Opinion

Brand Strength and ‘Good Will’

24 December, 2016 Share socially

By Brett Bruen & Christopher Nurko

‘Good will’ is both a strategic asset and a secret for future success that businesses must cultivate and protect in order to compete more effectively.  This is more true today than at any point in history.  In particular, ‘good will’ is the security and safety net for brands that confront more complex challenges to reputational risk. In today’s ‘always on’ world, combined with a facts vs fiction context of news, a brand plays a critical role in safeguarding and protecting market share, strength, and preference for all stakeholders and audiences. ‘Good will’ is increasingly the determining factor between a brand bending or breaking. ‘Good will’ is the result of a strong reputation, strong customer relationships and a proactive brand management culture.  When all three are nurtured, the brand’s asset value is protected most effectively.  

Social media puts a company, its employees, and the brandunder the microscope.  Cyberattacks can quickly corrode consumer confidence.  While fake news is adding an even more ominous and elusive adversary to the equation.  A brand’s crisis communications plan is most likely ill-prepared to face these threats and the process of metamorphosis that a business will undergo in the future.  Cultivating strategic reservoirs of ‘good will’ is the best insurance policy in the age of such asymmetric assaults on a brand.

Burritos, whales, banking and phones – reputations and brands at risk

‘Good will’ is tested when product, service or experience failure is connected to a brand’s corporate or consumer values, marketing or communications. In 2016, several brands were put to the test and time will tell how successful they will be in re-gaining consumer trust and preference. In the case of the fast-food casual restaurant chain Chipotle, their food safety issues were at the heart of the brand experience when their supply chain failed and food poisoning cases were traced to Chipotle as the source. Thus, the supply chain failure on health and safety issues became the focus and challenge to Chipotle’s values and positioning around fresh and healthy food. The Parks and Entertainment brand,  Sea World had to be completely reinvented as a result of the backlash ignited by the exposé film, Blackfish and the practice of staging ‘shows’ with caged Killer Whales. The film called into question the animal welfare standards and practices of ‘performance and entertainment’ alongside safety and ethics.  In both of the above situations, the brands were challenged by the rigidity of their own core principles and values in the face of widespread consumer protests and boycotts. For another brand, Wells Fargo Bank the central issue of trust was undermined when customer account security and privacy was compromised by employee practices to secure false bonus incentives and payments.  Wells Fargo will have to pay over $190m dollars to settle the customer fraud cases and it resulted in the very public humiliation and resignation of the CEO after a congressional hearing forced the firm to accept responsibility for the debacle. Finally, the most challenging test of ‘good will’ was the recall and exchange of Samsung’s exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones once they were banned from all commercial aircraft flights.  Samsung has prided itself on product safety and performance.  The recall and exchange will therefore prove to be a particularly costly mistake in lapsed quality control. In all of these examples – the core principles of the brand, the business and their reputations were at stake.

Chipotle and their food safety issues were at the heart of the brand experience when their supply chain failed and food poisoning cases were traced to Chipotle as the source earlier this year

Crisis and Brand Management – 3 steps to forgiveness

In the case of Samsung’s Galaxy 7 Note recall, Chipotle closing stores to ‘re-boot’the business, or Wells Fargo’s apology and re-commitment to recovering trust – all three brand’s had to ask for forgiveness by demonstrating a clearer commitment to the customer and making amends with substantive actions. The first step to recovery is public acknowledgement of the issues and ‘wrongs’. The second step is to put new or corrective practices into place that safeguard consumer interests first and business priorities second. And, finally the third step is to re-craft a message and marketing/PR plan that addresses all stakeholders and re-affirms the brand values and purpose. In the case of Sea World, forgiveness started with the wholescale re-structuring of the brand product experience and offer. These actions were all done to both reaffirm their brand trust with consumers and to leverage their ‘good will’ to retain customers and ask for forgiveness.

