Bae Watch: Brands Try to Make Personal Connections on Social Media

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Bae Watch

We hear it time and time again. “Brands should act like humans, not faceless corporations.” And for the most part, it’s a great rule to live by. Some of the most well-liked brands (e.g., Virgin, Google, Nike) do an incredible job of being human—not just speaking in a warm tone, but listening to what goes on in the world around them and responding in a way that’s relevant and useful to their customers. They make communication a two-way street.

Chipotle, for example, prides itself on delivering quality and providing transparency to its customers. And when the company eliminated carnitas from its menu due to pork suppliers not meeting their strict quality standards earlier this year, it could have been a potentially huge setback for their brand and sales growth (carnitas account for around 6 percent to 7 percent of Chipotle’s entree sales).

But instead of leaving diners to hypothesize on their own, Chipotle was up front about its decision and was the paragon of a respectable brand in a tough situation: telling people that the quality of its product was unacceptable and unavailable for an undetermined length of time. A sad day for carnitas enthusiasts. But in the end, the honest, authentic way in which the situation was handled only bolstered an already-solid brand promise and created more trust. And in good news for pork lovers, carnitas is now returning to all Chipotle locations.

Chipotle

And as more brands take note and start to behave like human beings, the parameters around this type of behavior have gotten much wider. Where there was once the golden rule of “everyone should communicate in a warm, human-sounding voice,” there is now the reality of many brands making personal—sometimes way too personal—connections with customers on social media.

In fact, a now-popular Twitter handle @BrandsSayingBae is getting lots of attention by calling out big brands and the ways in which they interact with people on social media. Anything from calling customers their bae to making statements using only emojis.

More and more brands have taken to engaging with their customers in this highly casual manner. You have to wonder if there’s any real reason why they’re cozying up to consumers and getting overly human. Is there a strategy behind the cyber-flirting? And most importantly, is this behavior even appropriate for a brand?

A recent study from Drexel University started an interesting conversation with a developing point of view: a consumer’s response to a change in price (increase or decrease) is directly affected by whether or not the brand encompasses human qualities. In other words, people take change more personally when the brand is perceived more like a relationship versus a sterile company.

The study’s data shows that the more humanized a brand is, the more dramatic its customers’ reactions were to price changes, buying less or more of the product. And this data raises an interesting point: Could brand voice and pricing strategy combine forces to create more brand value?

For instance, if Whole Foods acted more like a familiar friend—more connected to its customers—could it help smooth over a price increase even though it’s perceived as expensive to begin with?

Or, on the flip side, if your bae Papa John stopped throwing in a free 2-liter beverage with every large pizza order, would you forgive him, because #love, or would you drop him for someone else?

Either way, a conclusion is to be determined. But on another note, can brands seriously stop calling us bae?

Michael Lalley is a writer and creative strategist based in New York City.

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