Social media proves that people do not care about brands

by Nigel Hollis | April 22, 2015
If the idea that social media proves that people do not care about brands feels wrong to you, consider this. I could have substituted the words “neuroscience” or even “survey research” for social media. Whether we like it or not, normal people care far less about brands than do the people charged with managing them.

So, no, this is not another luddite complaint about the use of social media as a tool to understand people’s attitudes and behavior; it is simply a fact, that whatever tool you use the challenge is to extract meaning about something that just does not matter to many people. If we forget that fact then we are going to end up misinterpreting much of the brand data available to us.

My thoughts on this topic were triggered by an article referred to me by Ilse Dinner in our Johannesburg office in South Africa. The article is titled, ‘Social Media vs Email: Guess Who Wins?’ By Scott Cundill. In it, Cundill reminds us of the pace of change in what might be called “social communication” and refers to a  2014 research study by Forrester that finds “on six of the seven social networks, the brands we studied achieved an engagement rate of less than 0.1%”, before going on to suggest that good, old-fashioned e-mail might be a better marketing investment than social media.

Email User

That 0.1% figure should not come as a shock to anyone. Very few brands engender enough passion for people to want to spend time interacting with them except in unusual circumstances, like when you make a flight connection and your suitcase does not (thank you Delta). Unfortunately, many of the 6000 or more studies conducted by Millward Brown’s Neuroscience Practice confirm that people just do not care about brands. On a scale from strong attraction to strong rejection, 90% of brands sit around a point that might be labelled weakly positive.

 This is why we need to think long and hard about what any type of data means when it comes to brands. They all have strengths, weaknesses, and biases. Social media conversations about brands are a tiny fraction of all the commentary out there, but that does not mean that it is unimportant. It does mean, however, that we need to be very careful about how we interpret it. Never mind the issue of spam comments, misidentification and the general need to make sure that the data set is clean; we need to know that the information we take from the data actually relates to behavior (not just correlates with it).

Using an established framework that is already proven to relate to individual behavior as Millward Brown does with Verve is a start, but it is only a start. If nothing else you have to ask to what degree the commentator really does care about your brand, because if they care about your brand enough to talk about it on social media, then they are pretty unusual: either because they are actually passionate about it or the category, or because they are passionate for a moment in time.

 So what do you think? Do people really care about brands? And will social media tell us all we need to know about brands? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Sara de Dios, April 27, 2015

    Most people won't care if 74% of brands dissapeared tomorrow, that's what we learned when we listened this year to over 300.000 people ww . The paradox is that disconnection becomes the "new norm" in today's interconnected world and social media just shows what people think and feel about brands. But this is just a symptom of a deeper problem; the real problem is that there is Little value for people in the current value exchange with brands. It is time for brands to deliver  meaningful value that have a real, lasting positive impact in people's lives. Those who deliver are rewarded with strong returns on meaning.

    More to come soon;.)

    Nice thought Nigel, and nice to meet you!

    Sara de Dios Founder & former global director of Meaningful Brands

  2. Alison Smith, April 23, 2015

    Back on the day, Sue Gardiner used to make this very point with a slide called "The Human perspective'  which listed out all the other things that relatively matter more to us. I guess brands only ever really matter in the moment don't they - the moment when the let you down or conversely help you out by surprising or delighting us with a great product or service, when they entertain or irritate or when our favourite ones are under threat (the 'outcry' when they nearly de-listed Heinz salad cream springs to mind). There's then a massive middle ground where we are all saying 'whatever'! We need to be realistic about what we expect mkting interventions  to achieve in the light of that. Conversely I can think of a few brands (e.g. Google) where I would genuinely care if they were taken away.

  3. Ed C, April 23, 2015

    The measurement of "care" seems relative. The 0.1% engagement rate seems low but what are the high scores and what are they for?

    If 0.1% = trillions of dollars spent on (brands), then whatever else people are caring about is probably highly correlated with the meaning of life (or something else greater than $T.

    Like you said, I think social media plays a part but must be interpreted with care.

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