Brands lack integrity. And they’re really only out for themselves.

 

Says who? 10,000 consumers in The Charisma Index research study we recently ran, in the US, UK, Germany and Italy.

 

So what? In today’s climate, brands simply can’t afford that reputation. Not if they’re serious about developing closer relationships with their consumers, and building a business for the long term. If they want people to prefer them to competitors, and to forgive them occasional mistakes or let-downs, they’re going to need real depth of commitment.

 

The Charisma Index was designed to explore those dynamics of brand-consumer relationships, and to understand which businesses were best placed to withstand competitive or future challenges. It looks at the components of leadership, and reveals brands’ inherent resilience. A total of 10,000 consumers evaluated 70 brands on six key dimensions:

 

  • Consciousness (the ability to anticipate and respond to consumers’ needs)
  • Purpose (the clarity of its future direction and ‘what it stands for’)
  • Integrity (the trust that it has, to do the right thing by people)
  • Generosity (the willingness to give of its time or products, and not to be motivated purely by profit)
  • Courage (the willingness to be truly innovative, and not merely to follow)
  • Delivery (the performance in doing what it says it will do, and not to let people down)

 

 

Integrity was the second weakest area of brands’ performance in our study. Consumers were consistent in their opinions that they simply can’t trust brands to do the right thing by them. For all the mission, vision and values statements, in which ‘integrity’ is repeated, the reality of experience is different.

 

But if that was bad, then opinions on brands’ generosity were even worse. This was universally the worst of all scores, and speaks of consumers’ suspicions that businesses really are only out for themselves. So, the two Charisma characteristics that have most to do with the human aspect and experience of brand relationships, are the two on which brands have little credibility.

 

Surprised? Perhaps, given the amount of time, publicity and money companies have expended in telling us about their corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies. Certainly, many of those we’ve discussed these findings with are disappointed with this lack of recognition among consumers.

 

Should brands be worried? Absolutely. Let’s look at a few examples.

 

Apple would not surprise anyone with its high ratings for Purpose and Courage: it outperforms its sector rivals on both, and is seen to be strong in Consciousness. However, it is the only brand within that sector that falls beneath the all-survey average for Generosity, and it is also weak in Integrity (and, perhaps, surprisingly, relatively weak in Delivery). Soon after our survey fieldwork was completed, Apple hit the headlines for some of its production policies, and for its admission that it slowed down the workings of old models.

 

And then came the news that the $1000 iPhone was not selling in the numbers the business had anticipated. We wondered at the time whether Apple might be at a tipping point, because the former darling and iconic brand was now seen to be greedy and arrogant.

 

Uber had its own Emperor’s new clothes moment. Our assessment is that the brand lacks any kind of depth to withstand more external pressure. Once again, those ratings for Generosity and Integrity are woeful (and ‘Delivery’ is another surprising weakness). It’s clear that corporate and leadership behaviour affects brand reputation, and Uber’s record in allegedly encouraging and hiding so many misdemeanours would suggest to us that people are keeping this relationship on a purely transactional basis. That might suit both sides at the moment, but if a ‘nice’ version of Uber appears, we expect many of its current users to defect.

 

Finally, a CEO with whom we shared our findings earlier this year told us recently “Your data predicted all this Facebook trouble”. We’re not sure that’s entirely accurate, but we could see the brand was in severe difficulties, as far as concerned people’s trust and judgement for why it was in business.

 

 

What does this all mean? Brands need resilience, if they’re to succeed in the long term. They need consumers to stick with them, in difficult times, through disappointments, and when there might be another option. But no brand can take that for granted. We know how important ‘purpose’ is becoming, and how people are looking to businesses to step in and help society deal with serious issues. At the moment, it’s clear that businesses still have a long way to go, if they are to convince consumers that they really are on their side.

 

We continue to see too many ‘purpose/vision/mission’ statements that promise much, but corporate and brand values that either fail to support those aims, or (more frequently) are not operationalised into the everyday workings and measures of the business. And those weaknesses are noted.

 

There is a strong correlation between low scores for Integrity with those for Delivery. When someone doubts that a brand is acting in their best interests (or even wider, into society in general) they also feel that the brand lets them down. It loses the benefit of the doubt, and raises its risk of defection.

 

The bar is depressingly low, but the rewards are high: businesses not only have the moral imperative, but also a commercial opportunity, to get this right.


Keith Well is director at Brandwell, a management consultancy specialising in corporate strategy, culture and brand. You can reach him on Twitter @keith_brandwelluk. Learn more about the Charisma Index here: www.thecharismaindex.com

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