The Dance Between Brand and Consumer Goes On; Are You in Sync?

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The dance between Brand and Consumer represents the struggle between marketers, data, and personal privacy. Big data gives us more access to the lives of our customers, but they have much at stake when giving up their information. Hessie Jones tackled this topic when she wrote “Quid Pro Quo: The Ultimate Dance Between the Brand and Consumer.”

It has been a year since it’s original publication, but it is a timeless topic. I decided to revisit her original piece with additional commentary along with updates from the latest research into this pressing issue of our industry. What follows is Hessie’s original text. My comments will begin with my name Susan in bold.

Quid Pro Quo: The Ultimate Dance Between the Brand and Consumer

The sustainability of today’s business in a world increasingly controlled by the customer seems daunting for many businesses, who are used to and, in many cases, hell bent on maintaining status quo with respect to how they market their products and communicate with their customers.

The pundits are saying this:

In order to adapt to the market of tomorrow you, as a business, have to listen to what your customers are saying. You have to make it a priority to build your business around the customer NOT the other way around.

So one would assume that the more you know about your customer, the better you can target messaging to them in ways that will optimize receptivity to the communication.

This is the reason why many marketers, including we at ArCompany, are encouraging brands to develop relationships with their customers.

Here’s the glitch, though…

…Consumers don’t want to have Relationships with Brands.

In last year’s Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study of the 7,000 consumers, 23% have said they have a relationship with a brand. However it was also discovered,

…for most consumers, increased interactions don’t drive relationships and often work against purchases.

What the researchers discovered was,

Without realizing it, many marketers are only adding to the information bombardment consumers feel as they shop a category, reducing stickiness rather than enhancing it.


Susan : Edelman’s annual Brandshare study was released in the middle of October 2014, finding similar results.

  • 87 of respondents around the world say they want “meaningful relationships” with brands
  • Yet 66 percent say brands don’t share with them at all — and 70 percent say that, when they do, it’s only due to “a self-centered desire to increase profits

STUDY: 83 Percent of Consumers ‘Unsatisfied’ by Relationships with Brands , MediaBistro

It is clear that brands are not connecting with consumers at the level they desire. Insights from the study show that consumers demand emotional depth and a social commitment from brands. These findings were consistent among Millennials, Gen X and Boomers.


I had an interesting discussion the other day with Doug Stephens, aka @RetailProphet and Kerry Morrison, @kmore and CEO of Normapp.

We all agreed that the value of Big Data is slowly becoming the holy grail to business, hoping to find the sweet spot that can determine what drives a consumer to buy. However, consumers are ever wary of the amount of information that is available to business especially in the face of the NSA scandal.


Susan : We are still seeking answers when it comes to privacy and big data. We’ve tackled this issue asking individual’s from the Millennial generation to weigh in. An upcoming Gen X Think Tank panel will also share their thoughts on privacy with us. Facebook has announced their support of Tor, which is used to encrypt information sent over the internet for the sake of anonymity. This is a boon for those (such as political dissidents) who need to access such resources anonymously for safety.


Whether this will compel government to make business more transparent about the information they collect OR allow the consumer to have more control over what personal information is shared remains to be seen.

The truth of the matter is it’s difficult to break people’s habits. Whether this and the next generation will be more closed off from social networks is not a realistic expectation. Payment systems and mobile will increasingly compound this wealth of data.


Susan : Hessie Jones is still writing about the mobile payment space. Her most recent is on the backlash from retailers against adopting Apple Pay.


Mobile payments increase

No one is really immune to the inevitability of the data solutions for business as this sort of intelligence becomes increasingly prevalent.

On the other side of the fence…

Brands Don’t Have the Processes that Allow for a Return on Relationship

Doug Stephens said it best,

The CEO, who has 5 years to retirement, is not going to be the maverick and attempt to develop new ways of doing things, especially where he’s in unfamiliar territory.

Companies typically operate within a defined period. Employees are compensated based on performance. Objectives are defined and results are collected within those timeframes.

  • Sales;
  • Retention;
  • Customer Satisfaction;
  • Churn Rates.

These are the standard measures to benchmark company and individual performance. However, relationship building takes time as anyone knows.

The value of content, interactions, and other relationship drivers will take time to impact the larger organizational goals. In these cases, results begin to develop beyond the set timeframe a company is willing to allow.

I’ve often been frustrated with clients, who expect immediate impact for engagements they’ve initiated in short-order.

The company of today is unwilling to modify existing systems and process to accommodate the new mediums and their promise of nirvana.

We’ve come to a crossroads.

So, if brands don’t have the wherewithal to make the appropriate changes with the times AND if customers don’t really want to build the relationships with brands, at what point does each succeed?

True Acceptance and Perhaps, an Agreement

If we can’t stop the collection of our data, as consumers, can we perhaps have some control about its usage?

If you, as a customer, understand that we are collecting information about you, will you give us, the business, the information that we need to make your experience better?

We touched on this notion during our discussion. Kerry Morrison noted, in the beginning when they were devising the premise of NormApp.

We have these amazing social platforms where users are telling us precisely what they want, what they need, problems they’re having and no one was listening…Why can’t businesses connect with us on a personal level, not as demographic data, but as unique individuals?

If you stop to consider this, everything is morphing to an environment geared to the individual. The notion of hyper local, “small town”, “villages” where everybody knows your name (hence where Norm conceived), what you like, and where you go – it’s more attainable now than ever before with the help of social intelligence.


Susan : Check out what Jure Klepic says about the power of connecting with customers for business success. Great stuff!


Can Social Intelligence Accurately and Consistently Infer a Customer’s Propensity to Purchase?

