Branding, Leadership, Life, Social Media, Technology

Is “loyalty”, “fans”, “fanbase” just narcissistic self-talk by careerists who wish they were rockstars?

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“Your consumers are just someone else’s consumers who occasionally buy you.” The attack on brand loyalty has been raging for a while now with many referring to the emergence of user reviews etc, where consumers circumvent the traditional trust and promises of brands. Not only that, some, including Martin Weigel of W + K in Amsterdam argue that a brand’s revenue depend more on broad audiences than of depth of loyalty and refers to research where a majority of revenue is from one-time purchases rather than repeat purchase loyalists, arguing that “Fans produce publicity, not revenue.”

Weather that’s the case or not, how is it then that the idea of “fans”, “followers” have lodged itself so firmly in our collective conscious? Certainly social media (twitter, facebook) has a part where the metaphor of “brand personality”, and anthropomorphism of brands initiated by famed planner Stephen King of JWT may have been extended way beyond its usefulness (See this interview with Mark Tomblin or TAXI Canada.

“Compared to human relationships, brand relationships are thin” Martin Weigel argues, which might be true when brands overestimate the relationship people do have, and want to have with them. Another, and maybe more hypothetical reason for why more and more brands claim having “fans” (rather than customers) could be due to the rise of epithets like “Guru”, “Rockstar” traditionally preserved for great, significant achievements in art and religion suddenly emerged in more mundane contexts of the corporate and startup world, where the unglamorous “customers” by necessity turned into “fans” and “followers” in a form of narcissistic self-congratulatory fantasy inflating the significance of what most corporations (big or small) actually do – sell products and services to people. In our age of helicopter parenting, selfies and what psychologist Jean Twenge calls the “most narcissistic generation in history” could it be that most can’t live with the fact that (as opposed to real rockstars and guru’s) they have no significant “following”?

Doug Kessler from Velocity recently noted regarding the perceived lack of glamor of working with B2B content strategy that “It doesn’t have to be glamorous to be important, worth the effort, or interesting. There’s so many things other than glamour” which might not unsettle the more seasoned of professionals but might not sit very well with the grade-inflated “totally awesome” and “super-talented” generation.

Isn’t it time for brands to scrap their shot at glamour, reinstating “customer” in favour for the more submissive “fan”, and while doing so shifting focus away from themselves – to whom they serve, not necessarily writing a new War and Peace or Abbey Road but selling laundry detergent, office supplies or designing nifty tools like smartphones. We’ll go back to an existence of humble service, seeing revenue as a quiet token of gratitude of the maybe unglamorous but yet significant good we do while working for (some) brands. I think it was legendary Brand Strategist Wally Olins who once said “Brands that are good for people are best for business”. That should be enough shouldn’t it?