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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  When the Ass Sees the Angel

When the Ass Sees the Angel

Posted on March 9, 2012 and read 2,090 times

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bayfield When the Ass Sees the AngelMike Bayfield
Senior Copywriter
balloon dog

A few years ago an old friend of mine, Tim, was in Amsterdam for a stag weekend/bachelor party. The Hangover on bicycles. Like in the movie, he’d somehow lost all track of time and place until both came crashing back in a moment of terrifying clarity. He was standing semi-naked on a stage in a dimly lit basement. Next to a donkey. With a baying audience of Japanese businessmen throwing money at him.

Rather than simply observing the story, he’d become part of it. He was involved in a two-way conversation with the brand. Or, in his case, a donkey. It’s exactly what social media is doing for brands and their customers. Or is it?

The accepted model of social media marketing is one of consumers actively engaged with brands, shaping them in a symbiotic relationship. But very few customers actually do so to any meaningful degree. You can basically split them into three different types, defined by their level of engagement.

Firstly, there are the brand Angels. The uber customers, like Tim, who become so engaged with and by a brand that they start to live it. Through social media they’re constantly in tune and in touch with the brand, influencing its evolution. And more importantly preaching its message. They are the Apple fans who fly half way around the world every time a new store opens, and sleep on the street outside the night before.

Unlike Tim, though, their engagement is repeated and sustained in a constant dialogue. But these customers represent a tiny fraction of consumers. Only around 1% of fans of the biggest brands on Facebook actually talk back. And they represent only a small segment of the overall customer base. Who in turn only represent a small segment of the whole market.

A far bigger group are the Evangelists. These are the Japanese businessmen in the front row of the club, shouting and throwing money. They love the brand and are also loyal customers, but are not going to jump up on the stage. Nevertheless they’ll be following the brands and spreading the word, with infectious enthusiasm, if slightly less vociferously.

Finally, there’s the biggest group of all, the Followers. They’re enjoying the show but not joining in – other than by buying the ticket. They may be loyal customers. Maybe not. They don’t want a conversation. They just want what it says on the poster, or the packet.

Like the fine establishment in Amsterdam, brands want all of these customers; but who they really they want more of are Angels and Evangelists. Firstly, because of the 80/20 rule – 80% of sales come from 20% of customers. Or thereabouts. The guys at the back weren’t the ones throwing money at the stage.

Secondly, and more importantly from a social media perspective, it’s because these are the people Malcolm Gladwell talks about in the Tipping Point – the mavens, connectors and salesmen – who trigger social and cultural phenomena. And convert customers to new brands. This is how the real power of social media is unleashed: the social media that’s been around for millennia. Paul Revere didn’t have an iPhone. He had a horse.

No matter what the means we have to communicate with each other – whether it’s cave painting or Pinterest – the only differences are the reach and the speed of how the messages are spread. The principles and processes are the same. It’s all about the message itself. The story. If you build it, they will come.

Stories echo a fundamental human need to be both entertained and explain the world we live in. Before people will share stories about brands, they have to believe in them. Believe in how a brand can enrich their lives and/or the lives of others. To do, so these stories also need to be culturally relevant, to capture the zeitgeist. Or, ideally, define it.

One of the UK’s most successful new brands is Innocent. A few years ago three young guys bought £500 of fruit and a blender. They set up stall at a one-day jazz festival in London, selling bottles of home-made smoothie. To decide if was worth giving up their (very good) jobs, they took a social media approach.

Above two garbage bins was a sign which read “If you think we should give up our jobs and make smoothies instead, throw your bottle in this bin. If not, use the other one.” Guess which bin was empty?

Several million bottles and hundred million dollars later Innocent is on the road to world smoothie domination. In a food culture saturated in  cholesterol and refined carbs they created a product that tastes great and does you good. But a big part of their success is the way they communicated this message.

In the early days they had no money for advertising. And Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school. But every carton and bottle of smoothie told a story – a combination of real product information and charming nonsense – which customers love as much as the content. So they also love to tell each other about it.

Today social media is helping them share the stories even more. Which is all part of co-founder Richard Reed’s vision to “get the brand recognised internationally as the one that helps people live well and die old.” Now that’s a story most of us would want to be a part of and, more crucially, want to share. Innocent was a truly social brand, long before the term was ever conceived. And they had their very own angel right from the start.

In the digital age though things can very easily go pear (or banana or pineapple) shaped. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whole social media buzz that you literally lose the plot. And maybe half a billion dollars too; like Pepsi in 2010. And brands, no matter how big, can’t always set the agenda. The stories being shared might not always be the ones they’d choose. Heard the one about the iPhone factories in China?

Ultimately social media – old and new – is less about consumers talking back to the brands and more about them talking to each other. Ask any restaurant owner. But to help shape the stories that make them want to, a few of those customers need to also talk back. And social media, as we define it today, has made everything so much easier, for both brands and consumers. Maybe even donkeys too.




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