Both Facebook and Paypal enjoy dominating their marketplaces — Facebook claims to have 800 million active accounts worldwide, and Paypal boasts 230 million and growing, so there’s no doubt that both companies enjoy ubiquity, but does this ubiquity equate to a warm and glowing brand perception?
Not for me, which is why I singled out these companies, and I don’t think I’m alone. While Facebook has become an everyday part of our lives, moaning about Facebook is also a very popular theme. The rollout of new features such as the activity feed, the integration of messaging with chat and Timeline have all met with moans, groans and sometimes outright rage. A lot of that is probably down to our human aversion to change, but surely rollouts could be dealt with in a better way that serves to warm people to the notion and bring them on board with progress? Privacy concerns are another constant sticking point for Facebook which regularly make the news and the blogs as well as dozens if not hundreds of usually dumb and unfounded status update memes that spread about like wildfire. Privacy concerns are obviously a real issue for a company based around using personal information to target advertising and sell to marketers. You’d think Facebook would work harder on PR to counter these worries.
Now amidst a slew of lawsuits regarding their IPO that have merely been fobbed off as ‘without merit’, it makes me wonder what’s going on behind the scenes (if anything) to make people feel warmer about Facebook. However, they seem content to continue their sealed lip policy of doing what they want with no user engagement. “We’re Facebook, we do what we want.” seems to be a theme. CEO Mark Zuckerberg even continued with his personal trademark of wearing a hoodie at all times when attending a pre IPO meeting with some of the most powerful investors in the world — seems pretty arrogant and naive, and certainly didn’t go own well with many prominent analysts who questioned the maturity of the 28 year old CEO.
And how about PayPal? As a customer I have had dubious experiences with PayPal. My account has been frozen several times for no reason and has proven a chore to resolve, I have had difficulty moving accounts from the UK to the US, I have had Paypal send old addresses to retailers causing my purchases to go to the wrong place, I have had difficulty contacting customer service and resolving these issues and when finally speaking to someone I was talked to like an idiot by a customer service rep who was clearly just happy to repeatedly recite standard lines from a form. Don’t get me started on fee increases. Not pleasant experiences though I have heard horror stories from people who have had much worse (think having thousands of dollars locked in an account for no reason for months on end, or a small business having payments go awry).
Those are largely service and product issues, but what about the visual side of their brand. Paypal uses the traditional, risk averse shade of blue we associate with large, faceless corporations. Somewhat understandable for a company involved in online finance, users need to feel safe and apparently insipid blue means ‘safe’. But surely they could try a little harder in both service and visual brand to better connect emotionally with users? Dull, lifeless, outdated and cheesy stock images are Paypals sole attempt to engender good feelings and they fail miserably.
Facebook has also opted for the safe, insipid, corporate blue — with 800 million users across the globe from all ages and demographics it’s somewhat rational not to go crazy — but Facebook is about life, friends and sharing, couldn’t it at least try and liven things up a bit?
So what to do about it? Where to look for inspiration?
The first place that springs to mind is Virgin. Virgin is one of the worlds most successful brands. People love it, from the experience, customer service, products, visual brand right up to the CEO, Richard Branson — people love him more than the brand itself, and rightly so, he’s inspiring and has infused that in all aspects of his companies. Virgin asks you to fly at 30,000 feet with them, they are also in banking, health, holidays, trains, mobile phones and a bunch of other stuff you’d want to feel safe with. Are they insipid blue and lifeless? Absolutely not, they’re bright red, vibrant and fun. Virgin has a brand that exudes life. Facebook and PayPal could take a leaf out of Branson’s book, but unless they shape up the way they operate I’m almost glad they haven’t, nobody likes a wolf in sheep’s clothing after all.