Social Commerce

Brand Autism: Why Brands Still Don’t Get Social Media [Report]

Those who’ve heard us speak at conferences will know we use the concept of ‘brand autism’ to paint a picture of the inability of many brands and businesses to put themselves in their customers’ shoes (clinically, autism is precisely this inability to see the world from the other’s perspective, a compromised theory of mind) (of course brands are not literally autistic, a very real and debilitating condition not to be trivialised)).  For example, a Bain research study found that 70% of CEOs believe their business delivers a superior customer experience, only 7% of their customers agree.

In the context of social media, brand autism is as rampant as in the boardroom, and this is highlighted in a new report from IBM “From social media to Social CRM: What Customers Want”  The study, by Carolyn Heller Baird and Gautam Parasnis, conducted on the back of the finding that customer closeness is new the top priority for CEOs, shows a complete perception gap between businesses and why think people connect with them on social media, and why people actually do connect with them on social media (see chart).  Businesses think people least connect for deals and to purchase, whereas people most connect for deals and purchase.  Engagement gurus, stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Perception versus reality

[blockquote]”Sixty-five percent of businesses view social media as a new source for revenue but, at the same time, many believe receiving discounts or coupons and purchasing products or services are among the least likely reasons a customer would seek them out on social sites. Ironically, though, consumers say getting tangible value is the top reason they interact with a company, which is good news for those organizations hoping to monetize social media”[/blockquote]

Carolyn Heller Baird and Gautam Parasnis

[click for enlargeable/downloadable image]

So all’s cool for social commerce right? At least brands doing social commerce are giving people what they want – the ability to buy on social media. None of that engagement nonsense.

Wrong. Customers connecting with you on social media should be about shopping AND deals.  Just throwing up a Facebook store won’t cut the mustard – you need to offer fan pricing too. While the discount – fan-pricing – is the obvious way to do this, and there is good reason to offer your fans (promoters) your best prices (because they are effectively your volunteer salesforce), it’s controversial from a brand perspective (a brand after-all is simply your ability to extract margin with a trademark), we think Facebook fan stores, offering fan-first offers (get it before others) and fan-exclusive offers (fan only merchandise) are viable alternatives.

Facebook Fan stores

  • Fan-first offers (get it before others)
  • Fan-exclusive offers (fan only merchandise)
  • Fan-pricing (special mates-rate discount)

More broadly, we think that social commerce in the absence of CRM is about as useful as a pair of fetid dingos kidneys – social commerce is more about managing customer relationships – with exclusive shopping and deals (not a barrage of self-congratularoy wall posts and ads), than a pure sales channel. Which is why, in our opinion, creating full-stores (jcpenney/ASOS) on Facebook miss the point – fan-stores – offering fan-first/fan-only exclusives, not full stores are the future of f-commerce.  What do you think?





Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

12 Comments Add New Comment

  1. As someone who advises companies on strategy, including social media, and as the father of a child with autism spectrum disorder, I am a little troubled by your choice of words.

    Those dealing with autism, had no choice about their condition while corporations are the way that they are because of decisions they have made or not made over time. Corporations can resolve their situations while those with autism must learn coping mechanisms or rely on support in order to make their way through life.

    I am not one to comment like this usually but I can’t help but feel that those who suffer from autism have somehow be shown disrespect when you draw a connection between their condition and the inability of corporations to see the world from the perspective of their customers.

    While they are not your customer, I think that had you thought about those who are dealing with autism, directly or indirectly, before choosing your words then you might have chosen differently.

    1. Paul Marsden says:

      Hello Andrew, thank you for your comment – and apologies to you for the troubling metaphor. Of course brands are not literally autistic, and the intention wasn’t to trivialise the condition in anyway – simply use metaphor to underscore an institutional absence of theory of mind. Will bear your wise caution in mind in future.

  2. Brant Emery says:

    Interesting, definitely some good fuel for the ongoing debate. However, some underlying assumptions have been made: 1. there is no accounting that social media users are also characteristically representative of personalities who rank discounts as an important buying criteria (I believe there is a strong correlation here due to the adoption stage of SM) and 2. social media is mass representative of the entire consumer market, which it isn’t, Twitter for example is most definitely still early adopter for FMCG. Also, as you state, branding developed as a way to add targeted differentiation, positioning and perceived value without altering (greatly) production of said product, which means that even if consumers want discounts, doesn’t mean companies should give them. Yes, marketers should appreciate Fans are advocates , but SM doesn’t change basic, sound, marketing principles – price competition (via price promotions, incentives, couponing or discounts) needs to be weighed up very carefully and no differently than as if you were to run it through other media.

  3. John Murphy says:

    Terrific analysis. I especially appreciated the disconnect between what corporations think consumers want via social media. There’s lots of opportunity to help corporations understand this and make the connection. The trouble is, most corporations are run by folks over 45 years old. Many of them don’t get this I’m afraid.

  4. […] Page to your store (online or otherwise). Still, if you know how to entice, you'll do alright. The trouble is, so many businesses focus on the wrong things to attract customers. They throw around feel-good terms like "connection" and "community" like someone from an upstate […]

  5. AD says:

    I think you get it. Take a look at Sohalo (coming out of stealth mode) they get it to.
    I think long term discounts won’t do it, you need to build a loyalty solution to reward accordingly for a true CRM solution

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