Broken trust and unfulfilled brand promises in Meaningful Brands study

2013 Meaningful Brands study

The just-published 2013 Meaningful Brands study from French marketing and communications group Havas contains useful metrics and insights for business leaders, marketers and communicators, along with big uncomfortable realities about what consumers think about brands.

This worldwide study into the connections between people and brands at a business level measures the benefits brands bring to our lives, says Havas. Embracing 700 brands, over 134,000 consumers, and 23 countries, the firm claims it to be the world’s first such study.

It measures the impact of a brand’s benefits alongside its impact on 12 different areas of well-being (health, happiness, financial, relationships and community, among others) for a full view of a brand’s effect on our quality of life.

And while headline metrics make great reading – such as Havas’ view that “Meaningful Brands outperform the stock market by 120%” – the underlying finding emerging from the firm’s study is bleak and stark:

[…] Most people worldwide would not care if more than 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow.

Think about all the money spent globally on marketing, communication and public relations. Then think that for more than 73% of the companies who are spending it, their brands wouldn’t be missed if they disappeared entirely.

Only one in five brands are perceived as making a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

We see a wide difference in attachment among markets with a strong polarisation between developed and developing markets. In Europe and the US, people would not care if 92% of brands disappeared. In Latam it’s 58% and in Asia it’s 49%. In Latam and Asia people are attached six times more to brands than Western markets.

Expectations in the West are largely unmet, fueling growing lack of trust and indifference towards brands.

That lack of trust and indifference is clearly reflected in other credible research such as Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer study.

And the reasons behind this? The Financial Times has a thoughtful analysis:

[…] In mature markets, brand saturation may be part of the problem. You hardly need to spend long in an American supermarket to conclude there are simply too many indifferent brands out there.

More importantly, too many brands have been making promises they cannot fulfil. Slightly less than a third of consumers think brands communicate honestly, resulting in growing distrust.

[…] More constructively, the study shows that consumers reward brands that listen to them, provide good quality, innovative products at fair prices; make their lives happier, easier and healthier; and support the environment, the economy and the community. “A new model for human prosperity is emerging, centred around the idea of human potential and wellbeing,” Mr Haque says. That is a big claim.

Big claim or not, it seems crystal clear to me what brands – rather, the people behind or representing those brands – must do to begin the process of rebuilding trust with people and converting their indifference into curiosity and interest. Here are three foundational steps:

  1. Think and act more like people.
  2. It’s about other people; it’s not about you.
  3. Be honest, open, genuine and imperfect, like everyone else (aspires to be). No one is perfect.

Are you listening?

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

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