The Betraying Brand

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It's a well-documented reality that customers interact with brands in ways that mirror their relationships with real people. Many academics have written lengthy articles in fusty books arguing whether this 'relationship' is just a metaphor we use to characterise the way we feel towards brands or whether a 'relationship' is actually the dynamic that is created between brands and customers.

But we won't worry about the fusty books, because I think anyone reading this will agree that brand relationship theory is one that we can all relate to and accept as a fact of business life.

When we see brands as partners in a relationship, we expect them to give us equal care and attention back to us (sound familiar?!). Brands aren't bad boys and they certainly can't afford to play hard-to-get, in fact the brand is probably that slightly clingy, slightly annoying partner you kind of have a crush on but gets a little irritating after a long period of exposure. That's why brands have to remain relatively subtle on social media (a platform originally intended for person-to-person interaction that they are already unwelcome on) without screaming 'BUY BUY BUY.'

So brands have to be chilled out on social media: many follow the 80/20 rule that states that only 20 percent of content should be geared towards selling their services or wares, with the other 80 given to interesting content aimed at their target demographic. Brands have to do this to maintain their positive relationships with people without 'tipping the balance as it were.' But it's not just about being a partner that's respectful of your personal space on social media that brands need to be concerned with....

They mustn't betray their original values and, by extension, their customers.

I have noticed recently that a couple of companies have introduced new policies that have seriously hacked away at the integrity of the values they were founded on and harmed the relationships they enjoy with customers significantly.

Of course, this won't be the death of these companies when I am talking about operations on the scale of Etsy & Instagram, but it's worth considering the potential pitfalls of such a radical pivot and reinforcing why your value proposition should be watertight and a 'non-negotiable' from the beginning when it comes to your own businesses!

Instagram has recently introduced a new algorithm that will affect the way your homepage presents itself: putting 'most popular' and, undoubtedly, sponsored content higher up on the feeds that were once a rolling, stream-of-consciousness style chronological photodiary of profiles you follow.





Instagram, as a platform, is built on the value of nostalgia and authenticity. Before it became a platform for selfies and product placement, it's unique selling proposition was all about putting analogue photography effects on digitally taken photos (or what I affectionately call 'Lana-Del-Reyisation' of photos). It places an emphasis on authenticity, real time sharing and most CRUCIALLY, the ability to pick and choose whose visuals we subscribe to, and have them pop up on our timeline as and when they happen.

By favouring certain types of content over others on the basis of popularity (how many 'likes' an image has) or by, heaven forbid, paid content, Instagram has chucked out any credibility as an honest platform emphasising visuals and community over shameless promotion for 'likes' by any means neccessary and paid advertising.

We won't stop using Instagram, but I daresay it's user base feels betrayed by this latest move, and increasingly wary of all other social media outlets as a result. Just as Facebook began to play around with our newsfeeds to benefit certain material over others (Some based on what they think we want to see, some based on who is paying up for exposure), Instagram has made a move towards becoming a more commercialised, less organic platform. Bad move bros, bad move.

The next example I want to briefly discuss is that of Etsy, who symbolically betrayed their original, hardcore community base even more when they changed their terms of service to allow for outsourcing of production.

In many ways I empathise with Etsy as a business, as I know it's motivations were well-intentioned. Etsy always prided itself on selling the 'Quit Your Day Job' dream, as evidenced by it's blog that focusses on it's selling success stories (with a LOT of home office porn) and changed it's terms in order to make life easier for sellers who were being so overwhelmed with orders that they were unable to cope with them individually.

Unfortunately, with this change in policy, came the feeling that Etsy was turning away from it's artisanal, handmade roots for a more commercially viable, but less authentic and soulful alternative. The website has always had a problem with chinese wholesalers, as hilariously embodied by the ever-present mass produced 'steampunk octopus' : but this bold move felt like a collective "giving in" to mass production from the core of the company's leadership.

Again, nobody is going to stop using Etsy, but this first step towards a more lax policy on what constitutes 'handmade' may be a slippery slope and risks compromising what made Etsy stand out from it's many competitors in the first place.

What do you think?

  • Do you feel betrayed when brands and companies go against their original values or is it just a fact of life? 
  • Will you be changing your usage of Etsy or Instagram as a result of these changes? 
  • How important do you think authenticity is for companies these days? 

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