The emotion created by the discovery of horse meat in wrongly labelled food is a great example of how the bond of trust is so easily broken – and with it, brand reputation.
At the heart of this is the simple economics of brand segmentation within the supermarket. By having three streams of the same product under one roof, the logic runs that you can sell differential value based on price. Unfortunately, the “value” brand doesn’t necessarily extend the same promise of quality that the consumer believes is consistent – and the supermarket have been found out – finally.
You cannot pay a premium up the chain for great quality and differentiate the finest and classic brands without being uncompetitive. It always seems to follow that the financially disadvantaged are the ones that fall foul – hence the wailing and gnashing by the media and government on their behalf.
It’s the reputation impact on the consumer that brands will be concerned about – and how long it lingers. If you are a big brand, you could be cynical and say that in the long term the customer will come back because of other benefits – but in the short term, it’s all hands to the PR pumps to calm and reassure.
Horse meat will become this year’s salmonella and BSE and, frankly is far less of a real concern than those specific health threats – and actually, horse meat is pretty good, if you have been at all experimental on holiday in France.
Things move on, though, and the public are directed to the next media “Bete Noire” to wail and gnash about.
Another recent story typifies something equally as troubling for brands – the arrest of Oscar Pistorious for the alleged shooting of his girlfriend. Nike have been quick to position themselves against Brand Oscar and seek alternatives for the relevant markets, having responded to the lessons they learnt from Lance Armstrong. The strap line they had used for a recent ad featuring Pistorius only serves to show how dangerous it can be placing your brand in the hands of individuals and the real or alleged decisions they have made.
This shows how the power of sport and branding forms some of the tightest reputation bonds and how the image and character of the star is indelibly linked to their strength and success. It will be hard now for many to look at their 2012 Paralympics DVD, crystallising an almost mythical summer of goodwill, without thinking of recent events.
Whether it’s personal notoriety or just the bad management of suppliers, the power of trust is undeniable. It is the intangible reward for an experience or history of connections the consumer makes with a product. It is so hard to win and so quick to lose.
Brands must understand the complex nature of trust – linked to quality, service and consistency – and apply these throughout their operations, messaging and offers.
It goes beyond the basics of delivery – it’s about the promise, the feeling of success through the interaction (two -way) and the enduring power of habit forming purchase and recommendation. Understand this intimately and guard it with a passion.