Why we friend brands now

Grace Sweeney


One in four social media users follows brands that they might purchase from in the future.

Being friends with brands has become a norm, to be sure. But, it wasn’t long ago where the idea of a big company like Taco Bell or Denny’s having a unique perspective and millions of friends was just plain weird.

There’s something a little, we don’t know, disingenuous about those brands that claim to love us.

Brands aren’t people, no matter what the Supreme Court says. And while connecting on social is a key strategy in the marketing and advertising game — we’re not sure if customers love all the love.

We get why consumer products have increasingly focused their efforts on becoming more authentic, positioning themselves as more trustworthy than the stodgy, corporate brands of generations past.

But, we were curious, who are these customers that want more out of a brand experience than an easy way to buy whatever shoes, socks, or software from a website?

Why are brands our friends?

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After being married to Tommy Lee, anyone was an upgrade for Heather.

Brands have weaseled their way into our social feeds. Around 2015 or so, there was this onslaught of articles in the marketing space recommending that brands start acting like friends.

Customers reportedly “expect the same from brands as actual friends.” What this means is, people want to buy from brands that share similar values, are honest, and add value to their lives. Seems pretty straightforward.

Brands are able to deliver results based on the use of algorithms and automation. There’s so much data available to marketers from organizations of all sizes, and as such, brands have no reason to slack off on delivering a personal experience.

Access to granular demographic information means brands can now talk to customers on an individual basis, targeting us through a process called segmentation.

Once, we were subjected to the same sales pitch broadcast on on all platforms; today, nuanced messaging follows us around online.

Brands have become friends because they can act as if they care about their customers. Some truly do care, but others depend on algorithms to create this illusion of compassion.

With the rise of social media, brands were eager to step into a new role. Right off the bat, brands found that their social feeds got more action if they established a unique brand voice.

And over the past few years, we’ve found that brands have morphed beyond the usual product updates and announcements into a talkative, friendly voice — you know, kind of like the real people present in your feed.

What about S-commerce?

Social commerce, or S commerce, has been on the verge of being the “next big thing” for a while now.

Because our feeds are loaded with brands anyway, buying on Instagram or Twitter makes perfect sense.

But social shopping seems to have a long way to go before it becomes the method of choice for shoppers. Facebook enjoyed some success last year selling Nike products through Messenger, but social users haven’t fully embraced the concept as a whole.

Final thoughts

Brands have the power to sway our buying decisions, whether we like it or not.

Liking certain brands serves as a way to broadcast the type of person you are. So, whether you’re wearing Adidas or Nikes, fast fashion or luxury goods, your choices are shorthand for your likes, preferences, and personality.

But it seems that the idea of “brand as friend” might not hang around much longer. Facebook and Snapchat have made it more difficult for brands to push content out on their respective feeds—Snap, for example,   announced last year that they planned to separate brand interactions from feeds featuring messages from friends.

And Facebook’s 2018 resolution was to present users with a greater focus on non-commercial interactions.

Yes, people want to connect with brands. They always have.

But, we’re starting to realize that promotional content doesn’t replace messages from our personal contacts.

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