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Don't Make Brand Promises You Can't Keep!

Some consumers avoid dominant brands in order to prevent the development of monopolies, large companies who are suspected of corporate irresponsibility

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"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." Bill Gates (Microsoft)

"Oh my God! IPL!!! I hate IPL… Oh there are many reasons; It's not cricket, Matches are fixed, owners are involved in betting, players play for money only, it's no longer a gentlemen sport…"

To date, the majority of marketing practitioners have espoused the many positive aspects of branding and brand equity. Consequently, this perspective of brands has resulted in an emphasis on exploring the reasons behind why consumers select brands and how firms can increase brand loyalty. However, equally valid is the idea that some people avoid certain products and brands because of negative associations/ meanings. These negative associations could be due to consumer experience or due to the brands doppelgänger image - a family of disparaging images and stories about a brand that are circulated in popular culture by a loosely organized network of consumers, anti-brand activists, bloggers, and opinion leaders in the news and entertainment media.

Why consumers avoid certain brands?
When consumers trust a brand, it makes them loyal-and when they are loyal, they buy more. The customers do not buy brands they buy peace of mind, save decision making time, feel secure, add value, and express who they are. When customer's expectations with the brand are not met, they tend to avoid the brand. A gap between brand promise and brand offering leads to brand avoidance in the form of experiential, deficit-value, identity, and moral avoidance.

Experiential Avoidance: Undelivered Brand Promises
One potential disadvantage of branding is that if the company is unable to deliver its promise, it leads to a bad experience resulting in a possible consumer backlash. Therefore, by heightening consumer expectations, sometimes a brand may not be doing the right thing. A promise creates expectations. Brands are positioned in consumer's minds, made up of a set of expectations about brand performance post purchase. Promises may be explicit or implicit, and when brand promises are delivered in a way that is consistent with consumer expectations, it encourages repurchase. However, if consumers' actual experiences do not match the brand performance, dissatisfaction may result in brand avoidance.

I ordered Domino's pizza…. delivered in one hour (Domino's claims 30 minute delivery time)….so I have stopped ordering from them.

Identity Avoidance: Symbolically Unappealing Promises
Identity avoidance occurs when consumers perceive certain brands to be inauthentic, or associate certain brands with a negative reference group. Some consumers may also avoid popular brands, believing that the use of such brands conflict their individuality. It is possible for some consumers to perceive that a particular brand usage may not project them in the right way. Consequently, the consumer does not identifies with the brand promise as it might interfere or alter his or her self-concept, as the following participant illustrates:

"It' s just not the way I shop… [Amazon, flipkart]… they don't understand what I wear, my image, cause it's not like I'm going to buy and than try…no way."

Moral Avoidance: Socially Detrimental Promises
Moral avoidance consists of two main reasons for brand avoidance: country effects and anti-hegemony. In terms of country effects, some well-known brands (such as Coke and McDonald's) are iconic representatives of the countries from which they originate. When consumers feel animosity towards a country, sometimes their dislike also transfers to the iconic brand of those countries. In other cases, participants who are financially patriotic may avoid brands that they believe will not contribute to the economic development and well being of their country.

Some consumers avoid dominant brands in order to prevent the development of monopolies, large companies who are suspected of corporate irresponsibility. Typically, only hegemonic and large multi-national companies are held accountable for their actions. The bias against multi-national organizations may be due to their higher visibility, which means they are often vulnerable to a consumer backlash:

"I think that the MNC brands do not care about our health and contribute to the growth of our economy…. they are here to make money at the cost of our local industries. So I buy Patanjali products to a HLL or a Nestle products."

Deficit-Value Avoidance: Functionally Inadequate Promises
The concept deficit-value avoidance occurs when consumers perceive brands as representing an unacceptable cost to benefit trade-off. On the other hand the customer feels that obtaining a product of adequate quality for low cost is a more acceptable trade-off than gaining a high quality product for high cost. Another sub theme within deficit-value avoidance is aesthetic insufficiency. Some consumers consider the look or style of a brand as an indicator of functional value and avoid brands with not so good packaging. Socio-culturally, "what is beautiful is good", this halo effect of attractiveness, lead people to rate attractive brands more favorably for their physical appearances than their functional benefits. Therefore, marketers use attractive packaging and models in their brand communications hoping to connect with consumers.

"Sometimes I feel you pay that much just to get the status… 'Oh it's an iPhone'… the functional benefit will most likely be the same, but what I'm paying is a bomb."

Don't make brand promises you can't keep
Marketers see today's consumer as digital savvy that go in for the best available offer/deal. Brand loyalty, the thinking goes, is vanishing. In response, companies have ramped up their messaging based on consumer's digital touch-points, expecting that the more digital information exposure they provide, the better the chances of hooking on to these increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. But for many consumers, the rising noise of marketing messages isn't empowering-it's overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.

Here's some simple advice for executives and business leaders. Think of your marketing as a level of expectation you're setting for customers. If you set the bar too high and their experience with your products fall short, they will avoid your brand. In a competitive market, that means your market share and profit margins will suffer too. It's good to communicate your brand promise. Just ensure that you do not make promises you're not sure you can keep. Avoid, Brand Avoidance!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Gaurav Sood

The author is a brand communication professional, consultant and educator with two decade practice of creating strong brands

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