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Conditional Love

When social media sites like Facebook wanted to attract brands to advertise with them, they built a narrative that social media offers the opportunity for brands to build lasting relationships with customers, and that it is not just about sales anymore. While marketers were skeptical of the argument, they were nevertheless enticed by the prospect of advertising to people whom they knew a lot about. So they jumped in.

A few years on, the talk is still about building relationships on social media. The act itself has donned various caps and is currently flitting between content marketing and native advertising. After the IPL triumph of the Mumbai Indians, there was a post on Facebook from Pizza Hut where they had posted a picture of one of the items on their menu, titled 'A feast to the Little Master. Come celebrate his victory with us.' This must be Pizza Hut's idea of starting a conversation with the customer.

With all this talk about relationships, a lot of brands seem to think that they can be something of a friend to the customers. They couldn't be more wrong. Any brand can, at best, hope for conditional love from their followers and customers. It will never be anything more.

The customers will be more than happy to engage online, write positive reviews, recommend to others and perhaps even buy more, as long as the brand lives up to its promise of quality and value. But the moment there is a drop in quality or value derived, the same customers who were best buds until then, will readily turn the other way and complain about the drop in service levels.

When an average customer uses over a hundred brands every month, there is no way she is looking to engage with any of those brands more than at a transactional level. But that doesn't mean the brands have to stop their efforts to engage customers. All their efforts are definitely rewarded. In terms of good reviews or more sales or higher customer satisfaction (which will in turn lead to more sales). But the customer will almost never stand by a brand when it falls in quality (even if the fall is temporary).

Brands do need to work hard for their relationship with their customers and followers. But they need to understand that the relationship is one of conditional love where all the power resides with the customer.

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