Me neither. And I don’t plan to anytime soon.
After 3 years of writing this blog and almost 5 years studying social media, I still can’t grasp the idea of “relationships with brands.” Maybe it’s semantics. Maybe what they’re talking about isn’t a relationship at all. Maybe it’s brand loyalty, brand enthusiasm — even brand evangelism.
To me, a “relationship” is more intimate.
Relationships I reserve for people — real people who talk to me. And yes, I know that social-media consultants tell us dialogue is the key — more human contact with customers, distributors and influencers. More conversation. I get that, too, as it’s been a mantra of true public relations professionals long before the Web came along.
But isn’t it enough to produce a quality product or service? For me it is, and I suspect that’s true for many others.
I’m enthusiastic about a handful of brands, but no one representing those brands ever calls to wish me a happy birthday. I like these brands, and could be called an “influencer” for all of them. But not a single person employed by any of these companies has ever “reached out” to me beyond a push marketing email pitch.
That’s OK, and here’s why:
Subaru. I’ve owned three and may soon be shopping for a fourth (no phone calls, please). Subies are reliable cars, they get decent gas mileage and can climb up snow-covered logging roads without spinning a tire. My son calls his ’99 Forrester (one of two we’ve handed down to our kids) the “Swiss Army knife of cars.” An apt description.
Leatherman Multi-tools. Speaking of the Swiss Army knife, the Leatherman has rendered it obsolete. My Wave (one of two Leatherman tools I own) serves as a knife, saw, file, pliers, screwdriver, scissors, can and bottle opener and more. If I keep pitching it, you’ll think I’m the reincarnation Billy Mays. Funny, but inventor Tim Leatherman doesn’t even know I exist. If you happen to read this, Tim, thanks for your genius.
Campmor.Com offers an almost infinite selection of quality outdoor products priced to sell — including the full line of Leatherman tools. Campmor gets the order right and ships it quickly. The website also lets you compare similar products by feature and price, thus helping you make informed buying decisions. Campmor’s weekly specials are so good that I often buy stuff I don’t even need. I’m a gear geek, and this company understands my sickness.
All 3 brands offer the one thing that matters: Performance. They meet my expectations for quality and reliability, and each time they do, my purchasing decisions are reinforced. But their reputations aren’t built on regular 2-way communication. Campmor has a presence on Twitter, but doesn’t use it well. The Twitter id @subaru seems to be held by a squatter and @leatherman by a Chinese biker.
But does it really matter?
Other niche products simply have passionate followings because of what they are. A friend pointed me to this site for the 2010 Ford Mustang — a car that has always touched drivers at an emotional level. (And the 2010 is hot, hot, hot.) Pay special attention to the “Mustang Stories” tab. These people hug their cars regularly, and Ford has known this since 1964.
I wonder if Ford customers feel the same way about the Taurus?
Few companies can afford to ignore social media. It’s important to listen and to respond when appropriate. But how far you go beyond basic engagement becomes a question of resources vs. ROI.
The jury is still out on that social media’s bottom-line impact. The evidence we do have is still largely anecdotal and very few organizations talk about SM programs that fail. Solid metrics will come in time, and those numbers may erase my skepticism. But for now, I remain unconvinced that a majority of customers or a majority of products need or want constant online engagement. And I say this as an “influencer” for all three of the brands mentioned in this post.
So to my friends at Subaru, Leatherman and Campmor, thanks for enriching my life. But if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not be friends. Just keep making and/or selling great stuff, and I’ll buy it.