's just like a movie set. There is the front of the business, then there is the back of it. The glossy showroom with shiny things versus the dirty storeroom with exposed wires, broken process and individual agendas. Like the movie set, the back room is also where the orders come from.
You see, the commercial world is much like the personal world. You have good blokes, you have jerks, you have smart people, you have stupid people, you have helpful people and you have selfish people. You can't be friends with everyone and nor can you expect someone to help you move house when you ignore them all the time.
Social media is the buzz word of saying maintaining relationships using the digital medium. For some businesses it will be everything, to others it will be a supplement. However beyond the pay per click, the number of fans, the metrics and the iPhone apps, it is the most honest, manageable and real-time form of customer relationship management. It's not about lying or trickery but honest effort and sincere intentions.
Maintaining relationships using the digital medium. For some businesses it will be everything, to others it will be a supplement. However beyond the pay per click, the number of fans, the metrics and the iphone apps, it is the most honest, manageable and realtime form of customer relationship management. It's not about lying or trickery but honest effort and sincere intentions.
You see the page has turned. The power is now with the people. The companies that invest in relationships wield the power in the market place. Companies that win, work hard, play hard and take the time to go to BBQs, make real friends and create the opportunity to sell through trust, relationship and quality communication.