January 29, 2014

Brand Loyalty And Social Media

Of all the factors relating to consumer behavior, perhaps none is more misinterpreted and mischaracterized than brand loyalty.

While we all have favorite brands in several categories, in most cases our loyalty is an inch deep.

In the agency world, where the religion of branding is unquestioned and inviolable, the misunderstanding of "brand loyalty" is epidemic.

It is true that, all things being equal, people will default to their favorite brand. But every intelligent marketer knows that her competitors are up late every night working to make sure that all things are never equal.

While Coke may be the preferred brand for a soda drinker, any Coke distributor will tell you that if Walmart suddenly puts up a huge Pepsi display and lowers the price, Coke is going to take it in the shorts.

I may prefer American Airlines to United, but if United has a flight to LA that’s $100 cheaper, you know where I’ll be.

Every McDonald's owner knows that if Wendy's suddenly decides to give away free fries with every burger, McDonald's is going to be hurt bad.

What we call "brand loyalty" is actually a far more accurate reflection of habit than loyalty. Most consumers in most categories are cheerfully willing to switch brands if there's something in it for them.

One other misunderstood aspect of brand loyalty concerns heavy users. Heavy users in a category are often presumed to be the most loyal. Often, they are not (please do yourself a favor and read “How Brands Grow” by Prof. Byron Sharp.) Heavy travelers tend to use a wider variety of airlines. People who eat out a lot tend to visit more restaurants. People who drink a lot of wine, drink many brands of wine. Heavy usage in a category is not a reliable indicator of brand loyalty.

This fact is lost on most marketers who tend to think that their brand's heaviest users are their most loyal customers. In fact, someone who visits McDonald’s 4 times a week will be considered a very loyal customer by McDonald’s. But this is not necessarily so. As a heavy category user, this person may be eating 10 fast food meals a week, only 4 of which are at McDonald’s.  He may actually use McDonald’s competitors more often than McDonald’s.

In the tortured logic of social media, subtleties like these are a complete mystery.

Which brings us to one of the dumbest social media campaigns I have ever read about. And believe me, that's a very high bar.

Apparently an agency in Norway decided that Facebook "engagement" is more import than actual customers. And so they embarked on an astoundingly misguided promotion to trade "likes" for customers. And lost.

The agency somehow convinced Burger King to give free coupons for a Big Mac to anyone who followed Burger King on Facebook on the condition that if they took the coupon they couldn’t access a new Facebook page Burger King was launching. In other words, you had to turn down the offer of a free Big Mac to access the new BK page.

According to Ad Age, 38,000 people took part in this campaign. Of the people who did, only 8,000 chose to stick with BK. 30,000 opted for the free Big Mac coupon. In a very nasty little trick, Burger King only had 1,000 Big Mac coupons to give out.

The agency is trumpeting the fact that 8,000 people would not accept the coupon and chose to follow Burger King’s new Facebook page. Big fucking deal.

So BK now has 8,000 "more engaged" customers (whatever the hell that means) and 29,000 formerly happy customers who are pissed-off because they wanted a Big Mac and BK cheaped-out on them.

Perhaps worst of all, this dumb-ass idea demonstrated to the world how little true loyalty BK's followers had -- 79% of their Facebook followers opted for the Big Mac.

The ridiculous religion of social media -- and the naive delusion of brand loyalty -- have reached such a point of absurdism that this is being hailed as another great social media achievement.

I’m sure the visionaries behind this nonsense will be speaking and doing victory laps at the next worldwide clown conclave social media conference.


Jim said...

Could McDonald's have hoped for anything better?

What a dream for your competitors to pay for your customers orders.

Sell! Sell! said...

I wonder what percentage of those 8k 'engaged' customers forsook the Big Mac voucher because they believed there would be a greater tangible reward waiting on the BK page? I know that's what I would think.

Jason Hartley said...

This is the first comment for that article: You're aware that the only marketing stunt here is the fact that you're promoting a video of a campaign that never happened? Even in the video the screenshot of the fanpage says 8.000 something fans, and checking their statistics for the last six months, you'll clearly see that Burger King Norway never had 38.000 fans to start with. http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-pages/131195130399652-burger-king-norge

Peter W said...

Since there apparently is no (or more or less none) real brand loyalty, BK would not have traded customers for likes in this campaign. They traded one visit to their competitor, but since they're probably not loyal to Mcdonalds either - chances are they'll be back at BK just as many times as before.

Stupid campaign nonetheless though.

For the record, I agree fully with everything else in your post. :)

Pierre said...

Outstanding post. So true and so ignored.
The abyss of social media as indicator of loyalty and brand enhancer is a shallow as the promise of eternal youth, and yet people still pay $80 for that 1oz facial cream. Go figure.

DenTarthurdent said...

Great post.

Thought you'd like to see someone commenting on your other favourite topic:


Stephen Eichenbaum said...

I read about that dumb-ass idea in Creativity mag and thought the same thing.Glad it dive-bombed.

Casperpesky said...

In the UK we also enjoy 'engagement' campaigns. John Lewis Group tried to get their loyal social media users to help their agency by completing the sentence - I shop at Waitrose because.....

The best response was - I shop at Waitrose because Clarissa's Pony won't eat the hay from Aldi.

Hope that translates well over the pond.

Nathan U said...

I would suggest that perhaps the 8k were not aware that there was a new page? They were "idle" FB fans, perhaps?

Nathan U said...

I would also include that even though they are "fans" or "liked" that this does not translate into any profit/ROI. That is to say, just because someone "likes" a page will redeem the reward of the free food item--or even eat there to begin with.

Ken said...

Seems The Onion has found the cause of the problem:


jhon stiffler said...

Hollaaa That is wonderful. Try to see more articles like this.

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