STUDY: 83 Percent of Consumers ‘Unsatisfied’ by Relationships with Brands

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Edelman released its second annual “brandshare” study this week, and the project’s findings are both challenging and encouraging. In short, consumers are not completely satisfied by their relationships with the brands they know — and the industry is moving closer to determining what, exactly, such “relationships” should entail. Most importantly, brands that created “multidimensional” relationships with consumers saw big, measurable gains.

Some of the study’s findings serve as a good follow-up to a survey released by WPP in September, which found that 55 percent of respondents simply don’t see the point of “friending” a brand. Highlights:

  • 87 of respondents around the world say they want “meaningful relationships” with brands
  • Yet 66 percent say brands don’t share with them at all — and 70 percent say that, when they do, it’s only due to “a self-centered desire to increase profits”

Today we spoke to Jen Cohan, president of Edelman New York, to learn more about takeaways from this year’s brandshare.

The study introduces a new consumer need that brands/marketers need to address: the “societal need.” Could you define that term?

When we conducted the study, we compared nine consumer needs. Some were traditional (consistent service, product quality, functional benefits, etc.) while others were about emotional connections. We tested three in particular on the “societal” front to see whether they were important:

  • Consumers feeling good about a brand’s commitment to the community
  • The brand’s underlying purpose
  • Evidence that the brand cares about things other than itself

Could you elaborate on the methodology?

We tested these nine needs against fourteen brand behaviors developed in consultation with marketers around the world in order to make sure we weren’t creating a “marketing echo chamber.”

We asked consumers to rate those behaviors on a scale: which are important? We then asked them how a handful of familiar brands performed.

The sample include 200 brands across 11 different industries, and each participant was asked to choose ten with which they were familiar. The study as a whole was larger than last year’s: it involved 15,000 consumers in twelve countries including both mature and developing markets.

What were the “behaviors” considered?

By design, some of the behaviors reflected traditional ways that brands interact: for example, by inviting customers to events. Others added more dimension to the equation – like brands that communicate about how their products are sourced and/or manufactured. We hypothesized that there would be a gap between what consumers want and what they actually receive from these brands, but we didn’t go in with any bias.

Where did these gaps occur?

There were three areas in which consumers said there was a real gap:

  1. Responsiveness. 78% said quick responses are important while only 17% think brands do that well. (I think it’s fair to say that social media has conditioned us to expect quicker responses.)
  2. Involvement. This translates to brands asking consumers “help us choose colors, beta test new services,” etc. and people feeling like they’re involved because brands have been transparent with them on issues like production.
  3. Purpose. The idea that brands should have a clear mission and use their resources to drive change in the world. 58 percent said that’s important, but only 21 percent think brands deliver.

What is the primary lesson you take from these three points?

These relationships require authenticity; it’s a hackneyed phrase, but it means a commitment to delivering value. We see that brands with a purpose (and when I say “purpose” I mean they believe they can deliver positive change to consumers and broader audiences) are more successful. An example in terms of messaging is the difference between “we want a woman to feel beautiful” vs. “we think every woman should feel beautiful.”

That difference and commitment over time is the key differentiator. There’s real brand value in sticking to a message, and we found that brands that added this societal need to their efforts saw a pronounced lift across every KPI.

What about the idea that all such messages are really self-promotional?

This is about the consumer as much as the brand; actively involving the audience is critical. For example, many organizations don’t promote their sustainability and community policies for two reasons: they think it’s untoward and there’s not enough alignment between corp comms and marketing to tell stories in compelling ways that reach the consumer.

But we find that, when companies are forthright on these issues, it adds value to the relationship because it reflects on the consumer’s values as much as those of the brand.

As a contrarian, I’d like to ask: how do we define “meaningful” and “engagement?”

A better word for meaningful is “multidimensional.” It’s about brands having a variety of interactions with people. The result is business impact: people are more willing to buy from the brand and to defend it, and they’re also more willing to share their own personal data as well as to share content and information about the brand with others.

Engagement needs to go beyond saying “thank you” or favoriting a tweet, but our data can’t prove what exactly needs to be done.

What’s the big conclusion?

More broadly speaking, brands aren’t being responsive enough. People tell us that [CSR] is something they want, but I’d argue that links to brand initiatives probably won’t be that interesting to people. It depends on quality and how the content is served up.

Brands are finding different ways to ask for consumers’ opinions, but it’s most important to know that brands are paying attention.

With each interaction, there’s the opportunity to beget another interaction.