A while back I had a cynical take on a survey of Facebook users. This survey made it appear as though noble intentions were the most popular reason to “Like” a brand. Subsequent offline conversations suggested that this kind of consumer behavior was not only true but predictable. The reason? All marketing is relationship marketing and always has been. This brand loyalty check-to-cheek dance was just the logical extension of what we’ve seen in advertising for decades.
I didn’t believe that for a minute. So the original intent of this post was to debunk the all marketing has always been relationship marketing notion. It began with the theory that old media is one-way, opaque. Whereas social media is two-way, transparent. But in the middle of my case building, Cheryl Andonian wrote a wonderfully insightful blog post that cauterized my thinking and gave it a name and a new focus: translucence.
You see, I was going to make the argument that social media (relationship marketing’s current ground soldier) is truly different. Whereas television spoke to us, we could not speak back. We read the newspaper but didn’t converse with it. And though all of us have been guilty of yelling at the radio from time to time, it was most likely unaware. However, I’ve seen conversations, both good and bad, happen between consumers and brands in the social media realm. Brands had Facebook pages with people talking about and with them. Twitter accounts made it possible to “talk” to Whole Foods or Starbucks or Target. The notion that two-way conversations were and are taking place was going to be my smoking gun.
But after reading Cheryl’s post, I realized that I had it all wrong. Or at least mostly wrong. You see, I was concentrating on tactics and not substance. She writes:
Putting a business out there with a blog and on Facebook and Twitter is a good thing. It allows consumers to at least feel like the company is accessible, but does it really offer that transparency that everyone says is so essential? I think it’s more like translucence. No company is going to be completely transparent. Most companies and organizations highly monitor their Facebook posts, blog posts and Twitter feeds. They are most often manned by PR, marketing, communications or customer service people within the organization. In other words, trained professionals well-versed in the company’s mission, style, philosophy and message. These people are in fact crafting their posts to serve the best interest of the company. You know, just like advertising, only folksier.
Bingo! We can talk about the conversations as a tactic all day long. But ultimately the brand stewards are using the tools made available by social media to convince us to buy them. In that way, the intent is the same as television, radio, print or any other old media delivery system. We’ve added a sense of dialog, but it’s a controlled and often contrived notion. Though I never harbored any lofty notions that it was all about talk and never about the sale, my concentration on the conversation paid too little attention to its intended outcome: the close.
James McNeil Whistler once said, “As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight and the subject-matter has nothing to do with harmony of sound or of color.” I was focusing on the method and not the result. Though I think the social media method is more inclusive, we’ve only replaced the brick wall between brand and consumer with smoked glass. I hope the progressive brands and insightful marketers out there will find a way to shatter it. Because it’s not that marketing has always been relationship marketing. Marketing has never been relationship marketing. It’s still not. But I believe it could be. Here’s hoping we don’t get fooled again.
What do you think?