There are two things that companies seem most concerned about when they jump into social media. The first is that they are merely opening up a new channel for criticism and complaint, and they will be overwhelmed by this. But these conversations happen online whether or not the company decided to be involved, as BP discovered, spectacularly, with the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The second is that consumers are interested only in price when they engage with companies online. It's certainly true that the internet has created a whole new category of intermediaries whose only story is about discounting, and that the insurance industry (selling low involvement, abstract, commoditisable products) is particularly vulnerable to them.
But despite the recession, our Global MONITOR research shows that people are more willing to buy branded goods provided they are persuaded that they are getting value from them. And they need to be convinced of those benefits, in authentic everyday language, without being confronted by corporate-speak. Get it right, and you create a virtuous circle. Get it wrong, and you get punished for it.
Elsewhere in the financial sector, Nat West has attempted to regain trust with its 'Customer Charter', which has probably provoked as much scepticism as admiration. But in the digital age, markets and brands are conversations, and conversation is missing from the Nat West model. Their campaign could have run any time in the last 30 years.
In contrast, some of the early Allianz campaign executions involve their customers talking, in branch, unscripted, about what's important to them. There are risks here, but at least it feels like a company stepping into the 21st century.
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