The Consumers Have Spoken: How Brands Can Survive Crises


In this digital age, news travels fast and consumers have easy access to information about their favorite brands and companies; but depending on the circumstances, this increased visibility can be both a blessing and a curse for brands. Each generation of consumers presents a set of unique challenges, preferences, and motivations, and so there’s no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all branding strategy for brands in crises.

In order to best advise brands on how to respond to a variety of potential crises, Toluna QuickSurveys polled 968 consumers nationally on a variety of hard-hitting questions about factors that influence how they perceive brands. These questions also gauged their willingness to accept and/or forgive brands for a variety of major blunders. Interestingly enough, the results indicated that millennials are open-minded and forward-thinking, and are truly changing the way brands appeal to their preferences.

Spokespeople: The More the Merrier

Having a brand spokesperson can be a high-risk/high-reward game, as utilizing this marketing tactic is largely hinging the image and overall success of their brand on the shoulders of that individual. Take into consideration Subway’s former spokesperson, Jared Fogle, and how Subway was deeply affected by his infamous scandal because of how integral he became to the brand’s core image. According to our findings, a whopping 56% of respondents have been similarly turned off to a product, service or brand because of the spokesperson, while 22% of consumers say they’ll drop a brand outright if its spokesperson is involved in a scandal regardless of the circumstances.

On the other side of the coin, 49% of consumers have been positively influenced by a brand’s spokesperson. So how can brands navigate this tricky tactic and still reap the benefits of having a spokesperson? Toluna QuickSurveys’ study suggests that 40% of consumers prefer a fluid spokesperson situation, a hedging move we’ve seen pay off for brands like Old Spice, GEICO and the NBA, who use multiple brand spokespeople. Interestingly, of those that prefer variety, 53% were millennials while only 15% were over 55 years of age, further illustrating the way this demographic is shifting the way consumers perceive brands and brand image.

While brands with multiple spokespeople need to work harder, they can limit their risk by diversifying their portfolio and not closely associating with only one individual.

Rebranding is Refreshing: Don’t Be Afraid to Hit the Reset Button

When a company has an unsuccessful or declining sales model (a situation that mega-retailers Macy’s and The Gap were faced with just last year), the affected company needs to act quickly in order to avoid disaster. While many brands shy away from rebranding or abandoning their longstanding strategy, our study found that these struggling brands shouldn’t be afraid of change: 59% of consumers are unaffected by rebranding, while another 11% indicated that they are neither upset nor distraught by companies that rebrand. Basically, if your brand needs a makeover, do what’s necessary to reinvent yourself and don’t fret the repercussions.

Getting involved in charitable causes also works wonders for a brand’s image, as 93% of consumers are more likely to shop a brand that publicly makes charitable donations to position themselves as philanthropic. Additionally, consumers like to see diversity (49%), gender (35%), race (35%) and sexual orientation (23%) represented in a brand’s advertisements, so implementing these topics can help reinvigorate the ways in which a brand is perceived by the masses.

Use vs Misuse of Social Media

Remember when IHOP tried to get snarky and make a joke on Twitter about women’s breasts and body types during Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Needless to say, this kind of reckless rhetoric on social media can erase years and years of careful branding efforts. Still, it’s important to note that brands can bounce back from these blunders with a careful and calculated approach; much like a relationship, it just takes some time and heightened sensitivity to bring you back to where you were prior to the social slip-up.

We found that respondents are mostly willing to forgive and forget, as 42% of respondents said they were very likely to forgive brands that make negative comments on race, gender or body type. Still, some are unable to move past these sort of negative comments, as 20% are unlikely to forgive brands that make tasteless comments on race, 15% are unlikely to forgive negative statements regarding gender (the majority of whom were female) and 19% won’t forgive statements about body type (again, mostly females). While social blunders aren’t necessarily a death sentence, it’s best to avoid polarizing comments, as the backlash can be catastrophic depending on the circumstances. Moreover, consumers need to be able to trust the integrity of the brands they support, and social media fails will only inhibit their ability to do so.

Ultimately, these crises don’t have to be a death sentence for today’s retailers. Instead, brands can bounce back and potentially thrive with the right approach and response to these dilemmas – so long as they’re willing to bite the bullet and appeal to their consumers directly. By using some of these consumer insights — and learning from the blunders of the past — brands can turn a crisis into a positive, brand-defining moment.


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