'Flawsome' brands will win battle for consumers' hearts

'Flawsome' brands will win battle for consumers' hearts
'Flawsome' brands will win battle for consumers' hearts

Consumer expectations that companies should behave in a human way are growing. So brands would do well to admit their shortcomings and embrace honesty, writes Nicola Clark.

Trenton Oldfield, the 35-year-old man who swam into the paths of the Oxford and Cambridge crews during this year's Boat Race, may be yesterday's news; but you can bet the burning disappointment of the Oxford team has not dissipated.

Oldfield, who claimed to have disrupted the event as 'a protest, an act of civil disobedience', caused the race to be restarted, heaping on the heartache for the losing oarsmen and taking the fizz out of Cambridge's victory.

On the cusp of the Olympics, his stunt underlined the near-impossibility of guaranteeing a hitch-free event. Lord Moynihan, the British Olympic Association chairman, told BBC Radio 5 Live that, while 'every conceivable scenario of security threat was being reviewed by the organisers', it would be impossible to definitively rule out all threats. 'It just takes, and is likely to be, one idiot,' he added, with refreshing honesty.

His view was echoed by Boat Race Company chief executive David Searle, who candidly told The Sunday Times: 'There is little we could have done to stop this type of action.'

Consumers aren't stupid; they know that a perfect day or experience cannot be guaranteed. According to research from Trendwatching.com, consumers not only recognise this, they don't expect it. Perfection is boring.

People have a hard time genuinely connecting with, or really trusting, people who show no signs of weakness or flaws. Trendwatching.com contends that this extends to how consumers view brands. It suggests that people will embrace brands that are 'Flawsome'; a terrible term, but an interesting trend nonetheless. Those brands and events that are flawed, but open about it, and show empathy, generosity, flexibility and humanity will thrive.

While the Boat Race Company could not control Oldfield, it could control its response. Owning up to shortcomings, being honest and, crucially, being human goes a long way in a crisis.

THE UPSHOT

What marketers need to know about admitting their flaws

- Embrace extreme honesty

Most people would not care if 70% of brands ceased to exist, according to Havas Media research. It is vital to embrace honesty in your organisation and in research, understanding how your employees and customers really view your brand.

- Own up to your mistakes

Consumers judge brands not on their glossiest ad campaign but their worst employee, product or service. Act swiftly and with compassion; processes should never come before people.

- The triumph of transparency

The availability of reviews, leaks and ratings makes it impossible for brands to hide errors. People do not differentiate between companies' public and private faces, meaning it has never been more important to ensure that your brand embraces its values internally.

- A new purpose

The days when a marketing director was measured by profits alone are long gone. Nearly 85% of consumers expect companies to promote individual and collective wellbeing (Havas Media). Marketers are in a prime position to drive this CSR agenda across their businesses.

Nicola Clark is Marketing's head of features. Follow her on Twitter: @nickykc.

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