In a recent survey conducted by Clutch, a B2B research firm based in Washington, DC, three brands (United Airlines, Pepsi, and Uber) were analyzed to determine the relationship between PR crises and brand reputation. Clutch interviewed me to comment on the survey findings and to offer my opinion about how trust plays a significant role in maintaining brand reputation.
Clutch’s survey of 500 consumers in the U.S. asked respondents to indicate their willingness to purchase products or services from United Airlines, Pepsi, and Uber before, immediately after, and seven months after each brand underwent a severe PR crisis.
For each company, consumers’ willingness to buy from the brands declined immediately after witnessing the PR events. The decline in consumer perceptions, however, was less severe depending on the response each company had to the PR crises.
For example, after witnessing the forced removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight, consumers’ willingness to buy flights from United dropped from 67% to 42%. Seven months later, United’s brand recovered slightly, with 53% of consumers saying they would be willing to buy from United having “moved on” from the PR crisis.
Still, United could not recover its consumer base completely because the company’s PR response rate was slow. After waiting several weeks to respond to the event, United Airlines’ CEO then apologized which was considered insincere by consumers, Clutch reports.
My take on this was that “Airlines always fall into a unique category with regard to how people perceive them. Consumers love to hate airlines because most of them seem to be doing something that’s usually in their favor and not in yours.”
In the event of United’s PR crisis, consumers were certainly aware of the airline’s lack of interest in the safety of its passengers, damaging United’s brand reputation.
Pepsi presents a different account of how a brand can maintain its reputation in response to a PR crisis. After issuing an insensitive commercial featuring Kendall Jenner, Pepsi quickly received backlash from consumers for the marketing fail.
Still, consumers’ willingness to buy Pepsi products immediately after viewing the commercial only dropped from 56% to 55%. Clutch accredits the minimal decline in consumers’ perceptions to the immediate response Pepsi had to the PR crisis: Pepsi apologized immediately, was sincere in its message, and took down the commercial.
I pointed to the type of product Pepsi sells as a reason for why consumers were able to stay loyal to the Pepsi brand. “Pepsi is a lifestyle brand. Because of this, consumers are rarely in situations where Pepsi’s products are so dramatically shaping or impacting their lives that any PR crisis will have a significant impact on their lifestyle and identity.”
Because Pepsi products are inexpensive, any PR crises the brand undergoes will not significantly disrupt consumers as they go about their day-to-day lives.
As a young company in the tech scene, Uber faces the greatest threat to damaging its long-term brand reputation because the company hasn’t had enough time to develop in its market and build a solid consumer following.
What I shared was, “Uber is a technology brand that has the potential to impact our lives every single day. But being as ‘young’ as they are, they haven’t established a strong bank account of trust. As quickly as they rise, they can fall just as quickly.”
And fall they did. After witnessing Uber’s negative coverage in the news on multiple accounts of fraud, sexual assault, and general misbehavior, consumers’ willingness to ride with Uber dropped from 60% to 47%.
In the event of United Airlines, Pepsi, and Uber’s PR crises, consumers lost their willingness to invest money in each brand because they also lost a sense of trust and loyalty in each company.
So my overall point to Clutch was that “Trust is one of those foundational, cultural systems that has a huge impact on a brand’s long-term longevity.”
Withstanding a PR crisis almost entirely relies on the trust consumers have in your company. To have consumers lose that trust in your brand also means that they will lose their sense of loyalty, posing a giant threat to long-term brand reputation.
To avoid a crisis from becoming a long-term disaster for your brand, Clutch points to the importance of having a solid PR team on board to be ready for any and all circumstances.
For more of my insight and to read the full report, please visit: https://clutch.co/pr-firms/resources/how-pr-crises-impact-brand-reputation