Loyal clients don’t pay attention to CSR

Source: Research International, 29 January 2003

A large study of Research International shows:
. Major worldwide study explores perceptions of modern brands and the issues facing globalisation
. Naomi Kleins thesis is wrong, consumers seek to forgive brands, negative issues are largely put aside
. But consumers also reject homogenous global branding
. The study highlights the emergence of wave three branding, where consumers want to find the brand and not the other way around
. The category a brand is in, its level of aspiration, the nature of different local cultures and the fit between cultural and brand values are key to localisation
Todays global consumers want to protect their favourite brands and will preserve their allegiances to the extent of turning a blind eye to political and ethical malpractice of parent companies according to the findings of a major global research study.

Produced by Research International, the worlds leading custom market research company, the findings are in sharp contrast to Naomi Kleins highly publicised book No Logo, in which she predicts the growth of an outrage against global brands so powerful that it will fundamentally change the way these brands are produced, distributed and marketed.

Instead, claims Malcolm Baker, global director, Research International Qualitatif, brands are seen as essential beacons that help consumers navigate the modern world. Because of this and the process by which they are enhanced by in consumers own imaginations, they are nurtured and protected. Our study revealed that consumers have become so good at creating personal, idealised images of their favourite brands that negative issues are largely put aside or forgotten.

Consumers prefer to forgive and forget and have the capability to disconnect the political self from the consuming self says Baker.

This is perhaps most clearly illustrated in the study through consumers views towards American cultural values. Despite growing unease around the world about the actions of America, brands that reflect American cultural values remain largely unaffected. RIO 2002 instead reveals that most consumers seem entirely comfortable using brands they know to be American, while at the same time holding negative views towards American policies. Although it did cover Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, the study did not include the core Middle Eastern Islamic countries where a backlash against American brands is more evident.

According to the research, bad corporate behaviour is only an issue for consumers when it impacts them directly and even then they will only confront bad company behaviour that cannot be ignored.

RIO 2002 goes on to reveal the strength of consumer feeling against the increasingly homogenised identity of many global brands.

Baker explains:
The strength of feeling against one-size-fits-all marketing has given rise to a new third wave of branding. In this wave brands are driven by a need for reconnection with local roots and a form of in-your-face authenticity that seeks to deny marketing construction. Here the consumer wants to find the brand and not the other way around, comments Baker.

Examples of wave three branding can be found across the world from global brands such as Carhartt, Gola and Quicksilver, to more local brands, such as ACNE JEANS from Sweden. Many leading brands including Nike, Sony, Nokia and Swatch have been quick to spot this new trend. They connect with consumers on a more personal level through customisable, limited editions.

We live in a fluid, time-stressed world. Successful marketers will be those who strike the right balance between global reach and local feel, between individualised identity and membership of a global tribe. Baker adds.

The category a brand is in, its level of aspiration, the nature of different local cultures and the fit between cultural and brand values are all key issues that impact on the degree to which brands are adapted for local markets.

Despite the growing need for localised positioning highlighted through the research, there are two groups of brands for which marketing that is too localised can be potentially damaging. These are either highly aspirational prestige brands (e.g. Chanel) or brands whose appeal is founded on a universal myth such as Nokias theme of connection, or Levis theme of independence.

The complex range of factors affecting global versus local marketing, combined with an increasingly sophisticated and marketing literate world-wide population, mean brands are having to work harder than ever before to make relevant connections in different parts of the world.

What is clear, however, is not only the extent to which consumers feel they need brands as a central part of their everyday lives, but also the lengths they will go to protect brands in whose identity they have made such a strong personal investment, concluded Baker.