Brands ‘not ready’ to deal with crisis linked to their values

25/03/2019

Brands aren’t fully prepared to deal with crisis that are intrinsically linked to their values as the priorities of business leaders, marketers and those important to consumers are not aligned.

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The global study, from communications company Hotwire, looks into the role of crisis communications in today’s “post B2B world”, where the lines between B2B and B2C marketing are blurred, end-user and consumer audiences collide, and all audiences have high expectations on brands.

• Nearly half (40%) have already walked away from brands they deem to have violated their personal values
• Less than half (47%) of marketing leaders in the UK were very or quite worried about a crisis event
• Yet the majority (77%) of business decision makers and consumers (78%) would stop working with a business which handled a crisis issue poorly

The findings reveal that brands aren’t fully prepared to deal with crisis that are intrinsically linked to their values as the priorities of business leaders, marketers and those important to consumers are not aligned.

Putting crisis comms on the marketing agenda

The key findings show that in the UK, more than two-thirds (68%) of consumers agree that their personal values influence their buying behaviour, it's unsurprising then that almost half (40%) have already walked away from brands who they deem to have violated their personal values. The top issues which have caused them to ditch brands so far include; the environment, Brexit and a lack of transparency. The business sectors at the acute end of this are retail and packaged food and drink. 

Remarkably, marketing leaders in the UK are less concerned about crisis issues and events than the global average. Less than half (47%) were very or quite worried about a potential crisis. Yet the majority of business decision makers (77%) and consumers (78%) would stop working with a business which handled a crisis communication issue poorly. It's surprising that while business and consumers are so focused on this, it isn’t higher up the list of priorities of marketing agendas.

Business leaders are burying their heads in the sand

If facing a crisis situation, marketers and business decision makers are most worried by damage to brand reputation, yet marketers recognise the impact this could have on customer loss much more acutely than business decision makers. While nearly two-thirds (64%) of marketers understood that poor communications around crisis issues or events could lead to customer loss, only just over half (53%) of business leaders shared this sentiment. It's time for business leaders to recognise the criticality of communications in a crisis environment, and this requires PR teams to have a seat at the table when proactive communications, reactive responses and remedial changes are being agreed.  

Crisis management should link to core business values

Personal and societal issues receive less proactive marketing attention, with less than a third of marketers saying they have driven campaigns on topics like mental health, gender or ethnic discrimination or protecting the environment.  

This is interesting when we compare it to what UK consumers most want to see and hear from brands. Yes, Brexit is a priority for them (20%), but they also want to see businesses taking a clear stand on mental health (22%) and sexual harassment (19%) too. Marketers should address the disparity between the topics they are building proactive campaigns around, and what consumers most want to see and hear from them. 

Matt Cross, Managing Director UK at Hotwire commented: “It's intriguing that when asked which crisis issue their business should take a stand on, UK business decision makers didn't rank sexual harassment within the top ten. This result is so out of sync with what consumers want to see. And while marketing leaders in the UK haven't done much proactive work on the topic to date, 41% of those marketers felt their organisations should take a stand on this particular issue. The disconnect between business leaders and consumer expectations is something which marketers should address." 

The industry skills gap in crisis comms

Less than half (46%) of UK marketing leaders have direct experience reactively managing crisis communications events, which is lower than the global average (58%).  Yet only just over a third (35%) of UK Marketers work with a PR agency which offers crisis management expertise and services.

While UK marketers have most experience dealing with 'lack of transparency' (28%), they have less experience dealing with income and wage gaps, and also sexual harassment. This is a point of differentiation with their global peers, as on average global marketers have most experience in dealing with these two specific topics.

Brexit commanded the most focus among UK marketers with nearly half (45%) claiming to have run a campaign on this topic, and 19% saying they have first-hand experience in handling this issue. Over a third (38%) have focused on data security and on GDPR (36%) respectively.

Start getting crisis plans in place today

The majority (77%) of marketing leaders feel they have a plan in place in case they were faced with a crisis event. Yet only just over half (58%) of UK business decision makers feel they have a solid plan. As best practice, marketing and business leaders should be working to the same plans, so this disparity was surprising to see. Therefore the data shows a real opportunity for marketing leaders to step up and own this plan, cementing their strategic position within the business. 

The backlash businesses can expect from poor planning and handling of crisis scenarios is fast and furious. Not only can organisations expect to lose business customers, but they should expect to lose them quickly.  

This research was carried out by Sapio Research on behalf of Hotwire from December 2018 to January 2019, via surveys among three distinct groups: 658 CMO’s and senior communications executives at B2B and B2C companies; 688 general business decision makers at B2B and B2C companies; and 6,218 consumers. The research was conducted across the following countries:

• US
• UK
• Spain
• Italy
• Mexico
• Germany
• France
• Australia
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www.hotwireglobal.com

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