Are social testimonials the future drivers for strong brands?

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When BBDO Consulting came up with their latest ‚brand parity study‚ in Germany*, we could all learn that brands are ‚exchangeable for the consumer‘. Although companies spend a fortune in brand building which are meant to raise emotions for purchase decisions, the direct implicitness of a ‚brand buy‘ looses more and more its value. Today, the customers brain seems to resist this powerful and expensive approach.

„Companies need to upload brands with motivation and find the right benefits for the consumer in customer communication“, says Björn Sander, Managing Partner, BBDO Consulting.

So, we might ask the question: Is advertising via emotions still the driver of the consumer buying decision in the world of the future brand building? Or will strong brands be ‚tackling‘ the money via word-of-mouth in the future through ‚brand-vangelists‘? Let’s call those people ’social testimonials‘ (or name it ’social model‘ or rockstars if you like)…

An example. Imagine you think about buying a new mobile phone. In the shop you get offered a Nokia and a Blackberry. We all know what these brands stand for: Nokia as one of the first-time mover in connecting people away from home, Blackberry one of the top mobile business enablers for managers. Through the years we all were educated via different communication strategies that these brands, while positioned in the same market segment, are meant to serve these different purposes and benefits. But the knowledge around brands and their impact on consumers seems to be built via the same learning concept:

„People buying from people because people are relying on word-of-mouth from people they trust.“

Now, in terms of buying decisions, word-of-mouth has become an enormous influence on brands with web 2.0 (i.e. through rating, review, crowd-sourcing, etc.). In our case, some fellow ’social-testimonial‘, a fellow worker, peer or friend, might argue correct saying: „Why should some construction worker need business features like email or sync functionality on a mobile?“ The brand reward for his colleague’s need is deciding on the brand, not the emotion.

It is not that this person does not understand or rate the other product or it’s message. It is simply not paying the credit that his fellow, peer or friend needs. But the reward ‚Connecting people‘ is exactly what this example of a construction worker wants – nothing more, nothing less. And this was the Nokia brand pitch on consumers right from the beginning of the brand building process: spreading word-of-mouth easy, fast and everywhere you are going. What a great reward, right?

Vision or Utopia: social testimonials enforcing future brands?
Let’s take this idea a bit further. In business everything turns around the reward concept: ‚What is the reward for selling something…?‘ Now, as word-of-mouth is one of the biggest benefits of social influence today, why should not ‚everyday people‘ (and not VIPs) get the option to be rewarded for becoming a social testimonial for a brand?

What if there was a kind of reward for using private social media tools (blogs, micro-blogging or even social networks profiles) as a personal tool to say and show online ‚Yes, these are my brands!‘ Would this not change our behavior towards brands? Not in terms of writing (micro-)posts as people already do it. But in terms of ‚wearing and carrying around brands with your online presence, your online pictures, your personal digital dna, etc…

Generally speaking, if our ‚engagement‘ in brands could be rewarded, a brand will have more visibility, our enthusiasm for that brands will increase and with it our word-of-mouth for the value of the brand and all it’s impact. Correct? Or is this against online reputation? Or are people not happy to being testimonials?

Spot On!
We all know that without any reward, there is limited commitment for brands. But what if we were showing our favorite brands open to everyone and avow ourselves to those we ‚adore‘? Virtually speaking, companies could take us by the hand like advertising columns and reward us with a mechanism they see as appropriate? Are brand committed people not the best emotion drivers for their ‚followers‘ (as the ‚Twitterati‘ would say)? Would this not carry a brand’s word-of-mouth to a next all-time high? And in the end, would this not work in the favor of making brands more emotional and less exchangeable?

Open to discuss…

*BBDO Consulting has only a German version of the study.

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