Consumers don’t expect brands to be flawless. In fact, consumers will embrace brands that are FLAWSOME*: brands that are still brilliant despite having flaws; even being flawed (and being open about it) can be awesome. Brands that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humor, and (dare we say it) some character and humanity.
Two key drivers are fueling the FLAWSOME trend: HUMAN BRANDS: Everything from disgust at business to the influence of online culture (with its honesty and immediacy), is driving consumers away from bland, boring brands in favor of brands with some personality. TRANSPARENCY TRIUMPH: Consumers are benefiting from almost total and utter transparency (and thus are finding out about flaws anyway), as a result of the torrent of readily available reviews, leaks and ratings.
So, while HUMAN BRANDS might not be a ‘new’ theme, four currents are now converging to make consumers more focused on brand attitude and behavior than ever before: “human nature dictates that people have a hard time genuinely connecting with, being close to, or really trusting other humans who (pretend to) have no weaknesses, flaws, or mistakes”. Consumers’ disillusionment at corporate behavior has (finally) spilled over into outright disgust. As a result, any brand that can show business in a new light will be (deservedly) welcomed with open arms. Nearly 85% of consumers worldwide expect companies to become actively involved in promoting individual and collective wellbeing; an increase of 15% from 2010 (Source: Havas Media, November 2011). Yet only 28% of people think that companies are working hard to solve the big social and environmental challenges (Source: Havas Media, November 2011). Consumers are more and more aware that personality and profit can be compatible (think Zappos, Patagonia, Tom’s, Ben & Jerry’s, Michel et Augustin, Zalando and more). With every business that succeeds while remaining reasonable, helpful, fun or even somewhat ‘human’, consumers will become increasingly disenchanted when dealing with traditional, boring, impersonal brands. Most people would not care if 70% of brands ceased to exist (Source: Havas Media, November 2011). Online culture is the culture, and inflexible, bland ‘corporate’ façades jar with consumers who live online where communication is immediate, open and raw (also see MATURIALISM). What’s more, people openly broadcast and share their lives online – flaws and all – and thus brands are increasingly expected to do the same. Last but not least: human nature dictates that people have a hard time genuinely connecting with, being close to, or really trusting other humans who (pretend to) have no weaknesses, flaws, or mistakes – don’t assume brands are any different.
Alongside this craving for personality sits a deluge of reviews, remarks, ratings, reports, leaks and so on. We discussed TRANSPARENCY TRIUMPH way back in 2009; three years later, consumers can benefit from near-total transparency.
And ‘transparency’ will continue to be one of the key ‘big business themes’: from frictionless sharing by individuals to the visualization of previously invisible data (see our DIY HEALTH trend), to the forced transparency that the Wikileaks of this world brought to governments, brands, institutions and individuals. Prepare for a world in which everything (attitudes, prices, quality, behavior) will be completely accessible and therefore potentially outed as ‘flawed’. So, with consumers likely to find out everything about your products, services and activities anyway, you have no option but to embrace if not celebrate them, flaws and all.
Two things to bear in mind: Flawlessness is an illusion, and indeed a harmful one. Isolated negative reviews don’t kill brands. In fact, the opposite applies: people’s trust in positive reviews appearing alongside them increases. Consumers aren’t stupid: they know that no products will satisfy everyone all of the time.
Some stats: 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores, while 30% suspect censorship or faked reviews if their aren’t any negative comments or reviews (Source: Reevoo.com, January 2012). Shoppers who go out of their way to read bad reviews convert 67% more than the average consumer (Source: Reevoo.com, January 2012). Things will go wrong. While consumers have never been able to complain more vociferously, brands too can react and respond. If handled well, even flaws can be made FLAWSOME, and reputations mended if not made. 76% of people who complained on Twitter received no response from the brand. But among those who were contacted, 83% liked or loved that the brand responded, and 85% were satisfied with the response (Source: Maritz Research, September 2011).
And of course, FLAWSOME is also about companies opening up the way their customers have already opened up online. Introduce beta, not-yet-perfect products and services*, and rely on the crowds for feedback and advice.
* We’re not advocating launching sub-standard products, but many brands could learn lessons from the software industry and their ‘beta’ approach. Customers will of course often appreciate and even enjoy helping you improve.