Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The antisocial brand

Today, every marketing conference, agency boardroom, brand planner and marketing director are propagating the importance of creating 'participation', 'two way dialogues' or 'engagement'. Brand morals preaching that your brand must become social, you must be conversational, you must make friends, dominate marketing conversation. It’s become scripture; Social brand good and profitable, antisocial brand bad and broke. While there is a truck load of academic and practical merit behind this theory, id like to take on the unpopular side of disagreeing with it, purely out of the joy of disagreeing with self proclaimed social media gurus.

As always in our industry, for the purpose of simplicity, It helps to use human beings as examples or metaphors to simplify an argument. Now imagine one day showing up to the office and every single person in the office tries really really hard to be friendly. Imagine it for a second....your office filled with people sauntering around cracking jokes, striking up meaningless conversations in the lift, sending cute forwards to one another, wishing each other a ‘good day’, signing off every email with a smiley face or giving you fist bumps in meetings. You’d off yourself by lunch. The thought of some of the characters across your office being sent into social overdrive send shivers down your spine. The reality is, many people are just not built to be social and there’s no shame in that, ill be the first to admit I’m one of them. Some people are naturals at striking up conversations, others aren’t. There are fewer more awkward things than forcing sociability on a character not suited for it. Instead, we as regular shy people, recognize our limitations, keep to our friends and establish fewer yet, I could argue, deeper connections. Some people are simply not suited to be social.

On the other end of the spectrum are the uber social people, who also coincidentally happen to be the most annoying people you know. They are the huggers, the squealers, the oh my Goooooooooooooders, the people in dire need of attention begging to be liked both in real and virtual life. Extend them onto facebook and you’ve got impulsive updates, innumerable comments, terabytes of pics, showers of compliments and lots of annoying quotes that don't belong to them. Overly social people simply piss us off. The point I’m making with both examples of these two very different people is being social, doesn’t mean being liked, in many instances it could result in quite the opposite effect.

So, back to brands. I’m sure by now you’ve already caught onto my point. Like people, brands have a character, and I don’t mean in form of the ingenious branding documents clients pay hefty sums for. I’m referring to real characters. The genetic makeup of a company’s character is a composite of the people running the company, the culture, the products, the environment and many other variables. Like people, some of these company characters are not conducive toward social acceleration. If you take 95% of the regions advertising and personify it, you’d wind up with a considerably aggravating personality, preachy, boring, uninteresting and obtuse, not someone you’d want to participate, engage or have a conversation with, unless obliged. Most of us, work on or for some of these brands, and by no means should we take it insult to this reality, I’ll be the first to declare that some of the brands I’ve worked for and on are prime examples.

It is these very brands that I’d argue get further by being antisocial than they would by being social. If you do not have the company character that enables you to genuinely generate participation and a personality that people would want to spend time with, pretending to, is only going to place you in a worse place than where you started. If you’re an annoying brand in a burden category, your mission shouldn’t be try and get people to hang out with you and inspire an 'emotional connection' instead, your objective should be; how do I make interactions with consumers as brief as I possibly can. The few interactions I have had with my bank mades me hate them. Recently however, I’ve notice myself growing fonder of them with every fewer interaction I have with them. I don’t want to be friends with my bank, I don’t even want to hear from them unless I have a question, request or suggestion. So be honest with yourself, ask yourself; is the company I work for annoying?If the answer is yes, then I assure you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ignoring every social media douche that makes you feel insecure about not having a facebook group. Keep your definition of participation limited to questions like ‘how can I create an interaction that’d make future interactions briefer and smoother’. People respect a brand more that knows what it does well, and gets it done for you without trying to be your friend over a brand that’s trying too hard and wants you to upload a picture of yourself with a biscuit or bribes you to ‘like’ them. Contrary to popular belief, antisocial brands can still remain as profitable and as successful as any other example of a participatory brand. There is nothing wrong with some brands simply being antisocial, accept it, embrace it, people will respect you more.