Start Up Blog

Being friends with breakfast cereal is over

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 18, 2013

Attracting and serving fans has been a past time of brands for the past few years on Facebook. To the point where the accumulation itself became the objective. And while I keep looking for the cracks to appear in Facebook it seems to be able to continue to grow despite its huge size. Maybe the barriers to exit the service are too high for consumers to leave? Maybe the FOMO and connectedness matters too much? But one thing I am sure of is how I feel about it personally, and from a marketing perspective.

It made sense at first: After the 50 years of the top down TV industrial complex – a period when we got told and sold, it was novel to have a direct connection with the brands. To be able to talk to the big brands in town felt good. For once our opinion was more than a letter or ‘non caring’ customer service 1800 agent. I mean they had to care, it was all on display for everyone to see. A poor response from any brand would result in a digital lynch mob attack. Finally we had the respect we deserved as the supporters of the brands. It was the connection we always wanted. It seemed to make sense for both parties. So we all connected in every way we could – and filled our digital dance card.

Then we discovered we didn’t have much in common: Both us and the brands struggled with our new found direct connection, our co-operative digital love affair. We’d read each others stuff, try and be loyal to each other and support the give and take element in this new world. We even designed new products together, made advertisements for each other and really embraced the new tools we were afforded. But it got kinda boring. I mean how many conversations can we have about breakfast cereal, tomato sauce and canned tuna? So the brands took their lessons and got wise. They realised that they had to live a layer outside of what they sold in order to create value beyond what they actually sold. They realised they had become a resource and knowledge bank in related realms to thrive in a social world. So cereal became about diet and health. Frozen meals became about a life well lived and what’s on in the city and dish washing liquid became about tricks and tips around the house. The campaigns and related brand pages sprouted like mushrooms And all this worked out pretty well…..for a while.

Until it became a spam fest: At first, we got useful information and respected and rewarded brands in the process. So brands did what brands do. More of what works, and copied those who did it first and best. The great likenomics battle of 2010 and beyond…. Until everyone’s feed was so full of junk – it became like the letter box we have no joy in opening – A letter box just filled with flyers, bills and credit card offers. The dance floor wss too full, the music was too loud. In a social media marketing sense it is the equivalent of 3am and we all just want to get some sleep already. We are over it. I don’t think I am exaggerating here, it is probably how most of us feel right now. And I haven’t even touched on all the people we said ‘yes’ to on facebook, who we haven’t seen since grade school. Like I said, it was interesting and novel at the start, but it is very difficult to care for the babies of someone you have seen in decades.

So now I’m done: Yes, there are some brands I love. Some whose products and services really matter to me. But it is certain that none of these brands ever find their way into my shopping trolly, are my finance provider or power my home. Yes, non of them are boring products from the industrial era. The only brands I play with and want to converse with are those I spend my spare time with. That’s my current definition of where I draw the line on being ‘friends’ with a corporation. And I really think it’s over for most brands trying to make their way in the social sphere – even though the numbers and analysis on brand engagement on social forums probably don’t show it yet.

Yes, brands need social: It is foolish to think that brands shouldn’t be in social media, or use the tools. It is the first place we’ll go to find them – their facebook page, or find their twitter handle. And you can be certain we’ll want an answer within seconds. It is the new call centre and probably alot of other things as well. What it isn’t, and wont ever be, is part of peoples social life. I’m betting people will gravitate back to saving that for other humans.

It’s in our make up: There only so many relationships we can have in life. Whether they are people or personified brands, we are genetically programmed to only be able to manage so many interactions. Dunbars number is the simplest way to explain this phenomenon. It’s a basic safety mechanism that ensures stability and safety, and it’s what will drive us back to a limited number of social interactions (physical & virtual).

Brands need to know where they belong: The key element to all this is knowing where we belong in peoples lives. I’m far more likely to interact with a brand that I invest my spare time with. The brands that play in my passion space. The other brands I am happy to purchase, need to understand that they are associates, micro interactions, whom I do not have time for or want dealings with outside of what they thing they actually deliver.

It’s time everyone (brands & people) realised where they belong, and took a human approach to our connections. If everyone tries to maximise social connections simply because the gates have been opened, we’ll end up with closed doors and reduced potential for trust with the connections we actually want to have.

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7 Responses

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  1. Susan Jones (@ReadySetStartup) said, on February 18, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Great post Steve. You’ve succinctly captured the prevailing mood about brands and social media. I have to say, I’m over it too!

    • Steve Sammartino said, on February 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

      Thanks Susan, But I really think that most people and brands wont admit it yet…

      Steve.

  2. Darren said, on February 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    I have been a cynic for a while. I like (pun intended) your reasoning Steve. Where now for the ‘marketing genius’s who have embraced Facebook and who believe a ‘like’ equals a sale.

  3. pennyws said, on February 19, 2013 at 10:15 am

    great post, really insightful. i agree with the general gist, though not sure if i was a trolley-utility-bank brand i would be ready to give up just yet!

    is it possible that (a) a few exceptional brands are able to ‘live at the layer outside what they sell’ because they get its just right how to do so in a way that amplifies their brand and gives value to customers and (b) smart complementary brands may be able to build a community / ecosystem where they all contribute to and benefit from the overall community (why do brands think they have to do it alone?! being tribal doesn’t always make sense).

    • Steve Sammartino said, on February 19, 2013 at 11:50 am

      I do like what you propose about – being part of other brands footprints in social. Something we see very little of with big brands.

      Steve.

  4. Erz Imam said, on February 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Nice. I particularly like the bit on “Dunbars numbers” and how many physical & virtual connections we can maintain. Worth checking out http://foundation.kr/26/ (fast forward to 33min10sec to hear what Dave Morin from Path thinks about this). Really cool Steve. Thanks.

    • Steve Sammartino said, on February 21, 2013 at 9:58 am

      Hey Erz, I didn’t know about Foundation.kr – what a terrific set of entrepreneurs / interviews. Thanks for that link beyond the Dave Morin bit.
      Steve


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