A proactive strategy – from brand awareness through loyalty to ‘good will’

‘Good will’ starts with the value of a company, product or service’s name. The degree of both familiarity and awareness plus the associations that have been invested in the brand name. This is the basis for reputation and creating potential demand for the brand. Once an audience for a brand is established and as products, services or value is delivered through consistent, relevant and distinctive experiences a brand begins to build ‘good will’. At the heart of this concept is consistency, satisfaction and credibility. A brand must be consistent in providing reliable customer satisfaction through its products, services or communications so that the brand promise can be easily discerned, anticipated and delivered. For employees, the standards of a brand’s performance must be linked to the physical manifestation of the brand experience and the alignment with the brand’s distinctive values, aesthetics and customer-centric culture. Employees are representatives of the brand and therefore, along with product the ‘front line’ of brand performance. The more distinctive, differentiated and desired a brand is, the greater the demand for a brand amongst its audiences. When a brand is managed for positive and effective awareness, consideration and purchase the net effect is to create positive ‘good will’. The brand and its marketing, communications and sales becomes more effective in attracting new customers, employees and investors or partners because its positive reputation precedes it. The ‘good will’ that results from consistent interactions and expectations further fuels brand satisfaction and reinforces the consumer or customer interest in and continued purchase of the brand. As such, ‘good will’ in the reputation sense of the word is an intangible asset that exists because of historic performance, reputation and associations. Decisions by brand managers that reinforce positive perceptions and reinforce audience expectations are the means by which ‘good will’ is protected and enhanced.

The true test of a brand and its reputation is often cited in times of crisis. It may take years to develop and cultivate a brand reputation, however it only takes one crisis to test or challenge the brand’s true strength. Therefore, when developing a ‘brand first’ and ‘good will’ strategy, it serves brand leadership and management well to consider how brand reputation at times of crisis or challenge can be leveraged. In the previous examples, actions had to be taken to substantively and tangibly make changes, and to respond to a consumer demand for accountability. The brands were expected to act and their ‘good will’ with consumers gave them an opportunity to resolve the crisis. By addressing the core elements of their brands and the expectations of their brand promises consumers will be able to judge whether the brand is worthy of forgiveness and future business.

Samsung made the decision to recall all models of the Galaxy Note 7 in order to try and rectify the 'exploding battery' problem

Three elements to consider in creating ‘good will’ for a brand.

The experience of the brand for many people IS the brand.

A product or service creates an experience that can be defined through the sensory and tangible expression of customer interaction. This includes all aspects including the visual presentation, packaging, environments, service scripts, customer care and assistance protocols as well as user experience across all channels of marketing and distribution or purchase. In a connected world, the consistency of brand to consumer interaction is a vital aspect of brand performance. In particular, the ability of the brand to use previous brand purchase transactions, saved customer data and predictive relationship data to offer an authentic, bespoke and effective user experience is critical to perceptions of a valuable brand experience.  In this area, a brand’s good will is related to factors of consistency of the anticipated experience with the actual interaction. Issues related to transactional security, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) history and recognition as well as product safety or quality are the elements that matter for achieving continued good will. Increasingly, consumers demand to know as much as possible about the brand, the company behind the brand and the position the brand takes on all types of issues from environmental concerns to employment. ‘Good will’, therefore starts and ends with the tangible experience of the brand for consumers.

Purpose, Vision & Values determine all aspects of the company and product or service experience.

