Brands’ Moral Code: Honesty is the best policy

By Stephanie Milam

For the majority of American adults, brand loyalty is no longer a permanent or predictable thing. The well-informed now choose a company or product based on what best serves them as consumers. With reviews and ratings available at the fingertips of any smartphone, tablet, or computer owner (which is just about everyone), people put more weight in what their peers have to say about a company and its products and services, rather than how the brand is marketed through media outlets and in stores. Ratings can often be brutally honest and it’s precisely this level of honesty that is ultimately most valuable and influential to the consumer when making a purchasing decision.

The end of 2011 saw major backlash from consumers on issues ranging from their DVD subscriptions with the Netflix fiasco, to the political protesting of corporations with Occupy Wall Street. People proved that they do not like being kept in the dark, and demand is growing for companies to step up to the plate with a fair and transparent business model. Even if mistakes are made, consumers tend to be forgiving if you explain the faux pas and apologize.

In 2012, an expectation has also been set for “mano-y-mano” service, where customers are treated with respect and communicated with directly because not treating them well has become an even greater risk than in the past. From crowdsourcing, social media, and the uncovering of corporate scandal, consumers understand that they hold power because they have a variety of tools with which to disclose false representations and poor treatment. Bank of America felt the wrath of its customers last September when blogs and social media platforms lit up with angry comments regarding their new debit card usage fees, causing a plummet in its stock value and the bank to cancel the new fee one month later. So if companies fail to provide both courtesy and transparency, customers will use this power by not only taking their dollar to a competitor, but by spreading the word to others about their bad experience.

Businesses now have to continually prove why they deserve a customer’s dollar. Loyalty is neither automatic nor consistent, and you have to treat your customer as an equal to avoid a bad reputation. What will set companies apart in 2012 is their upfront honesty about how they’re doing business and why.

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