Changing Brand Opinions of Consumers
A recent HARO post, a reporter asked the following:
“Looking for experts on consumer behavior or branding strategies or even psychology to discuss how press/consumers develop an opinion about a company and whether/how that opinion can be swayed.”
It got me excited that someone may be looking for new ways to engage with consumers other than the same old shotgun marketing that has been going on. I focused on consumers, as that is my area of expertise.
Here was my response:
Consumers are influenced in their opinions of brands by many factors:
Engagement – a consumer’s actual experience with a brand. This usually but not always refers to their actual use of a brand’s product or service. Sometimes this can manifest itself in their experience with the brand’s customer service.
Marketing – of course marketing, advertising, coupons and the like are a big influencer, or brands wouldn’t spend the money! A fine example is Apple. They developed a product (iPod) that was marketed as hip, cool, and trendy. Their psychographic was not just people who were hip, cool, and trendy, but those who thought they were, and those who wished they were.
PR – this taps into the same channel as above, what people are reading or hearing about a product.
Peers – Peers have replaced celebrity endorsements in the mind of consumers. They’re not going to by a t-shirt because Michael Jordan wears it (much to Hanes’ chagrine), they are going to buy it because their big brother wears it. Consumers are much more likely to engage with a brand based on what kind of experience a close contact, friend or family, has had with the brand. This may mean that I’ll buy a CD (or more likely download an mp3) of a new artist because my buddy Roy likes them (he and I have similar, but not identical tastes), or I may decide not to make the purchase because my buddy Steve (whose tastes I can barely stand) recommended them.
Peripheral Peers – while these aren’t close contacts, they are other consumers with a similar psychographic makeup. For example, my wife and I are expecting our first child in February. She did not put a single item on our baby registry without reading every single review on the site of the company through which we’re making a list. Often she would double check the reviews on another site, say a portal like thebump.com, or with our neighbor who has a 6 month old (see Peers). While these influencers have less of an impact, they make it easier to get input from those with the same mindset. I’ve used Twitter recently to get feedback from my Followers on a video camera I’m looking to purchase. This gives me a broad range of honest, yet in-depth feedback. I have to take some with a grain of salt, like the podcast pro who only uses high end Canon products, or the 22 year old that just love, love, LOVES her Flip Mino (mostly because it’s pink I think).
As a side note, I use the term psychographic when discussing groups with similar interests or mindset. A 16 year old boy and a 60 year old woman wouldn’t necessarily be in the same demographic, yet when considering marketing for the New England Patriots, it is important to keep in mind that they belong to the same psychographic: New England Patriots fans. I find that targeting a psychographic is much smarter than targeting a demographic. A psychographic is a qualified lead, while and demographic is a quantity play. When I was 16 I knew many other 16 year olds, they were all very different with very different interests, why would anyone want to market to all of us the same way?
As for your question on whether or how a consumer or PR reps opinions can be swayed, it depends:
What has lead them to form an opinion? If their negative opinion is based on marketing a good Peripheral Peer review would do it. This or a Peer influencer would overcome almost all other types of influencers. My brother-in-law got an iPod that gave him endless trouble. He was totally turned off of Apple products. Yet, after a year of influence based on my own engagement with the brand (iPod, iPhone, Macs and home and work), he changed his mind. He has since bought a new iPod, an iBook and has been begging for an iPhone. Peer input is the strongest influencer, and in it’s absence, Peripheral Peer input. Both are hard to overcome, Peer being the hardest. Only ground breaking marketing and PR can change a negative Peer influence to positive.
I assume that the question pertained to changing a negative opinion to a positive one. That takes alot of work. However, changing a positive opinion to a negative one is pretty easy. All of the influencers I’ve mentioned above can very quickly change a consumer’s opinion about a brand. Recently a viral email was sent around showing images of dead chickens (not killed FOR selling, but long dead) being cleaned for sale to Walmart. I received it from several sources and forwarded it to many more. Regardless of any of the recipients’ past interaction with Walmart, I’d guess that few that saw the email would be very likely to go back to Walmart. PR mistakes, bad press, word of mouth or a bad personal exchange with any brand can very quickly change an opinion.
That being said, customer service goes a long way. I’ve had some trouble with my car and my computers. In each case, my frustration was quickly erased by excellent customer service. In every case, a similar engagement with a brand would have sent me to a competitor, not to mention negative word of mouth. However, thanks to excellent encounters with customer service, I’m an even bigger fan of the brands (signing up for their newsletter, becomming a brand ambassador).
Customer service is going to become a larger part of corporate marketing budgets in the future as products and services (as well as advertising) become more personalized how-the-economy-back-during-the-depression-of-2009-changed-the-world-part-8-marketing), advertising becomes trickier, and more brands are vying for the eye of every consumer.
One of the best low-cost ways to generate positive branding is to find brand ambassadors like myself, those with peripheral or direct peer influence, and take advantage of them. I hear and have experienced being a targeted blogger or Twitter user who is engaged by a brand. The brand would send products, ask for, or pay for reviews, hoping that the blog or Tweets would influence others. This is a demographic approach that doesn’t often work. Many bloggers won’t do it, often their readers will see through it. Rather than finding digital influencers in general, who will at best ineffectively market their product, brands should take the extra time to find those who are already fans, ambassadors or at least interested in their products and services. These are your influencers!