Friendonomics (PDF)

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How close do we want to get to
our customers?
A few months back I wrote a blog suggesting
that Tesco’s marketing made them look like a
needy ex-lover. Aldi and Lidl, by comparison
were more like those cool guys who spin the
waltzers at a fun fair.
No obligations - just a bit of fun - and just the
way British shoppers like it!
I kicking this idea around a little more and it lead
me to wondering what sort of relationship we
really want with our customers.
See what you think…
Promises, Promises…
Social media and digital technology has made
shopping a much more open process. We have
access to all sorts of information about the
brands we want to buy and make choices
based on how well they match our personal
values and attitudes. In this respect, choosing a
brand is a lot like using an on-line dating
agency. We scroll through the potential ‘dates’
and check out the ones we like the look of. It
saves a lot of effort and weeds out the timewasters.
In fact isn’t it an accurate description of
comparison websites?
Of course, easy access to information means
brands have to be more careful about what they
put in their ‘CV’. If you turn up for a date to find
the the brand is using a 15 year old photo
you’re going to feel cheated, you’re not going to
hang around for a night-cap and you’ll tell your
friends to steer clear as well…
This is the tightrope brands are walking. It’s a
fine line between presenting a brand in its best
light and telling porky pies, yet get it right, and
after a few successful interactions a brand can
become something we value and trust.
Given this scenario, the answer to the question:
‘What sort of relationship do we want with our
consumers?’ may boil down to something as
simple (but profound) as ‘a friendship’…

Too close or comfort?
Doesn’t this sound like marketing heaven?
Thanks to social media we can now achieve an
even closer and more meaningful friendship with
our customers and isn’t that the perfect way to
generate loyalty and brand advocacy?
Maybe… But how realistic is such an intimate
relationship in the real world and, when you
think about it, do we really want to get that
Making new friends is exciting but, as Woody
Allen said, relationships are like sharks - they
have to keep moving forwards or they die - so if
you don’t keep working at it, your new lover
can dump you quicker than they can yell ‘taxi'.
Given this high chance of failure, do we really
want to give our customers that chance to feel

Just Friends?
Another problem with the ‘Brand as Friend’
promise is that marketing execs don’t really
make great friends!

my cash! If you’re a supermarket, don’t try to
anticipate my every need - just let me enjoy your
shopping experience and if I do, maybe I’ll
come back for more.

When execs get home from work they want to
watch a bit of telly and maybe play with the
kids. They’ll laugh about office politics and bitch
about the boss, but are less likely to fret about a
customer’s unfulfilled needs. That would just
spoil the evening and get in the way of watching
‘The Voice’.

Before we start developing relationship
marketing campaigns designed to draw our
customers closer, it’s worth asking what sort of
relationship we actually want to achieve.

Customers are best kept on the ‘other side of
the glass’ thanks very much - where they can
be observed at a distance without us getting
And why is that an issue? Because this is not
the basis of a good friendship. A good friend
would empathise with your problems rather than
see you as an inconvenience.
Given this reluctance to embrace the customer,
warts and all, perhaps it’s wiser to think about
promising a relationship that is less intimate but
has more integrity. Perhaps if the marketing
team aimed for something they could actually
deliver it would generate more respect?
I’d suggest that’s exactly what Lidl and Aldi
have done and why Tesco, Sainsbury’s,
Morrisons and Asda feel so out of touch by
So lets agree to disagree?
There are many types of relationships and a
‘friendship’ is just one of them.
The spectrum runs from ‘casual acquaintance’
through to ‘brand advocate’ and any one of
these may be more appropriate for a particular
Understanding what the consumer is looking for
is supposedly the domain of ‘relationship
marketing’, but too often, this is simply seen as
a technique for moving people along the
‘customer journey’. Most of the time it has little
to do with relationships.
Shoppers don’t need brands to be their ‘best
friend’ but they do value a relationship that
delivers pragmatic benefits. So, if you’re a bank,
don’t tell me you’re giving me lessons on how to
use a computer - just give me easy access to

Whatever that is, it probably beats jumping into
bed at the first opportunity. Something we might
regret later…

© Graham Hall

The Insight Edge

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