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Empty13: Brands should be more wary of consumer apathy than backlash - ITV, Spotify, Microsoft, Bite


By Gillian West, Social media manager

May 20, 2013 | 4 min read

Brands should be more worried about consumer apathy than consumer backlash, according to the latest Empty13 panel which discussed the issue of whether or not consumers want to be 'friends' with the brands they engage with?

Fru Hazlitt, managing director commercial and online at ITV; Philippa Snare, CMO at Microsoft UK; John Bartleson, director of marketing, D2C at Telefonica; Chris Maples, VP Europe, Spotify; and Jon Silk, head of European digital strategy, Bite, made up the panel which culminated in a live vote ultimately deciding - by a 61 per cent majority - consumers don't want to be friends with brands.

According to Hazlitt, who argued that consumers do want to be friends with the brands they engage with, "technology has made things terrifyingly exciting" and that "consumer interaction has been around forever in some form" harking back to when people used to write in, the difference now is "brands can longer ignore interaction, it's there all the time and in real time". A sentiment echoed by Bartleson who said "Customers will have discussions about your brand whether you like it or not, and whether you're there or not."

Arguing to the contrary was Snare, who cited app loyalty as an example of the transient relationship consumers have with brands, a "get in and get out" mentality as very few branded apps are used more than a couple of times. She added: "People don't want a brand to be their friend what they want is for it to do what it says its going to do...You only maintain so many friendships in real life, the same is true of brands."

One of the recurring themes amongst the speakers was brands need to be "authentic" when it comes to communicating with their audience and one of the biggest advocates of this was Spotify's Maples who said brands need to have a reason to be engaging with their consumers, especially on social media, and they shouldn't "create things if you have nothing to say". He added that brands need to build "credibility" around their messages with Silk posing a simple message to brands - "don't be an awful friend who just wants all the time".

Silk's comparison between his real life bad Facebook friends and brands proved the point that "if brands act like bad friends they'll be ignored" by consumers, arguing that we ignore high-maintenance friends online so why wouldn't consumers do the same with brands that pester and annoy them or always want something from them?

Ultimately, consumers becoming numb to brand messages was found to be a far worse fate than experiencing negative feedback from consumers, because negative engagement is still engagement and with the right attitude can be resolved or fixed. In the end brands should simply strive to keep the promises they make to their consumers rather than trying to be their friend in order to keep their audience engaged and satisfied with the brand experience.

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