What it says on the tin
When I was in New York many years ago, I was hustled by a street artist who drew a really bad portrait of me while we were chatting, and talked me into paying USD 10 for it. I felt stupid, but tried to convince my friend – and myself – that it was a pretty cool drawing, and encouraged him to get one too (I know, pretty pathetic).
This is a classic case of post-purchase dissonance. When one’s purchase doesn’t match one’s values and attitudes, one must adjust them to justify it, usually through creative rationalisation. It mostly occurs after expensive purchases, but also when your pride has taken a hit. He who regrets a purchase will become a brand advocate. However, being a result of selfish face-saving motives, this form of advocacy is of little value to the brand.
Genuine advocacy appears when the initial investment is in social or cultural capital rather than financial. I will argue that while brands should encourrage these investments, it also comes with a responsibility to provide return on investments and to fulfill their part of the contract they thus sign. Only through reciprocity and authenticity will a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship between the brand and its investor-consumers be maintained.
We invest resources hoping to make a future profit. The concept of perceived cultural and social value is complicated and difficult to measure rationally; it may be status or respect; for having good ideas, or for being an early adopter. Popularity can be the collective term.
If you can do anything to increase the value of your object of investment, you will. Our intellectual investment activities reveal our values and pretentions, and few of us are above protecting our self- and public image. An awareness and understanding of individual protectionist strategies are therefore of value for brands when developing their own communication strategies.
To induce intellectual investments, brands must provide potential investors with incentives to spend time and energy interacting with the brand (some times incentives are offered directly to the most attractive investors; a cultural emission). Starbucks is an example; the brand receive ideas and insights; the investors receive exposure for their creativity and feedback from their peers.
A brand must respect their investors and their contributions. The consumer is an intellectual stockholder, and there exists a contract between them and the brand. If the brand stays true to their marketing communication and respects and utilize the recources with which they have been entrusted, the investors will become brand advocates and a positive brand-image will be reinforced.
If the brand can’t keep their implied promises; if they can’t live up to the image they create through the communication which triggered the initial investment, the investors will escape the sinking ship with whatever integrity they have left. They will feel allienated by a brand who changes character and the platform from which they agreed to practice their individual image-building and myth-making.
Word-of-mouth will still be a factor, only with a negative prefix. The downward spiral has begun.
Every relationship relies on reciprocity; the input must equal the output. One-way communication is asking the consumer to trust, like and purchase the brand, without giving anything back. This is not sustainable. Without the support of ethos-fueled advocacy initiated by their consumers, a brand will find it difficult to maintain a positive image; ultimately embarking on their descent down the ladder of the brand hierarchy. Only the basement is the limit; a dark and crowded “buy now, pay later” purgatory.
A brand is a product plus added value. Added value has evolved from being rhetorical to becoming tangible, and the consumers play an important role in defining and creating this value. The value which the brand creates for its customers will ultimately increase the value of the brand itself.
If the investor feels like a valued team-player, her communication too will be authentic; and the approaching wave of word-of-mouth will gain credibility and power as it flushes over our rational minds and independent thoughts like a tsunami. The early adopters will be acknowledged and receive social rewards; in short they will become popular. People who are popular will stay loyal to the brands without whom they would not have been where they are today – “I would like to thank God, my mym and my dad; Playstation; Google, and a vast number of soft-drinks; you know who you are”.