Brands are bottom of the internet heap

Iranian bloggers could teach some major international brands a thing or two. The current uprising of emotion and anger within Iran is getting the inevitable clampdown from the authorities. But they are up against technologically adept youngsters who are able to publish their views online.

Protestors in Iran defy the Internet clampdown

Protesters in Iran defy the Internet clampdown

For three days now, blogs, Twitter and other social networks have enabled the protesters to get their views known and probably to help organise themselves. Even though the authorities are battling to shut down various online services, the messages and pictures still keep popping up.

No doubt the hundreds of thousands of people who read the various bloggers from Iran like what they read; otherwise they wouldn’t venture onto the streets so much. But many of them may not be reading the online material because they can’t access it; instead they will be getting their messages using good, old-fashioned “word of mouth”. When people are angry about something or emotionally attached to a cause, word of mouth becomes immensely powerful.

It’s something that many big brands rely on too; they love the fact that we talk about their latest products or the most recent changes to their in-store service. But word of mouth only works if we trust the messenger. If there is any doubt as to the motives of the person telling us something, we reduce our level of trust. That’s one of the reasons behind the judgement yesterday in the High Court which concluded that bloggers have no right to anonymity. Anonymous blogs are bound to be less trusted than those from people we know.

But when we read a blog from someone we know and whose views we respect our trustworthiness rating increases substantially. And that’s bad new for brands. The reason is that many big businesses don’t use blogs or word of mouth in a way that increases trust. A blog from “the company” is likely to be viewed as biased and less trusted than something more independent.

It should come as no surprise then that a new study from Duke University shows that people prioritise word of mouth information about product quality and level of service way above the brand itself. In terms of what people want to know about things they may buy, service is the number one issue, followed by customer relationships. After that the quality of the products themselves is deemed to be important, with the brand itself being the least important factor.

Online, many businesses are busy beavering away protecting their brand and its image. Instead, concentrating on getting bloggers to write about quality, service and relationships is much more likely to stimulate word of mouth. In spite of what many brand managers will tell you, this study confirms that people are not emotionally attached to brands, but are attached to what the brands do for them in terms of making them feel they are looked after and cared for.

If a company wants to stimulate word of mouth, then blogs, social networks, Tweets and so on should focus on things like quality and service. Stories of how well customers liked the service – rather than the product is much more likely to produce word of mouth promotion. And if such comments are in blogs that people trust and respect, because they are from named individuals, then the impact is even greater.

If you want to promote your business products, get bloggers to write about service and quality, rather than what you are trying to sell. The result will be an increased chance of word of mouth taking place – and who knows – you too may have hundreds of thousands of people on the street shouting their support for you.

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