3 Ways to Conquer Indifference — The Kiss of Death for Your Brand

4 min read • Jul 20, 2011 • Dan Bischoff

“Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.” – Libbie Fudim

This quote is brilliant in terms of branding. Every company should fear indifference, should shun it, run away from it; anything but let indifference sink in to their customers’ minds and hearts.

To avoid indifference, surround your brand with a memorable personality and identity, a memorable service or product, and a memorable story. In short, be memorable. However, memorable stuff doesn’t always make everyone happy. And studies show that’s OK.

Research from the University of Pennsylvania reveals that people share more content online when it ignites emotions that arouse the nervous system, whether those are positive emotions or rage. In a Fast Company article on this study, Kit Eaton said:

“It’s all about attaching the right kind of emotional label to the message, whether you’re pushing a new branded product or trying to effect a change in people (like giving up smoking),” he writes. “Either infect your audience with some righteous anger, or keep ‘em laughing, and they’ll be much more inclined to click ‘retweet’ or ‘share’ than if you make them slightly depressed or – and this is the big one – placidly content with your nice product or service.”

Placidly content (or indifference) around your brand is the kiss of death. Think of many of the big brands right now: Apple, Google, Facebook. People either love or hate them. There’s not many that are placidly content with their services, products, or the corporate personality.

Now think about some of other brands that are just OK, those brands that you don’t either love or hate …

Thought of one yet? Not as easy.

So how do we make sure people either love or hate us? Let’s start with the most controversial part of this study:

1. Piss Them Off

Now, don’t think this means to go out and intentionally make people angry. You might not have any customers at all if you follow that advice. What it does mean is to embrace offense once you understand who you are, who your audience is, and what direction you’re going.

Brands should have views and strong voices that appeal to their ideal audience. When that happens, you might drive away those who are outside of that ideal audience. In the process, you’ll galvanize your core audience and create loyal customers.

Apple knows who their audience is. They plow along hitting that audience, creating a religious experience with their core group of fans, pissing off PC users everywhere, and building a die-hard, loyal following, and an empire, in the process.

Recently, Erika Napoletano wrote a post for Radian6 titled “What are the Bleeping Rules? Profanity and the Social Web,” which is really about how it’s healthy for a brand to offend.

In it, one of Napoletano’s colleagues discusses a theory she calls ‘roadkill.’ She says, “You’re safe on the left shoulder … the right shoulder. Wander out into the middle of the road? You’re going to get killed. Successful brands pick a ditch to die in … Middle of the road voices fade into the ether while outspoken ones – ones with distinct personalities – shine brightly.”

“Sure, you might find some prospective audience members peeved about your choice of words. That’s fine – they’ll go elsewhere. But along with this exodus, you’ll find an influx of advocates who are picking up what you’re putting down.” — Erika Napoletano

Once you find your distinct voice for your ideal audience, hit it hard without excuses.

2. Pull Heartstrings

When I worked as a journalist, this was the #1 thing that would get me to run a story. Any time I had a feel-good story on my hands, my hard-to-please editors would approve it without blinking.

There’s something about a touching, human story that warms our souls, causes us to share with others, and changes our emotions and impressions about the messenger. Pull some heartstrings and you’ll build committed fans around your brand. Each brand has unique opportunities to do that. Each brand has a story about a client, customer, or employee that needs to be told. Tell it, and make that emotional connection with your audience.

3. Make Them Laugh

This might need the least explanation. People love funny. It’s why sites like The Oatmeal has more than 300,000 Facebook fans. Funny does some interesting things to the human body, too.

Research shows that laughing increases blood pressure and heart rate, changes breathing, reduces levels of neurochemicals (catecholamines, hormones) and provides a boost to the immune system. Muscle tension is reduced after laughing. Human tests found that funny videos can “reduce feelings of pain, prevent negative stress reactions and boost the brain’s biological battle against infection, and plays a powerful role in human life with wide-ranging positive effects.”

But for brands, most importantly, studies show it creates a bond and ties people together. It’s a powerful tool that prevents indifference.

Your Turn

Do you agree with this? Do you agree with #1 especially? What else can be done to avoid indifference around a brand?


Dan Bischoff