According to Wikipedia, who quote the American Marketing Association, the definition of a brand is a “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” A good brand, however, does more than merely differentiate itself from the others: It creates an emotional attachment, a bond that says even at a higher price it still has fans that will buy the product. You could say that I’m a fan of Toyota because I bought their car shortly after the wave of recalls that hit them back in 2009 and 2010 that decreased consumer confidence in them. As consumers, we all have emotional bonds with the brands that we prefer – but how does our experience with these brands translate in social media?
In other words,
do social media interactions with brands help them create stronger or weaker emotional bonds with consumers?
Perhaps we are Mastercard users and then find out that we need an American Express card to “unlock” special Foursquare discounts. Do we change our allegiance? Or perhaps we never had an emotional tie to a credit card so it doesn’t matter? But how do we view AMEX now if we are a heavy Foursquare user?
What about the brands that just don’t listen to us in social media vs. those that do. How does that affect the “brand experience?”
These questions might sound trivial to some, but the last mile in companies using social media to align their marketing efforts with consumers will be to assure that their brand experience translates well in social media.
I ponder these issues as I am about to embark on my trip to Tokyo as the Brand Ambassador for All Nippon Airways. Klout Perks tempt “influencers” to try out products or receive discounts in hopes of “spreading the word,” but a true Brand Ambassador is someone that should have a deep emotional attachment with that brand. What does that “emotional attachment” look like? They are comprised of stories that your true fans can tell you about your brand.
In my case with ANA, I often flew from Japan to China for business, and could choose between the two main Japanese airlines: ANA and Japan Airlines (JAL). When you compare two competing brands, sometimes a negative experience with one of them will naturally make you lean towards another. Yes, part of why I love ANA has to do with negative brand experiences with JAL, who were the favorites of the Japanese business people I worked with.
What were these “negative experiences?” Let me recount one of them:
I have vivid memories of flying from Osaka to Beijing on JAL when they served lunch but did not offer multiple selections like other airlines do and instead only offered fish as the main dish. While I am fond of raw fish, I wasn’t a big cooked fish eater and was a little unhappy. Even my Japanese boss said that, from Japanese standards, the meal wasn’t a delicious one. In those pre-social media days, I actually wrote JAL a letter telling them how disappointed I was in them. Guess what? I received a response within a few weeks in impeccable English apologizing – but explaining that the Japan-China route was mainly flown by Japanese business people, and thus the meals were geared towards their tastes. JAL, in essence, shut me out of their brand.
Although this experience happened more than 10 years ago, it is still fresh in my memory.
I had more than one negative brand experience with JAL, but I have had many positive brand experiences with ANA.
My favorite was when I was flying from Osaka to Dalian, China. The plane was hitting severe turbulence, the kind where they ask the cabin attendants to discontinue their in-flight service and have a seat. It was getting pretty hairy, when all of the sudden the pilot made a public announcement. After introducing that he was the pilot, in the calmest of voices he said, “We are hitting turbulence, but in no way is the safety of this aircraft jeopardized. Please understand this and be patient while we make our way through it, which should be in 5 minutes.” My nervous self was calmed. This is something that I have heard ANA pilots say often on other flights since then, as if it was part of their training to ensure a positive brand experience. I have never had that sort of experience on any other airline to date – and I have hit bad turbulence on many occasions!
Social media allows consumers to be complainers about their brand experiences as much as it allows us to be story tellers of positive experiences. What does a positive social media brand experience look like? It could be as easy as when I tweeted out that I was on my first Alaska Airlines flight recently, and before the flight took off I had a response from them in the form of a simple tweet welcoming me on board. I had a smile on my face the entire flight – and it translated into a very positive brand experience for me. Many who have flown Virgin Air have have similar experiences.
I look forward to further reflecting on this topic of brand experiences and social media when I get to learn more about the ANA brand next week in Japan. Until then, have you had social media interactions with brands that have affected your loyalty to them, good or bad? Does your consumer brand recognize the importance of this in your social media efforts? Please help shed some light on this issue. Thanks!