There are a select few brands that people actually give a shit about. Nike has created a brand that sneakerheads have embraced and turned into a quasi-currency. Rolex makes watches that have become synonymous with retirement gifts, sales awards, and rappers. Chipotle has decided to tie their brand to… E.Coli outbreaks? Hey, it’s working, I guess?
For everyone else? Your brand probably doesn’t matter. Why? Because for the past two decades, with the rise of the internet, advertising agencies have tried to convince you that consumers want to “have a conversation” with your brand. In their little world, “being part of of the trends” is what brands should be doing, because it benefits their business model to sell you their services. If you take it from people in the advertising world, that “brand building” experience is what makes consumers come back for more.
… and they’re entirely wrong. Here’s the truth (which I’m more than happy to back up with a whole bunch of spreadsheets): People don’t really give a fuck about talking their laundry detergent company. Consumers aren’t clamoring for more content from frozen foods manufacturers. There have been zero times in my life were I thought to myself, “I wonder what kind of conversation Boar’s Head is sparking today? I want to be involved in the cured meats conversation!“
Don’t get me wrong. I love Boar’s Head brand Black Forest Ham™. If I’m making a delicious ham and cheddar sandwich, I’ll definitely ask the person behind the deli counter for Boar’s Head. Why? It tastes good. While that’s happening, there’s a near-zero chance I’m going to actively seek out Boar’s Head on Instagram to get involved in more ham content. The same goes for their oven-roasted turkey. It’s amazing, but also would never inspire me to personally get involved in their brand experience.
For a modern brand to work, all you really need to be is agreeable and non-polarizing. Does your brand look like shit? That’s probably not a great thing. But for the most part, it almost doesn’t matter, because most products and services don’t inspire the cult-like following of say… the Mazda Miata. However, even if you do manage to build a brand over a series of decades, it won’t be up to your company to curate that brand. Forums will pop up all over the internet where fans of your products can (and will) organically support your brand. The work is already done for you, because when a brand is successful, the resulting “conversation” about your product or service is self-evident. Mazda puts zero effort into curating the Miata community or “creating a conversation” around their cars, because they simply don’t need to do it. It’s happening because the consumers are doing it on their own.
People aren’t against having conversations and getting engaged, but it’s about stuff that is much more banal and involved than just… a brand. People love talking about recipes, or their hobbies. Love woodworking? You probably want to show people the finished coffee table you made from reclaimed barnwood, and likely don’t give a shit whether you used a Dewalt or Ryobi brand drill to do it. Want to talk about sports? It’s highly unlikely you know the official beer sponsor, soft drink sponsor, or car insurance sponsor of your favorite team. (And it’s even more unlikely you’re going to follow them and “engage the brand” on social media.)
If you want to engage consumers on social media, or on the internet in general, you don’t need a dozens of influencers to help you, or even a whole “brand strategy” around “creating conversations” — because those are simply value-added services that advertising agencies began to offer to boost their bottom line. You can target videos, banners, and social media ads in a more cost-effective way simply by advertising. If someone famous likes your stuff? Cool. That’s fine too. But paying exorbitant placement costs for an ROI that will never make sense is just silly, stupid, and against every metric available.
Brands: No one really gives a shit about talking to you.