My brand engagement fantasy: Hire a few real people.

brand engagement

In 1999, an extraordinary little book called The Cluetrain Manifesto was published. This is a seminal book in the history of digital marketing that predicted the consumer-led economy we’re in today two decades ago. The authors made two exceptional predictions about brand engagement:

  1. The internet would overturn the brand power structure. Marketplaces would be driven by human-driven online conversations.
  2. To succeed, brands would have to engage in those conversations.

The first prediction certainly came true. Companies may still be under the illusion that they “control the conversation” and the sales funnel, but that is simply not so. A brand used to be what we told consumers. Today, a brand is what consumers tell each other.

The second prediction has certainly not come true. Oh sure … maybe at the beginning of the social media era companies tried to join the conversation and engage but then they automated, cut staff and turned the idea of community engagement into a glorified IT department.

If you want proof of this, look no further than this tweet:

brand engagement

Now to level-set the conversation, Cindy Gallop is a titan of the advertising industry. She is a TED speaker, a globally-known innovator, and one of the most respected advisers in our business. She also has nearly 80,000 followers on Twitter.

Now, if any of these brands had any serious social listening as part of their marketing program, surely they would have picked up a tweet from Cindy Gallop and responded.


Why? Because marketing is lost.

My brand engagement fantasy

The marketing and advertising industry is in crisis. There are fewer and fewer places to put their ad dollars that are safe, effective, and measurable.

Where should they spend their money? Here is my fantasy …

I would like for a brand to take just a sliver of what they spend on television and print ads and hire a few real people to actually engage with their fans on social media. I mean really engage. Treat customers like people. Maybe even like friends.

What do you think would have happened if even ONE brand responded to Cindy Gallop and thanked her for the Twitter commentary? The publicity would have been profound! All it would take is one person at a mega-brand to pay attention and respond to people in a real way.

Cut the snark

There are a number of brands trying to be “human” like Wendy’s and DiGiorno Pizza. They are funny and snarky, but not really human. In reality, this is just advertising agencies trying too hard. There is no real caring, compassion, or customer empathy. “Snark” is not a real human emotion I don’t think.

For Pete’s sake, Wendy’s logo is a cute little girl and the company is founded by a man who devoted his life to charities supporting adoption. Where does this snark come in? You have a good story and a wholesome brand. Just be a person.

If they can afford an ad agency to tweet for them, can’t they afford a few real people who sincerely care?

The promise of brand engagement

I’ve lived in the big brand world. I know how difficult it is to change, to give up what you know, to pivot when you’re at the helm of a battleship. And it’s sad to me that some of our greatest brands aren’t being disrupted by new products and services. They are being disrupted by … marketing!

Customers always win in the end. And they don’t want ads. They don’t want to be interrupted or intercepted. They don’t want you to show up uninvited. They are ignoring you and blocking you.

This is what consumers want from a brand: Respect, meaning, acknowledgement, and fun. Really, it’s that simple. Even Cindy Gallop just wants a little respect.

Is anybody out there listening?

Get with the plan. Hire some real people folks.

After all, the most human company wins.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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