The tale of the Emperor’s new clothes, and how it relates to brands on social media.

Its been a fairly busy year so far and as a result my blogging has taken a dive for the worse in that time. However, I am particularly inspired to do this particular one since it has been simmering in my head for the better part of the last two weeks. The inspiration behind this blog post is the fact that I have recently had to tolerate nothing less than atrocious service from a few service providers whom I will not name. However, rest assured that they reminded me of the famous tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes which I shall elaborate here, courtesy of Wikipedia:

A vain Emperor who cares for nothing but his appearance and attire hires two tailors who are really swindlers that promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “just hopelessly stupid”. The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects, who play along with the pretense. Suddenly, a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession, deciding never to be so vain again and to take his position more seriously.

The point I am trying to make here is that in the story of the Emperor’s News Clothes, the Emperor deluded himself quite willingly to believe what he could see was obviously not true. He allowed himself to be goaded by swindlers into believing that he was somehow special with his new invisible clothes and as a result not only embarrassed himself quite badly but also had to humble himself. I see this same story being repeated time and again, day in and day out in Kenya when it comes to brands and social media.

The reality is that the good old days of having a brand and marketing via traditional and monologue channels with no authentic feedback channels are over. We live in the digital age and more specifically we live in the moment of social media. Never before in the history of the unending and convoluted relationship between brands and consumers have we seen a place such as social media where the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes plays itself out so repeatedly, and ruthlessly.

On one hand, a brand asserts in traditional media how they have “changed” and are now so much “better” than they used to be only for a proverbial “child in the social media crowd” to blurt out that the brand in question is indeed naked and has no clothes. I use this analogy to show how today, a brand has to contend with the “child” who has the ability to answer back and point out the obvious untruth that the brand knew all along – that it is indeed “naked”. This sort of brand “calling out” will keep on rising as more and more brand consumers turn to social media to vent their frustrations – me included – and in the process force the hand of the brand to acknowledge their nakedness.

In concluding, just like the naked Emperor, brands are learning fast (and painfully) that social media means its no longer business as usual. Consumers will tell you as it is and will shout at the top of their lungs that your brand is naked and that no amount of delusion can change the fact. They will drive this point home time and again and demand what the brand had promised all along. Social media is compelling brands to take stock of what they say and what they actually do – and in doing so, are making brands behave properly, as well as putting their egos in check, and their clothes back on, just like the naked Emperor had to.

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