What can be done to regain brand trust when it has been damaged by a real or perceived firm misstep? And more aggressively and strategically, what can be done to create an organization where such errors are less likely and customer understanding and forgiveness is more likely? Many brands (Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, Toshiba and Samsung) have recently faced this exact challenge.
There are, of course, many tactical prescriptions for dealing with a trust-damaging crisis, but there are three courses of action brands can enact in advance as protective measures:
- Create a higher purpose mission, value set or culture that will enable the organization to have meaning apart from generating sales and profits.
- Develop a higher purpose program or set of programs that not only engenders trust, but can redirect the discussion during a crisis incident. These programs should be oriented toward social good, leverage the organization’s people and assets and be branded and visible.
- Distribute messages about the brand’s higher purpose using at least, in part, stories of real people.
Barclays Responds to a Brand Crisis
A warc case study, written by Tom Roach of BBH London, addressed Barclays response to its brand crisis following the 2009 financial crash. In June 2012, the brand received a very visible fine for falsely reporting the interest rates (LIBOR) they were paying to other banks. This act, which had been common practice for years, made the company’s financial position appear better than it was.
Though many global banks were investigated and ultimately punished for doing the same thing, Barclays was the first. The brand was harshly judged by the public and assumed to be partially responsible for the financial collapse. The result was a plunge in brand trust, a key driver of customer loyalty in the banking industry. Barclays trust level, which was already low, plummeted during 2011 and 2012 by 60% (compared to 85% among competitors). One study found Barclays was the least trusted brand in the least trusted sector. Barclays decided to change.
Developing a new brand purpose
In February 2013, the Barclays Group CEO announced that the company would dramatically change and assume a new brand purpose: “Helping people achieve their ambitions—in the right way.” To support the new brand purpose Barclays developed five brand values, including respect for employees and stewardship. A total of 140,000 employees participated in an extensive training and evaluation system linked to the new brand purpose and values, which effectively transformed the culture of the firm.
Implementing new programs
The newly empowered and inspired employees were encouraged to create and lead higher purpose programs, and they did so in volumes. One, led by 12 colleagues dubbed the “Digital Eagles”, helped employees who lagged in digital/technical proficiency to upgrade their skillset. This program has now reached 12,000 employees and has expanded to include “Tea and Teach” sessions where the general public can learn how to survive and thrive in the digital world. The Digital Eagles also launched an online program, Digital Wings, allowing people to grow from “Newbie” to “Brainbox” in a series of engaging and informative courses.
Among the more than 40 programs developed in this initiative, four programs were dedicated to ensuring that none are left behind in the digital revolution: Code Playground is a workshop held at Barclays branches that teaches kids the basics of computer coding, Life Skills provides young people with an in-school and online learning program that helps to develop the skills needed to get jobs in a digital workplace and Fraud Smart gives free help and advice to people who need to keep money secure in a digital world.
Creating fresh brand communication
In June 2014, product-based communication was replaced with a campaign that shined a light on Barclay’s higher purpose initiatives, featuring the four digital driven programs, using real stories from real people. The results were amazing.
From the start of the campaign through early 2016, most key indicators were tracking upwards. In particular, trust was up 33%, emotional connection was up 35% (vs 5% for the category average), the NPS (net promoter score) was up 300%, consideration was up 130%, “easy to deal with” was up 50% and “reassurance that your finances are secure” was up 46%.
New brand purpose yields results
The results of this campaign were dramatically different than the product campaign that preceded it. For example, the new campaign drove 6 times as much trust and 5 times as much consideration. The programs featured in the campaign were positively impacted as well. The Digital Eagles and the Code Playground campaigns, for example, each resulted in well over 120,000 unique visitors to the webpage and received 1.5 million video views (since the campaign these numbers are much higher). The press sentiment had changed from being highly critical, to overwhelmingly positive. By 2015 Barclays received 5,000 positive mentions in the press (including 600 about Life Skills).
Barclays recovered brand trust by forcing a culture change that empowered and inspired employees and yielded higher purpose programs, brought to light with stories about real people. The brand shifted consumer perception by amplifying the stories of real people who were impacted by the programs and altered the conversation by providing a more positive narrative about the brand.
Such an effort does not have to be employee led. For an example of a CEO-led higher purpose program that changed the conversation about a brand, read my book, Aaker on Branding. In the book I share a Walmart CEOs successful effort to become a leader in environmental programs resulting in the article headline: “It’s hard to hate Walmart anymore.”