Doug and I tended to disagree. I would assume what a customer says he’ll do may be the case probably 80% of the time. Doug noted,

If you look at my tweets, you’ll probably assume I hate Air Canada because of how much I complain about them. In reality…. I always fly Air Canada because of the points.


Susan : I agree with Doug here. I have learned an important truth in my role as community manger. The customer who complains is often the one who cares the most. Yes, there are a few who will never be pleased, but I’ve had positive experiences addressing customer complaints over Twitter. The attentiveness always wins people over, even when they are fuming.


So, is behaviour is largely the dictator of brand affiliation and purchase propensity? I would argue that the data can tell a different story.

Tellagence Discover_Visualization

Language (mentions), in combination, with behaviour (transaction, check-ins, pic uploads) can determine the extent of a person’s affiliation with a brand, and predict their purchase propensity.

Natural Language has come a long way to detect aspiration vs. intent to purchase within sentences. Technology has gotten so sophisticated that the ability to use past behaviour/mentions as a predictor of consumer outcomes exists today.


Susan : Research is showing us just how powerful this is. Social data allows us not to target individuals based on demographics, but also personality. Purchase intent can be determined with only a few sample Tweets from one individual over Twitter.


The Quid Pro Quo: Nirvana

The business will use intelligence to know more about the customer, and may inadvertently bombard customers with offers, content etc they don’t want to see. However, if there is no relationship and the customer largely ignores the communications, then neither party is better off.

The balance here lies in ensuring the consumer doesn’t have the business by the noose. On the flip side, business must understand, in aggregate as well as the consumer level, the information that impacts parts of the purchase cycle. If there is no relationship, then both have to come to an agreement of give-and-take.

  • What do I, as a business have to do to retain you, as a customer?
  • What am I, as a customer, willing to give you, the business to keep me satisfied and coming back?

I sit on both sides of the fence on this one.

As a customer, I want the best product, the best service. I want it at my convenience and at the price I’m willing to pay. No, I don’t want to be solicited but sometimes I’m willing to look at offers that are relevant to me at that time.

In many ways, I want the brand to know ME.

The solution comes down to communications.

Whether it’s called a “relationship” or not there has to be some sort of communication that allows each party to get what they want.

If Big Data is to provide insight, it will allow brands to understand these things: how their external factors influence their purchase behaviour; who they turn to for advice for the type of product sold by the brand; the reason they want or don’t want that product.

Doug Stephens spoke about a time when, if the brands don’t make drastic moves to “understand” their customers, channel preferences, and how they want to be communicated, then the onus will be on the customer to be the control channel that dictates information they want to disclose, and how they want to be communicated to, etc.

For that CEO, who has only 5 years to his retirement, perhaps it is too late in the game for him. He can’t see the forest for the trees.

I still believe, however, that companies out there want to do the right thing to create a sustainable business. CRM is a tried, but true model that is reinventing itself in the social channels. This is what the new vanguard is all about. It doesn’t have to stifle a business but allows it to evolve in other ways imaginable.

As for relationship, it’s just a word.

At the end of the day, it’s an understanding that aligns both the business and customer on the same plane. It’s this understanding that sustains the business and keeps the customer coming back.


Susan : Hessie’s words in the conclusion still ring true for me. I feel divided as both consumer and marketing professional. There is a line that needs to be drawn and insights from studies like Edelman’s Brandshare are showing us the right way to set these boundaries.

Susan Silver is a community focused strategist who uses social data insights as the foundation of her work with ARCOMPANY. Her philosophy “Humanity in Data” is informed by a background in cognitive-behavioral psychology. She is making positive change in people’s lives, and the world, with thoughtful communication on behalf of her clients.

0 thoughts on “The Dance Between Brand and Consumer Goes On; Are You in Sync?

  1. ArCIntel says:

    BrandSquare Thanks for sharing, hope your week is going well!

  2. JoeCardillo says:

    Wow. susansilver this is solid stuff. I’ve got a lot of thoughts, but foremost among them comes right from the top point: brands are asking about what their return is, but they are not asking what their customer’s return is (and I don’t buy for a second that the customer’s return is the product, the experience and alignment of beliefs are critical as well, and data/privacy are huge drivers for a negative or positive in those areas).
    That’s the whole damn point about doing community, conversation, social media, whatever term one wants to latch onto. Brands still don’t realize, it’s not about them. It’s also not completely about the customer. It’s about value that’s created together (and how many brands are truly doing that? as opposed to talking about it, crowdsourcing some photos, and signing off on impressions…)

  3. hessiejones says:

    JoeCardillo susansilver You know what’s sad? It’s that dollars are allocated based on the “company” return. That’s how business is and that’s how they make decisions on budget. I think the best place to start is to allow businesses to change the way they think. And if that means building a product for market, and not the other way around, then they’ll start to see the value of moving from product mindset to customer-centricity. 

    Eventually it’ll catch up to them. But “eventually” is not soon enough…..

  4. JoeCardillo says:

    hessiejones JoeCardillo susansilver You’re right about that. It’s one reason I believe strongly in and live by lean startup methodology…too often there’s this arrogance of, hey I know what’s best for the market…it causes a lot of pain for companies over time.

  5. susansilver says:

    JoeCardillo hessiejones  It sounds like we are arguing for taking the scientific approach :) Which I am all for. Looking at the data and user feedback to formulate a hypothesis and then testing it. I feel like I should develop a presentation around this to present at conferences. 

    The real key is using psychological methods to remove our own biases from research. I don’t think people realize (even professionals) how much their own point of view can tint their analysis. That is why I find the Think Tanks so refreshing. It snaps you out of that every day mindset.

  6. zajuts149 says:

    redlianak “Who cares the most, Wins.” -Joseph Adama

  7. ArCIntel says:

    jennymakeswaves :) Thanks for that reference! Awesome.

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