The virtue missing from value-driven consumers: forgiveness.
Consumers have progressively become more interested in how a company or product aligns with their values. Their pursuit does not begin and end with the number of stars listed in product ratings. And, when brands fall short with tone-deaf or insensitive marketing, consumers are quick to notice and often much slower to forgive.
Consumers want to know that their money is supporting a company or brand that demonstrates good corporate citizenship. They want to trust that their favorite brands align with their sense of responsibility, community, and vision for the future. It sounds like a tall order, and it is. And when there are missteps by brands, they go viral before the company may have time to respond.
Values that are most frequently trampled included all types of diversity, human rights, and body image. Peloton landed itself on some consumers’ list of tone-deaf brands this year when the company aired a commercial depicting an already thin woman, striving to be thinner. It may be that Peloton’s target market is the fitness enthusiast rather than individuals who are on the journey to a fitter lifestyle. Either way, they failed to tell the story and alienate some consumers in the process.
Dolce and Gabbana (DG) made a misstep in 2018 with its culturally insensitive video marketing series depicting a Chinese woman struggling to eat western food items with chopsticks. China is second only to the U.S. in luxury goods consumption, begging the question, how did the ad concept make it past the internal marketing team? The backlash has negatively impacted the company throughout 2018 and 2019. DG is just now starting to recover.
No company is perfect. The longer a company is in business, the more likely a misstep will occur.
However, there are a few considerations and steps that may help avoid a misstep and recover should one occur.
Establish Brand Values Early
A brand is more than a logo, tagline and brand colors. Brand answers the question, “who are we as a company?” It tells the story of a company’s identity and how it interacts and supports its employees and consumers. In establishing brand values, a company needs to be clear on this one thing, “what values do we want consumers to associate us with?” Remember, companies establish values, but consumers give them creditability.
Align Marketing with Values
Once values have been established, integrate them from internal programs and communication to external marketing and initiatives. And it’s not only about communicating the values, but it’s also about walking the walk. A company needs to be ready to demonstrate its commitment to its corporate values from the inside-out.
Implement a Vetting Process
It starts in the C-suite and the communication department — Quality Control. Decide what process works best for your company, document it, and test it. Many concepts can be stopped in the earliest phases if the right people are present. Providing ongoing opportunities for diversity and cultural sensitivity training will be worth the investment. The right people will discern the delicate balance between edgy and offensive.
Engage a Marketing Agency
Marketing professionals stay current on trends, as well as emerging pitfalls that might stumble an unsuspecting small business owner, a non-profit organization, or an entrepreneur. They are trained to vet messages, images and other content for any hint of misalignment.
Develop a Crisis Communication Plan
Undoubtedly, companies will have missteps. The reaction is critically important in mitigating the fallout. How and when a company responds often depends on its preparedness. Similar to a disaster plan, a crisis communication plan determines who will do what and how it will be done to alleviate the effects of a marketing or communication crisis.
Every company should have a process in place before it is needed, which could be anytime.