Reading about Volkswagen’s emissions scandal last year was like witnessing a chandelier fall and shatter all over the floor. The German carmaker who earned its global reputation for its engineering excellence and reliability was found to be cheating on emissions tests by installing software that could make their cars look cleaner, while they were actually emitting between ten to forty times the legal limit of the major atmospheric pollutant nitrogen oxide. That is a real crash.
When I got to this press release Global Study from Cohn & Wolfe Defines Authenticity in the Eyes of Consumers and Reveals the 100 Most Authentic Brands, published in April by global communications agency Cohn & Wolfe, I could not help but look for Volkswagen’s place in the chart.
Cohn & Wolfe has been studying authenticity as a guiding principle and business practice since 2012. In its latest release of Authentic 100, an annual index of global brands ranked by 12,000 consumers from 14 countries around the globe based on their perception of authenticity, it is revealed that there is a large “authenticity gap” between brands and consumers, with 75 percent of consumers surveyed indicating that brands and companies have a credibility problem.
The agency defines authenticity by citing seven attributes, which can be condensed into three distinct “drivers” of authenticity:
– Reliable: It demonstrates that authenticity is primarily about delivery to the consumer. The first is ‘delivers on promises’ and the second is ‘high quality’.
– Respectful: It is simply about managing human relationships carefully. There are two attributes in this cluster; the first is ‘treats customers well’, and the second is ‘protects customer privacy and data’.
– Real: It is to many observers the most obvious interpretation of authenticity. So it is perhaps surprising that, to consumers, it comes in third. The two attributes that fall under this cluster are “communicates honestly’ and ‘acts with integrity’.
It always pays off to be real, and not just in monetary terms. Encouraging findings from this Cohn & Wolfe study are that approximately nine out of 10 consumers are willing to reward a brand for the authenticity it exhibits. 52 percent would recommend the brand to family and friends; 49 percent would pledge loyalty to the brand. In the 2014 edition of the same study, 47% of the surveyed consumers even said they would be happy to work for these authentic brands.
Consumers are no fools, they will find out sooner or later — it is just a matter of time. Boasting about the benefits and strengths of your products/services may work well at first but as time passes, the truth unfolds. Falling short of consumers’ expectations and not delivering on your promises inevitably devalue your brand image and drive consumers away in the long term.
While the cheating software may have helped the brand pass the emissions tests (at least for a while before the scandal broke out), it might not when it comes to the test on brand authenticity. Well, this is my belief — initially.
So it is surprising to see Volkswagen taking 71st spot on the list. Perhaps the following quote by Donna Imperato, CEO of Cohn & Wolfe explains this a bit:
“In fact, consumers will forgive the occasional corporate misstep if a company is upfront, and addresses the issue head-on.”
My takeaway from the survey? We can convince ourselves that there is always a silver lining — consumers are both forgiving and forgetful creatures.
The blog was written by Abby Tsang, Editor at PR Newswire.