Our current obsession with “engagement” is misguided
by Bob Hoffman (@adcontrarian), San Francisco Bay Back in high school there were people who were “heavy users” of sex. Remember them?
They often had one characteristic in common — they were promiscuous. They didn’t just have lots of sex with one person. As we used to say, they “got around.”
The world of commerce is like that, too. Heavy users in a category tend to be promiscuous. They tend to try lots of different brands in the category. They get around.
Someone who is a heavy user in the fast food category might go to McDonald’s 4 out of 10 times; Subway 2.5 in 10; Wendy’s 1.5 in 10; Taco Bell 1 in 10…etc.
People in advertising and marketing often wrongly equate usage and loyalty. They think that heavy users in a category tend to be brand loyal. And that heavy users of a brand are brand loyal. The truth can be quite the opposite.
In the above example, the heavy fast food user might also be a heavy user of McDonald’s. He may go to McDonald’s 4 times a week. But he is not brand loyal. In fact, 6 out of 10 times he patronizes a competitor.
This is true in many categories. Heavy users of sneakers (like yours truly) will tend to have Nikes, Adidas, and Reeboks in their closets. Heavy users of wine are very avid brand jumpers. Heavy travelers visit a lot of different locations. 72% of Pepsi drinkers also drink Coke.
Meanwhile, light users can be very brand loyal. My parents didn’t eat out much, but when they did, they always went to the same places.
Of course, this does not mean there are no heavy category users who are highly brand loyal. But in general, the idea that heavy users in a category and heavy users of a brand are more loyal than light users is not just mistaken, it is dangerous.
It’s dangerous for two reasons. First, because it fosters the infantile fantasy that people care deeply about brands and want to have “relationships” with them.
Second, it has large implications for advertising strategy. Success of a brand is not singularly related to high degrees of brand loyalty. Let me repeat that. Success of a brand is not singularly related to high degrees of brand loyalty. In fact, the most important success factor for mainstream consumer brands is not how many loyal customers you have, but how many customers you have.
Which is why the current obsession with “engagement” is so misguided. The idea that your success is dependent upon your customers becoming deeply emotionally attached to your brand is a delusion. Consumers are promiscuous. Most successful brands have a customer profile that is a mile wide and an inch deep. They’re just not that into you.
As Martin Weigel says… “Your consumers are just someone else’s consumers who occasionally buy you.”
That is also why the current mania for spending enormous amounts of time, money, and energy getting your “fans” to “engage” with you is such a silly preoccupation. Having your customers “like” you may be nice, but having your competitors‘ customers try you is what builds your business.
Wanna grow your brand? You don’t need more engagement. You need more customers.
– The Ad Contrarian is Bob Hoffman, ceo of Hoffman/Lewis advertising in San Francisco and St. Louis. Hoffman is the author of The Ad Contrarian and 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising. Reprinted from his blog The Ad Contrarian.
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