“The bad news? You never had control. Worse news? Now you have even less.” But fear not, says a new report by digital comms company WE in partnership with YouGov: less control can mean more opportunity for brands, particularly in the developing Chinese market.
The study, titled “Brands in Motion”, came to this conclusion after interviewing the general public and B2B decision-makers about brands in eight industry sectors—computing devices, smart home, automotive, finance, health & wellness, alcoholic beverages, technology solutions for business and healthcare solutions providers—across China, the US and the UK.
The aim was to gather the broadest possible range of perspectives to determine the drivers that inform consumer choices in today’s fast-moving climate. The resulting insight: brands should forget aiming for a ‘fixed’ position in the market and prepare to adopt an ‘in-motion’ one that can better respond to disruption, dislocation and the exponential expectations of consumers.
“The environment brands are operating in is anything but static. It’s accelerated,” said Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO of WE Communications. “Brands need to ask themselves critical questions: Are you propelling your brand? Is something or someone else propelling your brand? Or is it both?”
WE came up with four ‘realities’ based on their study that brands should know before they embrace the concept of 'motion'.
- Amid uncertainty and rapid change in almost all areas of life, many consumers believe that brands can offer stability. 61 percent of Chinese respondents to the survey said they believed brands can provide stability, compared to 48 percent in the US and 42 percent in the UK.
- Brands that customers see as “cutting-edge” also attract other positive comments: Of “cutting-edge” brands, 63 percent of consumers also said they "love" it, 61 percent agreed the brand had a social impact and 60 percent said they had had a positive experience with the brand.
- In all three markets, half or more consumers want companies to balance functionality with purpose, and to be active in providing social value.
- Of the eight industry categories assessed in each of the three regions, two-thirds of consumers said they loved that industry—but 90 percent of these same people said they would gladly shame a brand if it put a foot wrong.
The 'motion matrix
To keep track of the ever-changing factors affecting a brand’s standing today, WE came up with a ‘motion matrix’ that measures “rational drivers” for consumer choices—such as value, quality and financial performance—against “emotional drivers”, including customer experience, overall impression, social impact and shared values.
Brands will fit into one of four positions on the grid:
High emotional, high rational score: Mover brands. These have a good balance of all drivers and have learned to harness the instability of the market to their advantage.
Low emotional, high rational score: Defender brands. There is little love for these brands and not many will defend them during bad times. To proceed, they should engage customers more.
High emotional, low rational score: Agitator brands. These offer high experience and engagement, but need to prove “everyday benefit” to improve credibility.
Low emotional, low rational score: Survivor brands. These need to act fast to do something different or they risk becoming irrelevant.
How the markets differ on the motion matrix
China is the most optimistic in mood when it comes to assessing brands, the study found, and would show up as a Mover brand on the matrix; while the UK is the most skeptical and would be a Survivor. The US is "cautiously optimistic" and falls somewhere in between—a Defender.
Consumers in all three markets agreed that computing device brands are Movers, finance companies are Defende and automotive and alcoholic beverage brands are Survivors - the latter indicating consumer feeling that these sectors offer poor customer experience and have a negative impact on the world.
China, however, placed smart home brands in the Mover category in complete opposition to the UK, which rated them Survivors, and the US, which called them Agitators. China also saw health solutions brands as Defenders, while the UK said these were Movers and the US said they were Survivors—unsurprising given the current instability in the health care sector in America.
China and America also rated tech B2B brands as Movers (the UK felts they were Agitators); and, in common with the UK, rated health & wellness brands as Survivors (the US said these brands were Defenders).
In all markets, the speed of disruption is only getting faster so brands need to “get comfortable” with the idea of motion, says the report. “We can understand where you are today—a mover, defender, agitator, survivor on spinning in the vortex,” the report offers. “Then by unpicking the forces that have moved you there and the forces you are either excelling at or missing, brands and businesses can take specific actions to start to influence their motion.”