Your Brand Is Not My Friendâ„¢

I thought this was a fitting first post since it’s the idea that really launched my blog. It does a good job of laying out my take on the current state of the ad business and some of the mistakes people are making. My hope is that this, and the two or three articles to follow will provide a good framework for my future commentary and ad reviews.

When I was 23, a site like Facebook would have been my second home. Keeping track of the daily comings and goings of my 100 closest friends? Check. Comparing our tastes in music, movies, books, photos, and travel destinations? Check. And when I wasn’t on Facebook, I’d have been Twittering everyone that knew that I was going to the store. And then leaving it. With a middle Twitter to let them know that the cashier was being way too slow.

And while I was busy Facebooking and Twittering, the absolute last person I’d have wanted to hear from is an advertiser. I mean when you think of it, it’s kind of creepy. Facebook is the 21st century diner or malt shop. It’s where teens and young adults go to hang out. And the last thing they want is some salesperson trying to have a “conversation” with them while they’re figuring out what movie they’re going to see. They don’t want to talk to you. They want to talk to their friends.

The whole appeal of social media sites is their independence from corporate advertisers. People like the fact that they can say whatever they want to other people without any interference from anyone or anything that seems “official.” Yes, they’ll tolerate banner ads or search ads on the page, the same way that in the diner they tolerated placemats with ads on them or a Coke sign on the soda machine: that sort of advertising is innocuous and quickly becomes part of the scenery.

So I’m not sure where we’ve developed this conceit that people want to hear from brands. Because they truly don’t. At least not in settings where the primary objective is to talk to and interact with your actual friends. (And your brands, people, are not our friends.)

On a blog or message board dedicated to a particular subject, they’ll listen to someone from a company, especially if that person is someone whose name they all recognize. (In other words, if Steve Jobs himself were to post on a computer message board, people would be thrilled. But a generic post from Apple or from some unknown VP at Apple would be most unwelcome.)

Now there are some brands—I call them Prom King Brands—that people don’t mind “conversing” with, so long as they can do it on the brands own space (as opposed to MySpace.) These are the brands that have somehow managed to build a better mousetrap, but there are no more than a dozen of them and you here on DailyFix can probably name them all by heart (Here, I’ll start: Nike, Apple, Starbucks, Virgin, Whole Foods… ) Sports teams, TV shows, rock bands and movies fall into this category as well.

The rest of you are out of luck on this front. You’re not a Prom King and people aren’t all that thrilled to hang with you. So while Starbucks could probably start a Frappuccino Lovers Group on Facebook (for all I know, they already have), no one’s going to be joining a Maxwell House Lovers group anytime soon.

So if Your Brand Is Not My Friendâ„¢, does that mean you should run screaming from Web 2.0 and Social Media?

Absolutely not.

All it means is that if you’re not a Prom King brand, you need to be smarter about how you use the space. Not to mention more authentic.

Let’s take the Maxwell House example from the previous page. The one thing we know about Maxwell House (other than that it’s “good to the last drop”) is that it’s cheap. Really cheap in comparison to Starbucks. So you go on Facebook and find the Cheapskate Lovers group. And approach them as a salesperson. Not as a friend. So your script goes something like this: “Hey Cheapskates. Maxwell House knows how much you guys love saving money. And while our coffee is cheap enough as it is, if you go to this special Facebook Cheapskates site, we’ve got a dollar off coupon waiting for you.”

There’s a critical difference here: if you’re a Prom King, you define the interaction. People come to you to talk about and be around Starbucks, to get some of the halo effect of a brand they consider very cool. And even though you’re selling them big time, you can pretend it’s all just a fun little “conversation.”

But if you’re a regular brand, you need to find a situation that fits your strengths. So if your strength is you don’t cost a whole lot, you need to find a bunch of Cheapskates and then adapt yourself to their needs. And you have to do it as a salesperson. Because you can’t pretend you’re doing anything but selling them.

And if you do that, they may start to like you for it. To let you hang around more often and maybe, just maybe, they’ll start talking about you. Not to you, but about you.

Which is a lot more valuable than having them talk about your TV commercial.

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