The Warc Blog

The Warc Blog

It’s A Capital Mistake To Theorize Before One Has Data. And Sometimes When You Do!
Robert Passikoff, President, Brand Keys, Inc
Robert Passikoff

The first part of today’s blog title comes courtesy of Sherlock Holmes. The second part comes from Brand Keys. We’ve been warning clients for years about the enormous difference between what consumers think and what they say they think, because today, just asking them isn’t enough. Consumers are smart. And clever, And complex. Very, very complex. Decision-making is more emotionally-based than rational, and you need to be attentive to the difference when you ask the questions, or you end up paying for that mistake by ending up with erroneous theories. You know, excellent answers to meaningless questions.

For example, about a month ago when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded our Brand Keys metrics predicted the negative change in consumer loyalty and engagement to the brand. This was via our predictive fusion of emotional and rational assessments, and the finding that the BP brand moved from #1 to last in the loyalty rankings. We predicted that move would significantly harm BP’s bottom line. Moves like that always do. And yet other’s data didn’t quite line up with that.

YouGov’s BrandIndex polls 5,000 consumersdaily about brand preferences and provides rational brand insights. They didn’t believe BP would suffer at the pump.In fact, YouGov’s data showsthat consumers’ general impression of BP was still positive.

The “Chief Ideonista” at Ideon, thought that enduring faithwas a sign that BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” campaign equity would protect in acrisis. Their assumption was that there was still a reservoir of consumer goodwill left for the BP brand. Perhaps, someone should have pointed out that those reserves had already been burned up. The Ideonistas either forgot or didn’t factor in any measures of enduring faith erosion related to BP’s Alaskan pipeline leak or the Texas refinery explosion that killed 15 people. Faith may reflect confidence, but it doesn’t always reflect reality.

But here’s one brand reality: if you talk the talk, you can’t blow up an oilrig, be unable to stop the leak, and still expect consumers to have “faith” in the brand’s positioning that they “support” the environment. Saying it, doing it, and doing it believably are three entirely different things. Especially when face validity comes in the form of killing off fragile eco-systems, marine and wildlife, as well as decimating livelihoods.

We’re the first to acknowledge that retail sales make up only a fraction of BP's revenue, but pump boycotts – and the attendant bad PR – are likely to undermine the brand more than the immediate bottom line.And while loyal customers are willing to give a brand the benefit of the doubt (6 times more), that pool of forgiveness is not a bottomless well. And consumer emotions (remember the emotional aspects you need to factor in?) lean much more towards oil-coated pelicans than green-and-yellow sun logos. Researchers can disagree about the brand insights from their data, but it’s always the bottom line that’s the ultimate arbitrator of whether the insights were right or wrong.

Last week BP shares nosedived. BP stock dropped 16%, the worst it has been since the drilling rig exploded setting off the oil spill. In seven weeks the company has lost half its market value, or about $100 billion. BP is now valued less than its assets. Laments, lawsuits and restrictive legislation abound. And while not currently at risk of bankruptcy, the crisis could turn BP into a takeover target. And then the brand and its once-sunny logo will sink quickly into an oil-slicked sunset.

And – it will come as no surprise – BP is still ranked last in our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index.

The brand loyalty bottom line: If you’re an oil company, avoid blowing up oilrigs. And if you do, get the brand insights right. Or the wrong insights will get your brand.

Subjects: Consumers, Brands, Marketing

15 June 2010 19:54

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