Did we just become best friends? The fine line of brand over-familiarity in consumer relationships


In a world where every brand is vying for the limited attention of the modern consumer, brands are continually pushing boundaries in the quest to increase engagement. Pushy sales is a thing of the past as brands try instead to strike up familiar friendships with the consumer.

But where do you draw the line?

Brands suffer as much from pretending to be your best mate as they do from being too formal; too corporate and you alienate customers by becoming unrelatable – too colloquial and you’re quickly written off as ‘try hard’.

The distinction between friendly marketing and marketing that is assuming the role of a friend is slight but important. Often what marketers consider a ‘relationship’ with consumers is very different from how the customers perceive it themselves.

The immediacy and informal nature of social media has encouraged many brands to loosen up and become more playful with their customers. Many welcome the more relaxed approach, and those who strike the right humourous tone win big with their social following. Yet the tactic can be risky as you become an intruder forcing your way into a conversation; the stranger in the corner that no one invited to the party.


Is it really that bad?

Over familiarity can also do more damage than just turn the consumer off the brand. In 2014 the organisers of Parklife festival got in some serious trouble for sending text messages to party goers pretending to be ‘Mum’. The invasive and over friendly marketing technique landed them with a £70,000 fine after causing ‘substantial distress’ to a number of revellers.


So how do marketers stay on the right side of the line?

Knowing your audience and sticking to your voice are key to avoid being perceived as false and overbearing. Brands which suddenly change their style and jump on the bandwagon are quickly lynched on social media. Importantly, conversational marketing stills requires strategy – throwing in some extra jokes to your social channels will not necessarily gain you any new best friends.

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