Over the weekend, Tim Bray asked what I thought to be an important question regarding brands and the way consumers interact with them. In a post entitled Corporations and Emotions, he asked:
Is it meaningful or useful to have emotional reactions to business organizations?
He thinks not. He thinks it’s unreasonable and possibly dangerous to walk around hating companies like BP, Apple or even the company he works for – Google. Design values should provoke emotion; entitles should not.
Tim’s questions sparked me to ask one of my own:
If we don’t want people forming emotional reactions to us, what are we doing in social media?
Tim may be right in that perhaps it’s not ‘meaningful’ or ‘useful’ to have an emotional reaction to a company or brand. It’s not ‘useful’ for me to get emotional when I see someone on TV start crying or for me to start bawling when I watch Rudy. [“He’s so little!”] However, it is human. And it’s those human responses that brands and corporations have been playing on and, to some degree, preying on for years.
It’s called marketing.
For example, yesterday was Memorial Day.
In a few weeks, it will be Father’s Day.
In February, the world will be put on high Vomit Alert:
And, z0mg, don’t even get me started on the puppies that need homes.
They’re all examples of marketing specifically designed to play on emotion. Marketing that simply wouldn’t work if we, as humans, didn’t apply emotion to the business entities we interact with.
Tim’s right in that there has been a shift. With social media, this feeling of forming friendships with companies has been heightened. It’s been heightened because companies have walked into social media looking to ‘engage’ and ‘listen’ and ‘interact’. They create relationships, not pitches. They’re having real conversations with us on Twitter, through blog comments, on Facebook, etc. And we’re creating these heightened relationships because by now even the C-suite knows it’s in their best business interest to do so. Because unless you fall into a category where you should run from social media, creating “people” relationships betters your bottom line. People buy from people. Assigning an emotional to your brand helps turn you human.
Without it, we all become surrogates.You’d take away the whole company, the “why” of the interaction and you’d remove everything interesting about the brand. We don’t buy the breakfast cereal that’s going to make us feel nothing. We buy the breakfast cereal that’s going to make us feel like an Olympic athlete.
Brands, by definition, define themselves by the emotional aftertaste they leave behind. Is that meaningful or useful or rational? No. But, again, it’s human. You’ll have a hard time changing that.
You can try to take the human element out of your brand so that people don’t hate you, but then you’d be silencing all the people that love you. Don’t remove emotional and humanness from who you are, use it as your point of difference. If I’ve learned anything in the forming of social media, is that being hated is not to be feared. It’s maybe something to be aspire to. And really, if you don’t want people to have an emotional reaction to your company, what are you doing in social media? What are you doing in business anyway?