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7 Signs Your Brand Is A Narcissist

What is a brand? A brand is a promise to its consumers. But in this case, perception is reality. What matters is how your consumer perceives your brand; this then defines what they expect you to deliver in every interaction. Who you are will determine whether your consumer wants to spend their precious time with you. Every brand has an identity that is evaluated and judged before that decision is made.

Consumers are fickle – it’s no longer about you. Times have changed, loyalty is no longer what it once was. McKinsey analysed their database and identified only three categories out of 30 as being loyalty-driven! The three where consumers were more likely to repeat purchase than shop around were mobile carriers, auto insurance and investments. In the other 27 categories, consumers chose to shop around before making their final choice.

Shopping around isn’t too bad, is it? Well, yes it is, when two thirds of those who shopped around chose to go elsewhere! Further analysis identified that 69% of the brands purchased by consumers who switched brands were part of their initial consideration set when they started shopping. Consideration and growth were shown to be strongly correlated to much higher levels then had previously been understood. Consideration was shown to matter, a lot. According to McKinsey, “earning a spot in consumers’ highly valuable initial consideration sets has never been more crucial.”

We’re no longer loyal, and we’re certainly no longer in love with you. The best you can expect is that you’re in our gang, one of our mates who we like to spend time with on a regular basis. That is, as long as you remain relevant to the group.

We’ve all known people either as friends, colleagues, or even in our own families, whose behaviour has eventually led to them being side-lined and their group involvement reduced until they’re no longer invited out and are eventually actively avoided. What these people tend to share is the somewhat unsavoury trait of narcissism. If we won’t put up with this kind of behaviour from people we care about, what makes a brand think that we will put up with it from them?

Echo and Narcissus (1903), a Pre-Raphaelite interpretation by John William Waterhouse


Narcissism means having an inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love or admiration. The word is derived from Greek Mythology and the story of Narcissus. Narcissus was a hunter from Thespiae who was renowned for his beauty. And boy, did he know it. He was extremely proud and looked down upon anyone who loved him. The Goddess Nemesis, in an act of revenge, attracted Narcissus to a pool where on seeing his own reflection he fell in love with it. Unable to leave his love, he died.

Everyone has some level of narcissism; it’s only human nature to be selfish or boastful on occasion, and in certain circumstances it can actually be beneficial. It’s particularly prevalent amongst children and teenagers, but is a sign of youth and does not usually lead to adult behaviour! But at its extreme, it’s a recognised mental illness called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s reference bible DSM IV, someone with NPD displays some or all of the following nine traits:

  1. Exaggerated sense of self-importance and sense of entitlement
  2. Belief that they are superior, special and unique and should only associate with others of the same sort
  3. Live in a fantasy world where they have unlimited success, power and brilliance
  4. Need constant admiration and attention
  5. Extreme levels of self-absorption and a preoccupation with how well they are doing and how favourably they are regarded by others.
  6. Take advantage of others to achieve their own ends
  7. Total lack of empathy for others
  8. Envious of others or believes everyone envies them
  9. Arrogant, contemptuous and treats others like dirt

Sound familiar? It should. Before the rise of social media, arguably a brand needed to be narcissistic. It needed to shout its own trumpet in the traditional broadcast media environment. Brands had to be very focused on a short, to the point single message, in an extremely expensive and brief window of opportunity. But times have changed, the media landscape has changed, and the ability to have two way conversations is upon us. No longer is there a role for the narcissistic brand. Now, it’s a turn off.

How do you spot whether your brand is suffering from NPD, or just a bit cocky? What are the seven things that narcissistic brands seem to do?

  1. Put their needs ahead of their consumers and display a total lack of empathy when dealing with customer service issues.

KPMG Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Centre, after eight years of research and over 1.7 million evaluations, has identified six pillars that define customer experience excellence, and predict commercial success and increased loyalty and advocacy. These are personalisation, integrity, expectations, resolution, time and effort and empathy. All are the antithesis of narcissism!

  1. Ask questions from their perspective and not their consumers.

Research studies routinely ask consumers what they think about brands, rather than asking them what they need or want from a category, and then how a brand delivers against that need. My particular favourite is being asked to rate ‘is this brand innovative’. When I’m standing in the aisle looking at what brand to buy, this isn’t actually one of my deciding factors. To get insights about me, then you need to ask about me! Questions should be written from my perspective, not yours.

  1. Are guilty of name dropping and associating themselves randomly with the hottest celebrities or latest news stories. Are tone deaf!

Without naming any names, you would need to be narcissistic not to have noticed who these are. But, to compound this issue, recent research from MediaCom in the UK found that 40% of consumers claim to have stopped using or never used a brand because of its values or behaviours.

  1. Are great at getting that elusive first purchase but not so good at repeat.

Narcissists are great at first impressions. They come across as very charismatic and personable, but once you get to know them their charm fades and their self-absorption and selfish tendencies rears their ugly head!

  1. Can turn any conversation into all about them. Do you talk to your customers through social media, or at them? If it’s just about you, then quite frankly that gets boring very quickly!
  1. Think their competitors are irrelevant and don’t pay them enough attention. If they do monitor them, then they don’t actually analyse the impact or learn from it.
  1. Choice of evaluation metrics, if any. Failure to measure your performance with the appropriate metrics should set alarm bells ringing, especially if you only use validation metrics!

Be honest and true. If I can’t convince you then you’re probably feeling victimised, as narcissists don’t tend to take accountability for their actions, always blame others and don’t admit faults for their mistakes. Only 1% of the population have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder; don’t let your brand be one of them!

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