Pawel Janiak

South African Ruby on Rails developer, ranter, biker.

Being a friendly brand can be risky

07 Apr 2013

As a brand, building relationships with an audience is a non-trivial task, and building genuine down-to-earth rapport with customers is even more difficult. Humanizing the image of a brand and coming off as friendly, or indeed being friendly, is a no-brainer for any company with any kind of marketing or communication presesnce. Most people are, if they haven’t already, becoming accustomed to dealing with brands that are no longer corporate-speak driven and impersonal. That’s simply what the market dictates.

Some brands go further than this and leverage their interaction with the market as a selling point. These brands are warm and caring and go the extra mile when dealing with customers. They have the capacity to do this and they do it well. Other brands try to imitate this, to their great peril.

The run-of-the-mill transaction model has certain market norms that customers expect when they enter into a transaction. Money is exchanged for a working product of an expected quality and may be furnished with extras like a warranty should it be advertised or included in the terms of the transaction.

In a transaction between a customer and a brand that has established itself as genuine, caring, approachable or friendly, the transaction is more likely to be less uncertain, perhaps cognitively less bearing for the customer, and could go to further establish rapport between the brand and the customer if there is an after-sales effort in place - for instance follow-up emails, online fora or platforms where similar customers can exchange experiences and alternate-use ideas etc.

The social norms that are created as the relationship between a customer and a brand grows become significantly more important as a factor, to a reasonable extent, and weigh in considerably enough to be as important as the market norms that drive the agreement of the deal. As in any relationship, the emotional investment increases over time and just as disappointment from a family member is more negatively impactful than a disappointment from a stranger, so too is the case with brands that have ties to a person as opposed to impersonal, straight-up business brands.

However unlike the small percentile of brands that are able and willing to deliver on upkeeing their relationships with customers, many brands will suffer the harsh reality of the effects of customer indignation when they fail to do so. If something happens after the transaction, or a customer requires a courtesy from the brand due to financial hardships or any such event and the brand’s response is significantly discrepant from what the customer would reasonably expect given the nature of their relationship up until that point, the negative emotional reaction from the customer will be significantly larger than it would have been with a “faceless”, textbook-driven brand.

It is important not to create a sense of approachability and friendliness using marketing on the top level, and then use standardized responses a lever underneath when dealing with dispute resolutions or any other offline communication. If brands are not willing to extend courtesies in exceptional circumstances or live up to the personas they want an audience to perceive them to be, then continuing down that path may turn their strongest advocates into their biggest haters (if emotional investment is a function of outrage in the event of strong disappointment).


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