The Purpose and values of a firm and how it sees the world influences the perceptions of consumers, employees and prospects. For millennials, there is a demand to know the convictions and ethos of a brand as a company and especially the brand’s views on issues and concerns related to people, communities and the environment disproportionately to the brand’s views on commercial success and profitability. The degree to which a brand leverages this content and uses it to guide decision-making on all aspects of products, services and employee management is often the difference for creating affinity and preference for brands across categories. For a brand to be successful a number of factors must contribute to its commercial viability and success vis-à-vis differentiation and distinction. One of the most critical is the ability of the brand to engender ‘good will’ on the basis of the brand’s guiding philosophy, commitment to ethical and transparent communications, employee rights and consumer rights. Across all aspects of business, when a firm focused on the values of the firm and builds a business case that is profitable for all stakeholders, the brand receives higher kudos and preference versus the competition. This is of particular consequence when there is crisis of confidence in product or service performance, or when values are called upon to determine what the ‘right’ thing is that is good for all stakeholders not only the commercial success of the brand as a business. ‘Good will’ is largely influenced by the expectation of consumers shaped by a brand’s purpose, vision and values.

Brand Advocates are the secret to leveraging ‘good will’ in times of crisis.

The ability to call upon previously established ‘good will’ and ‘reputation’ in times of challenge, disruption or disappointment is fundamental to understanding how the brand’s greatest advocates and loyalists can be expected to ‘forgive’ and ‘defend’ the brand.  Brand fans or frequent customers are the most ardent believers and defenders of a brand, and it is these most passionate supporters who represent the true test of a brand’s strength. ‘Good will’ amongst advocates can be engineered using proven marketing techniques to help defend and support a brand in times of reputation challenges or crisis.

Apple has long been known as a company and brand that has inspired loyalty and trust beyond measure. The company that Steve Jobs built has always been true to the the firm’s beliefs and commitments. Apple’s values and beliefs were challenged, and subsequent ‘good will’ tested, as part of a response to a recent tragedy. After the terrorist attacks of December 2015 in San Bernardino, CA.  Apple Inc. faced extraordinary pressure from federal authorities to hack into the iPhones of the assailants to access their personal data.  Apple refused and upheld their views on privacy and security.  Public sentiment could have easily moved against Apple.  It didn’t.  Apple’s commitment to the values and integrity of privacy had developed sufficient ‘good will’ around their vision ahead of the crisis and thus helped them to stand firm and not compromise.  This isn’t to suggest Apple didn’t sustain significant criticisms.  Yet, their strategic reservoirs of ‘good will’ with their advocates and consumer loyalists was enough to carry them through the crisis.  Apple’s brand in fact emerged from the episode stronger with their emboldened stance on security, privacy and integrity. Apple’s ‘good will’ and ‘values’ are embedded in how Apple fans believe in and experience the brand.

Ensure brand forgiveness BEFORE a crisis not AFTER

Counter-crisis management doesn’t involve weathering out the storm.  Indeed, navigating those turbulent waters requires more than battening down the hatches or hopping in a lifeboat.  Today’s challenges require engaging the issue.  Companies need to pre-construct infrastructure and instruments to direct the floodwaters.  If done well, Brands might even emerge from incidents in a stronger position.  Engendering forgiveness amongst customers and the broader public is no longer a luxury to be left to develop on a ‘rainy day’.  From cyber security to social media rumors, risks continue to rise.  As brand leadership prepare to usher in a new year, the threats to a company’s reputation will come faster, fiercer, and far more often than in 2016.  Building  reservoirs of ‘good will’ aligned to a purpose and values driven business plan can help to reduce risks.

Apple has long been known as a company and brand that has inspired loyalty and trust beyond measure; exemplified by the furoar around its store openings, like this one in China

In today’s world, brittle brands break. While focusing on forgiveness before a brand needs it enables an astonishing degree of resilience in the face of incidents and imperfections.  The key to success or even just survival is now determined less by avoidance than by agility in the face of adversity.  A few years ago, cultivating such an all-weather brand may have factored in as a secondary consideration for companies’ contingency strategies for crisis.  Now it’s a necessity.  As the speed, scale, and severity of challenges rise, crisis management 1.0 is increasingly proving ineffective.  Indeed, in an age when reputational risk is regular, developing strategic reservoirs of ‘good will’ is defining the difference between the rise, fall, and future of brands.  If a brand isn’t investing in these reputational reserves, they may  find the next crisis is the last for the brand.