Is social media affecting brand loyalty?

by Debra Douglass


In the age of the internet, “the customer is always right” is becoming less of a creed and more of a discussion: some companies declare it false, believing some customers are not justified in their brand grievances; others accept it wholeheartedly, going to extreme lengths to provide customers with exactly what they ask for. But when a company changes a product and offends consumers in the process, the brand can be at risk for negative online feedback.

It turns out the most dedicated, loyal brand devotees can become the most vocal critics when they feel a brand has ‘turned’ on them – by changing a product in a way that doesn’t suit their lifestyle, or getting rid of it altogether. Some take these changes as a personal assault, according to the authors of a report on consumer psychology from the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business, as covered by the Toronto Star.

The report’s authors draw a parallel between brand and relationship break-ups – both have the potential to go badly. According to the report’s author, when a company changes a consumer’s product, it can even be seen as a personal assault.

When they feel slighted by a brand, these consumers take to the internet, armed with Twitter, Facebook and blogs to voice their thoughts on any and every product. Such comments have the potential to damage a brand, depending on how the company reacts to the criticism.

Domino’s Pizza recently announced it would post unfiltered customer comments on a Times Square billboard in New York City, following a bout of negative publicity that began with an unfortunate YouTube video, and resulted in the company’s ad agency conducting focus groups that revealed a less-than-rosy public opinion about the quality of Domino’s food. By making changes to their menu and letting customers judge the results, Domino’s is combining the social media comment with a traditional out-of-home ad space, resulting in a relevant campaign that has the potential to give the brand a much-needed boost.

Building a brand takes extensive analysis, planning, research and consultation – a much deeper process than simply designing a logo and printing business cards. Pilot PMR defines brand as the intersection between the story you tell and what your customers and employees choose to believe, remember and share. When the consumer is added to the story, feedback often becomes part of the brand’s perception among other consumers.

In the face of harsh consumer criticism, having the tools necessary to protect an established brand is crucial – such as public relations, which enables a brand to take a 360-degree view of the current situation and the available options. PR is powerful in its ability to translate feedback into a course of action to protect a brand and retain credibility.

While most successful brands are already acutely aware of consumer opinion around their products, it is now more important than ever for brands to consult and consider their consumers every step of the way, particularly when making changes. As stated by the authors of the UWO consumer psychology study, all brands can be at risk when a consumer feels wronged.