Monday, April 19

Finding Truth Online: People Don't Want Online Friends For Every Product

If you work anywhere near social media, you've probably read plenty of studies and opinions that people respond to friends who represent brands over the brands themselves. And while the idea plays well for public relations firms soliciting companies with online public relations spokespeople, is it always true?

A new study from Q Interactive's Women's Channel, which researches women's online behavior, seems to suggest otherwise. They found that women respond better to intuitive online advertising over spokesperson insight. Specifically, women are all too happy to have a relationship with the "brand."

"We asked women about brands online in relationship terms, too," said Emily Girolamo, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at Q Interactive. "Significant for marketers, we found, with women, you have to give a little something - whether it is an offer or information. Women best connect with brands who know them and see the relationship as a two-way street."

Highlights from the Q Interactive study.

• 88 percent "wish brands they trust sent them more tailored offers."
• 65 percent want to feel like they receive online advertisements specific to them.
• 53 percent believe they have "relationships" with sites and brands.
• 37 percent consider online brands to be "good partners" and 19 percent trust of them.
• 58 percent want brands to provide a good offer with only 19 percent wanting to get to "know" someone.

So how can this be? While prevailing thought in social media seems to run counter to these findings, some of it make sense. While women who have a vested interest in social media prefer to connect to someone in order to develop content, the average consumer may be overwhelmed by the idea that they need a "friend" for every purchase.

This morning, for example, I probably came into contact with 50-100 products before sitting down in front of the screen to write this post. Do I need a "friend" associated with every one of them ... from toothpaste to carpet and tile? Probably not. The very idea seems overwhelming, especially along lines that include multiple brands.

Even in venues where it works better, it can get annoying. iPhone customers probably become as tired as Droid customers in hearing how the brand is somehow better from "friends," "fans," and people they trust online. Some may switch, sure. Some may switch back. But the majority of consumers are becoming settled.

Marketers in such venues will eventually have to make a choice. At what percentage does it make more sense to tailor your message toward your customers as opposed trying to convince people to convert? Do you really have a product that includes a personal online connection with a dedicated service agent? Or, more specifically, does anyone really need to read colorful antecdotes from the social media expert who drew Quilted Northern Ultra Plush as a client?

Don't laugh. You might be surprised how much toilet paper advice is really out there. And most of it seems related to secondary purposes such as making a Kazoo or even papering someone's Farmville Barn.

The point is that consumers don't necessarily need a friend in the toilet paper business (and that is not to say a toilet paper social media account wouldn't be fun) to feel good about the brand as much as coupons for the brand they buy. That makes sense. The alternative, of course, would be 30-50 trust agents, public relations pros, social media gurus all trying to make friends with you, just to influence the way you wipe.

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