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HBR Article: 77% of Consumers Don’t Want Brand Relationships?!
By: Ron Romanik
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In an article posted this week on the Harvard Business Review website, titled “Three Myths about What Customers Want,” researchers at the Corporate Executive Board company try to debunk three marketing myths. Myth #1 in the article is “Most consumers want to have relationships with your brand,” which is certainly up for debate.

The results are based on interviews with 7,000 consumers that suggest social media initiatives sometimes bark up the wrong tree, are largely ineffectual, or are counterproductive. There are several gaping holes in the explanation of the results, especially the claim that 77% of "customers" don't wand brand relationships. For instance, it’s unclear exactly what question was asked. Pollsters know how to ask loaded questions to skew results. Something like that might have been going on here.

It seems the question may have been “Do you have relationships with brands?” If you take the results at face value, the biggest problem here is the definition of the word “relationship.” There is a wide range of possible meanings that customers might have in their minds. Many respondents probably distinguish relationships as solely people-oriented. Brands, after all, are not even tangible objects.

Another definition of "relationship" might be when a person interacts with something regularly, has an affinity for it, shares an emotional connection with it, or shares similar values with it. These are the most powerful relationships that brands can leverage. The authors may be right that whether or not a consumer interacts online with a product is not a good way to judge brand affinity, but that doesn’t mean the 77% of consumers in the survey don’t have any of these connections.

The crux of the skewed results problem may also be attributed to a lack of self-awareness and a desire for self-definition. Consumers may simply not be aware of how much they already interact with, and value, the brands they use. And some of the respondents in the survey might find it unsavory to admit that they a relationship with such a base thing as a brand.

The final issue that may have skewed the research results is the fact that they asked such an obvious question in the first place. A series of related questions that probed habits, values, and desires might have been much more revealing. Consumers are not good judges of their own motivations. The 77% may “say” they don’t have relationships with brands. But what they actually do in real life would probably reveal a different story.

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About the Author
Ron Romanik is principal of Romanik Communications, a brand consultancy outside Philadelphia founded with a mantra of “Authentic Stories. Resonant Tones. Sustainable Brands.”
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