No Strings Attached

As the digital age advances, people are becoming increasingly more independent and self-sufficient. Social networking sites and interactive apps are creating unprecedented accessibility to resources and knowledge that have empowered consumers to ask more of brands and question their loyalty. With so many options out there, consumers are feeling less of a need to commit to just one brand, or to even make a commitment at all.

Some companies, such as T-mobile, have recently taken an aggressive approach to this trend, telling consumers to “break up with your carrier” and switch to no-contract wireless plans. Ride-sharing companies like Uber and ZipCar are on the rise, making it convenient for people to only use cars as needed, as opposed to buying or leasing. Even trends in listing personal items for resale, or even the option to rent, are showing growth in the form of websites and apps.

RentTheRunway is an e-commerce site that was created under a comparable mindset, solving for both consumers who have champagne taste, but not the budget, or those who are in a bind and quickly need an outfit for an event, never to be worn again.

This idea of being able to indulge in designer fashions and accessories, without permanently investing in the retail price, has become increasingly appealing for many young Americans.

While this is an understandable trend in consumable goods, this non-committal tendency seems to have successfully seeped into our personal lives as well. Some people have started entering marriage with the negative impression of “well, if it doesn’t work out, I can always get divorced.”

People are more publicly being caught cheating on their spouses, and others are beginning to question if this is happening because we have more “access” to each other, or because we are simply decreasing our loyalty due to an increasing desire to maximize our options?  Could we really thrive in a society with the mentality of “no strings attached,” or will the primitive mindset lead to our eventual demise? Only time will tell…

Who is really in control?

Many brands hire specialty agencies to manage their social media programs. Outside of additional resources and a solid strategy, most of these decisions are made to help monitor, and to an extent manage, that particular brands image. Ah, but the best laid plans…

In the spring of 2011, someone from Chrysler’s social media team accidentally Tweeted the F-Bomb. Even with great social governance policies, the rogue employee sometimes just has his or her way… like what happened with VodafoneThe list goes on and on. Sometimes a brand sponsors the wrong person or event, sometimes their account gets hijacked and sometimes they say it got hacked when it was really someone on their own team.

What’s the message? Do your best to try and stay in control but deep down, in that place where you have spent time, money and effort to build up your brand bank account full of equity you know it to be true. You are not in control. At all. And it isn’t going to get better.

The reality of dynamic retail is that this loss of control isn’t only about social media. Show-rooming means even in your own environments, digital or physical, you can’t control the messaging or pathway to the buy. The line between traditional ad channels like television and outdoor are blurring with digital channels like Twitter thanks to innovative companies like Mass Relevance. Loyalty programs become “gamified” making everything a competition. Do a partnership with the wrong company (just ask some Groupon merchants) and instead of making deposits in your brand equity account you will be making withdrawals.

So what to do? You really don’t have any choice but to admit to yourself that while you may control the seeding of a conversation, what your :30 looks like or how your product looks in-stiore what happens after that is out of your reach. Some guidelines:

1.  Open Communication: either choose to enable the conversation or get directly involved in it.

2.  State Of The Union: write social governance policies and do your best to police.

3.  Fess Up: if you did something wrong assume everyone will find out. React fast and with transparency.

4.  Embrace Trends: don’t try and block show rooming or live shopping comparisons, make it easier for your customer to do it and use your footprint instead of a competitor’s.

You can do all sorts of research to help. Mashable, as do many sites, come up with fun but informative inforgraphics to help provide a lay of the land. Use your team and your partners to help strategize and execute. But I promise you one thing, if you try and put off the inevitable you will lose. Just ask Anthony Weiner.