Nigel Rahimpour: Marketing Needs a Major Brand Reality Check

Nigel Rahimpour: Marketing Needs a Major Brand Reality Check

Brands do not play as big a role in people’s lives as marketing managers assume

Nigel Rahimpour
  • 16 february 2015

For many years participation has been all the hype in marketing. Communications gurus praise it as the Holy Grail to customer acquisition. Countless business books talk about it. Many ad agencies have made it their core offering. The common mantras have been:

“People want to engage with brands.”

“People seek relationships with brands.”

Some even go as a far as saying “people want to belong to brands.”

However, a recent study from market research firm Forrester puts a damper on these assumptions. The research suggests: “people don’t engage with branded social content very often.”

The study states that the percentage of those, who are fans of a brand on Facebook and choose to interact with its posts, amounts to merely 0.7 percent. Again, these are not random people, but so-called brand fans.

The dismal engagement numbers are not limited to Facebook. Forrester found that on Twitter only 0.3 percent of followers interact with brand posts.

Forrester’s findings are corroborated by a study from the Ehrenberg Bass Institute for Marketing Science, the world’s largest of its kind. In any given week, less than 0.5 percent of Facebook fans engage with the brand they are fans of. Passion brands don’t fair much better. The interaction rate amounts to just 0.64 percent. Part of the problem is that marketers do not treat social media channels with sufficient respect. Brands behave on Facebook as if they were on a paid media channel – polluting the environment with vast quantities of low-quality creative to keep the “conversation” going. It’s not rare to find a brand post with a bowl of flakes and a headline saying: “Tell us, what do you add to your cereal?”

But more importantly, brands do not play as big a role in people’s lives as marketing managers assume. Most folks have far more important things to do and think about.

Paul Adams, the global head of brand design at Facebook confesses: “almost every app built for a brand on Facebook has no usage. Heavy, immersive experiences are not how people engage and interact with brands.”

What we learn are three things: Firstly, deep brand engagement is not a mass-market occurrence, but an occupation of the few. Secondly, heavy, time-intensive brand experiences have little in common with the way people want to use brands. Thirdly, simply assuming that people want to engage with brands is a recipe for failure.

In fact, assuming that people don’t care that much about brands might serve us better. It will set the creative bar higher and force us to take interest in what people are really interested in. Then work it back to the brand, not the other way around.

Campaigns such as Cadbury Schweppes Gorilla, Dove Sketches or Volvo’s epic split are shared by tens of millions, because they have precisely done that. They also allow for easy participation, which is how the majority of consumers interact with digital content, according to a BBC study. What’s more, these campaigns are supported through strong media buys, as there is no more free lunch, when it comes to digital marketing. After all, “90% of viewers don’t share,” says Karen Nelson-Field in her book The Science Of Sharing.

Most significantly, these creative works are ultra populist by design. They are part of a bigger plan to grow market share, which is done through strong increases in penetration, not purchase frequency. They target non-users and infrequent buyers, not just loyalists. Their communications reach far beyond owned channels, as loyalists dominate those. According to Byron Sharp from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing, this is how brands grow.

Professor Sharp points out that “loyalty is often more a function of habit, familiarity and lack of caring rather than unbound devotion.”

The vast majority of consumers are utterly polygamous. “Buyers typically have a number of brands they routinely buy,” says Mr. Sharp. TNS data from the UK confirms: 72% of Pepsi users also buy Coke. And according to study by research firm NPD, “half the people who described themselves as highly loyal to a brand were no longer loyal a year later.”

Evidently, brand relationships are often fragile at best. In fact, 77 percent of consumers admit they have no relationship with a brand whatsoever, as reported by the Corporate Executive Board, a British advisory firm.

Or, as Bruce McColl, chief marketing officer of Mars puts it: “Most of us go through life finding it hard enough to have good relationships with the real people in our life, let alone all the brands we buy.”

Perhaps that is why, according to Havas Media, “in Europe and the US, people would not care if 92% of brands disappeared.”

Clearly, brand commitment doesn’t run as deep as the marketing gospel preaches.

Nigel Rahimpour is a strategy consultant and former group planning director at Saatchi & Saatchi. This Op-Ed is published with his kind permission.


Be sure to read more from Nigel’s marketing-myths-killing gospel below.

Lead Image: Christopher Dombres // CC // No changes made

+Brand Development
+Cadbury Schweppes Gorilla
+consumer goods
+Corporate Executive Board
+Customer acquisition
+Ehrenberg Bass Institute for Marketing Science
+Havas Media
+Market Research
+market research firm

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