OPINION16 August 2018

Transforming brand values

News North America Trends

Increasing division in politics and public opinion is having an impact on brand values as changes in Brand Keys’ Customer Loyalty Engagement Index has shown. By Robert Passikoff.


No sentient being can have missed that political polarisation, voter tribalism and more fervent social movements like #Brexit and #MeToo have changed the face of news reporting, family dynamics, and virtually everything in almost every brand sector.

While political polarisation and social activism have raised levels of political debate, they’ve also raised more contentious issues and fuelled social activism. The result? Enormous changes in what consumers really want and equally enormous gaps between the values they want and what brands are seen to be capable of delivering.

The 2018 Brand Keys 23rd annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index® identified new values that are creating unprecedented shifts, particularly in ways that ‘define’ how consumers view categories, compare brands, and how, ultimately, they buy. The buying part serves as a good précis of what research is supposed to reveal.

Brands have always involved themselves in corporate social responsibility (CSR). But generally, CSR never included involvement in politics. We usually advise clients to shun politics. Not because it’s expedient, but because up until now political values have not played a part in how consumers defined brands and sectors.

While marketers should expect value shifts on a regular basis, our 2018 research revealed shifts on a scale not observed in 50 years – since the debates regarding Vietnam, in fact.

The current value transformations created leadership shifts in 60% of the 84 B2C and B2B categories and 761 brands tracked in our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index. There were substantive ranking shifts in 22% of the remaining categories. Consumers, 50,527 of them, 16- to 65-years-old, balanced for gender and political affiliation participated.

Of course, all categories see value shifts, but in this instance some are more sensitive to one set of these transformed values than others. In the best of times market researchers miss more than 40% of values that shape what govern consumer behaviour, usually the emotionally-based values. The survey found that political polarisation and tribalism injected values into categories related to: personal responsibility; moral order; family values; fiscal conservatism; and established social structures.

From a social activism point of view, values that are affecting category dynamics included: empathy, equality, empowerment, individualism, and pride.

The transformation of values, whether driven by political polarisation and tribalism or social Activism, has affected how consumers are engaging with brands. The top five sectors showing largest, overall shifts in category values included: instant messaging; retail; broadcast and cable news; financial services; and social networking.

The top five sectors reacting most to political tribalism values were: broadcast and cable news; financial services; banks/credit cards; automotive; and hotels (luxury).

The transformed values and newly formed values are startling in-and-of-themselves. The fact that brands haven’t dealt with this kind of political polarisation or social turmoil simultaneously for 50 years is particularly noteworthy. Worldwide brand engagement has gravitated from the sphere of rationality to desire, and from the objective to the subjective and into to the realm of psychology.

Values have always been important. But as of now, it’s likely that consumers have an entirely transformed view of the values important to them. And, ultimately, brand success.

Robert Passikoff is founder & president of Brand Keys