Those are two of the key results from a recent global study by Weber Shandwick called The Company Behind the Brand: In Reputation We Trust.
As the survey report states, "As consumers around the world have greater online access to a brand's lineage, the influence of the brand parent, or company behind the brand, matters even more."
While this can be a good thing (often referred to as the "halo" effect of corporate branding), it can also have a negative impact. A full 70% of the consumers surveyed in this study reported that they avoid buying a product if they do not like the company behind the product.
Additionally, 56% said they hesitate to buy products if they cannot tell who makes them. On the other hand, a majority of consumers in each of the four markets surveyed (UK, USA, China and Brazil) agreed with the statement "more and more I try to buy products made by a company that does good things for the environment or community.
It appears from this study that the number one thing customers look for in determining the value of the company behind a brand or product is "assurance." That's not surprising. As we wrote in our book Corporate Image Management: A Marketing Discipline, "The perception of an organization's corporate image by its constituents becomes the key to winning the marketing battle."
While a solid corporate image offers assurance of product quality and service consistency, consumers are also seeking assurances that products are ethically sourced, responsibly manufactured and are made by companies which treat their employees fairly. Consumers want (demand) that organizations to have social responsibility at the forefront of their actions.
As one UK consumer quoted in the survey said, "People are more aware of the behavior of those at the top of companies and want to trust in the brands they select to be ethical."
You may recall that we identified Responsibility as one of the Top 12 Marketing Trends for 2012. As we noted, consumers are changing their purchasing habits and turning cynicism into action by supporting brands and organizations that care, donate and sympathize with community concerns instead of just selling and taking.
Power of the Corporate Brand
The summary of this survey states, "Corporate reputation and brand reputation are now nearly indivisible. Consumers want assurance that their well-earned funds are spent on products produced by companies that share their values. They have higher expectations for the companies and the brands they like and are not hesitant to turn their backs when disappointed or fooled."
Organizations that understand the power of the corporate brand will undoubtedly rise faster and higher when the economic cycle again turns up. I noticed a slight uptick in corporate branding messages during my recent month-long stay in the USA. So perhaps the trend is already underway.
As Paul Jensen, North American Corporate Chair of Weber Shandwick puts it, "We're seeing more of a focus on promoting the corporate brand, not just products and services. Our clients recognize that in an increasing transparent environment, a corporation must explain the company behind the product, its values and how it positively contributes to society. The company name serves as guarantor of the brand."
There may be no greater marketing issue than corporate image management in today's increasingly competitive and transparent markets. After all, nothing touches the customer more than how he or she perceives your corporate image.
As we have written many times before, the ultimate battleground for winning and maintaining customer relationships takes place in the minds, hearts, emotions, and perceptions of customers. Which is why corporate reputations matter more than ever.