Whose Brand Is It, Anyway?
by Kathi McKenzie
How much of your brand narrative do you control? The answer is probably “less than you think.”
Way back when, marketers sent forth advertising messages, and consumers received them. We all knew that there was such a thing as “word of mouth,” and that it could be powerful. Honestly though, your typical consumer didn’t spend a lot of time talking to her neighbor about what toilet paper they preferred. Companies were content that they, for the most part, controlled their brand narrative.
Then came the rise of digital and things began to change fast. Many companies began to compensate bloggers for boosting their products. Some companies jumped right on social media, while others took a while. Today, a brand’s fans can follow it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and more channels are sure to follow. Which brings me to my point. Increasingly, consumers tell the narrative of a brand. And they do it in the context of their own lives, posting about great brand experiences, or terrible ones. Including a brand they love when they document their celebrations.
You may recall the phenomenon of “Nuggets For Carter.” Carter Wilkerson jokingly asked Wendy’s “How many retweets for a year of free chicken nuggets?” History was made when Wendy’s answered in the same joking tone, challenging him to reach 18 million.* Wendy’s not only went along with what he started, but even created a special box-of-nuggets emoji for Carter. The brand exposure and warm fuzzies Wendy’s got from the resulting tweetstorm is priceless. And although Carter didn’t hit 18 million retweets, Wendy’s rewarded him.
Contrast that experience with a recent response sent by a restaurant chain’s lawyers to a fan who chronicles online his attempts to eat through every possible combination on the menu. Failing to realize that he was generating interest for them and that no one was likely to confuse his site for the restaurant’s site, the lawyers issued a cease-and-desist order. He responded by posting about this online, and that opened the floodgates in his defense. This online brouhaha led to his followers vying to see who could skewer the chain best in limerick fashion. So, let’s review: a fan started a narrative out of his love for the chain. They responded without understanding that he was building a positive narrative for them, and their response backfired. What could they have done instead? Issue him a challenge? Thank him? Send him a T-shirt with the pun-like name of his site?
There are several lessons we can draw from consumer-generated narrative:
- Make sure your customer’s experience is a good one. It’s a no-brainer, but always remember that while a good experience can be magnified by consumer narrative, so can a negative one. Respond quickly to complaints and try to make things right.
- Look for opportunities to engage your fans. At the least, thank them for a compliment they give you online. Also think about using humor, contests, and games to boost their connection to your brand. Post special offers for your followers. Get creative.
- Think about your brand persona when replying to customers. A brand should stay in character, even when limited to 140 characters.
- Be pic-worthy, part 1. You want your product to look good when it gets its picture snapped. This is especially true for restaurants and food/alcohol products, but is also true for hotel lobbies, supermarkets, and other products and services.
- Be pic-worthy part 2. Your packaging should also look great, and the brand name should be easy to read whether it’s snapped at the shelf, or viewed on a phone via an online ordering app.
- Stay in close touch with your customers. Don’t settle for brand-health studies every few years…the marketplace is changing much too rapidly for that. Keep your customer knowledge fresh. Who are your customers? What do they like or dislike? What do they do in their spare time? What is important to them in life? You can’t make friends with folks you don’t know.
*Carter Wilkerson. If you don’t recall, Nuggets For Carter (#NuggsForCarter) broke the record for most retweets ever, surpassing Ellen DeGeneres 2014 Oscar selfie record of 3.4 million retweets. Summed up neatly by Forbes: “…on April 5, 2017, when a college-goer from Nevada tweeted his rather amusing brush-in with a popular fast-food chain. ‘How many retweets for a year of free chicken nuggets?’ Carter had asked Wendy’s. It should have stopped right there, except Wendy’s replied, with an outrageous ask of “18 million” retweets. Carter Wilkerson, who assumingly took it for what it was, a joke, tweeted the whole correspondence to his followers with the funny all-caps caption that read “HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGGS.” It proved contagious; even Ellen got involved in promoting his quest.
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