Skip to main content

The number one objective of any brand is to sell more products and services. The number one objective of an advertising agency is to craft a message that gets us all to buy their client’s stuff. And in this digital age, our collective desire is to avoid being sold to at all costs. Makes for a strange relationship doesn’t it? I mean it’s like being stalked by the guy that you don’t want to date.

He brings you flowers, shows up at your doorstep, mails you love letters, and just won’t get the message. He just won’t take no for an answer. He’s hoping that maybe, just maybe, the pretty girl just might change her mind and pay him a modicum of attention.

It’s always been funny to me how we all loathe spam in our email but advertisers and brands don’t have a problem stuffing our mailboxes with fireplace fodder. Just maybe…maybe just maybe! And everyone jokes about the proverbial Nigerian prince scam. Are today’s advertising techniques much different?

With the evolution of social media, it became all about “engaging” the “customer”…yup, they still thought people on social media were customers. I remember when I had the very same affliction. I thought that “having a conversation” with the customer actually mattered. I thought that if we all talked to each other we could sell more shit. I thought if we all just engaged with the “customer” we could build a blissful relationship. Then I grew up. I reached social media adulthood and I put away childish things.

great illustration by the "Marketoonist"

great illustration by the “Marketoonist”

I realized through a tremendous amount of trial and error and tireless experimental research that the “consumer” had gone the way of the dodo bird on social media. Sure there are some really clever ways to actually get people to buy stuff on social, but trust me…those underground methods that work now, that we all employ, will soon become obsolete as well.

Why is this happening? Because there is no such thing as a “consumer” on social media. Fans and followers are members of an audience. And audiences want to be entertained, not sold to. Think I’m wrong? Ask the best focus group that you know of. Yourself. When you’re on Youtube do you wait for the pre-roll ad to play or do you sit with index finger ready to strike like a cobra as soon as the “Skip this Ad” button appears? When you’re home with the family, how many shows do you watch at their normal airtime? When you jump into your DVR do you watch the commercials or do you fast forward past them? Are you the guy who loves ads on your phone?

Here’s an even bigger test. When is the last time you “spoke” to a brand other than to complain about something? Do you look forward to logging onto Facebook and going to your favorite cookie company to have a conversation with them? If you’re being honest then the answer is obviously no. So why do you think anyone else wants to have a “conversation” with a brand? Who is still perpetuating this bullshit in 2014?

Anyone that really wants to know and accept the truth that people don’t care what brands have to say on social media can find the information that supports this pretty easily. Study after study has shown that as many as 92% of people wouldn’t really care if brands cease to exist. That’s the antithesis of brand loyalty. People just don’t care anymore.

Marketers and brands need to wake up and smell the coffee. As I mentioned, I did my research and I decided to change the way that I utilized social media. I basically quit using social media the way most brands and marketers use it. I realized quite a while ago that the conventional wisdom of social media was flawed and what boggled my mind was the fact that others weren’t seeing it. Were they simply ignoring it?

Fast forward to today and the data is still supporting the fact that people don’t want to talk to brands. Case in point, a new article on VentureBeat underscores the fact that no one wants to have a “conversation” with a brand.

“Any marketers who believe they’re having a conversation [with brand’s fans on Facebook] are delusional,” Forrester Research VP/analyst Nate Elliot recently told VentureBeat.

At this point, you’d have to have the faith of a Westboro Baptist Church parishioner to believe that any real “conversation” is taking place on social media with brands.

Forrester’s research has shown, “For the top 50 global brands, on average, less than one tenth of one percent [of visiting users] like, share, or comment” with the content.

This “exceptionally small” engagement cannot be called a conversation in any reasonable sense. “If you have 3 million fans, you will get a few thousand likes and a few hundred comments. If you’re a social media true believer, you can look at [only] hundreds of comments [out of 3 million fans] and say, ‘People are having a conversation.”

As the VB article states, one of the reasons for the lack of conversation is that basically no one is even seeing the content that a brand publishes. In order for there to be a conversation, you actually have to be putting out content that people want to talk about  and even then, if you’re not supporting that content with money, no one is going to even see it.

So what’s the answer? It’s always been clear. Give people what they want. If you simply focus your efforts on giving people what THEY want most…not what YOU want most you’ll be way ahead of your competition. But for some reason, some brands and agencies are not understanding what social audiences want.

“Most brands go, ‘How do I sell to these stupid people? If you start mass advertising to let people know you have beach blankets,” they will find out and possibly start talking about the blankets. But “smart brands ask: How do we become part of the culture?”

Understanding the culturally relevant aspects of your audience, not your customer…YOUR AUDIENCE…makes it a very easy problem to solve doesn’t it?

I personally know agency staffers and brand clients who have steadfast refused to accept the obvious paradigm shift that’s occurring. Their savvy competitors must be licking their chops!

Barry Cunningham

Author Barry Cunningham

Barry Cunningham is an antagonist of conventional wisdom. Check out our case studies. They will give you an idea how we help brands & businesses amplify their conversion and lead gen campaigns by deploying digital advertising campaigns at scale. And I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter.

More posts by Barry Cunningham