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Recession Marketing

Strong Brands And The Fairness Requirement

by

Brand Strategy Branding Bank Of America

One thing consumers believe they have learned for sure from this recession is betrayal. Consumers have concluded that the real trouble came not from those they didn’t trust to begin with, but from the very ones they were relying on to watch their backs. Consumers see, too, that their subsequent efforts to be more responsible are being matched in name only by many of the companies at the center of this crisis.

If consumers could speak with a single voice, there is one thing they would say about all of this: “It’s just not fair.” It’s not fair, they would say, that they were lured into playing a rigged game in real estate and stocks. It’s not fair that they were lulled into a false sense of security about spending and debt. It’s not fair that their suffering has not been shared by those whose actions knocked over the first domino. It’s not fair that they are underwater while others get lifelines. The audacity of it all, they would add.

It’s not that consumers are upset about having played by house rules. They were okay with those long odds. Instead, it’s learning that the house rules were a façade and that the actual rules, hidden from view, were far more unbalanced. As this crisis has unfolded, consumers believe that every new revelation has added yet more proof that the game wasn’t fair because it simply wasn’t played by the rules.

This is a harsh judgment, and perhaps one that goes too far. But it’s how consumers feel, and it is a sensibility that underlies the new decision-making criterion for selecting companies and brands that consumers are bringing to the marketplace – fairness.

Fairness is more than trust. Trust is one aspect of the intangible emotional connection consumers have with brands. Fairness is the tangible way in which consumers are treated. Sometimes they go hand in hand, but not necessarily. This time around, whether or not consumers trust the motives of a brand, they are demanding to be treated fairly. Indeed, fair treatment may not win trust, but without it, brands won’t win any consumers. The keystone of success in the recovery consumer marketplace is fairness.

Consumers want to be treated equitably. They don’t want their interests betrayed by the furtive self-interests of the companies and brands with which they do business. They want an exchange that is true to what it professes to be, and they want companies and brands willing to bear their share of the responsibility and sacrifice.

Brand marketers take notice — service, satisfaction, performance, quality, value and trust continue to be needed but are no longer enough. Now, it takes fairness, too.

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