That is the conclusion of a new study, entitled Brands in Motion, which identifies four "realities" that brands should recognise when they explore consumer perceptions.
WE Communications worked with polling firm YouGov to produce the report, which based its findings on responses from consumers and B2B decision-makers in the UK, US and China.
Some 4,500 consumers and 1,000 B2B decision-makers in each country were asked to rate 30 brands across eight categories, with questions focused on a series of rational and emotional drivers, such as innovation and quality (rational) and customer experience and shared values (emotional).
According to WE, four "realities" provide actionable insight – stability, being cutting edge, the importance of social value, and the love-hate relationship consumers can have with brands.
Specifically, the research found that a high proportion of consumers believe brands can offer stability in uncertain times. Almost two-thirds (62%) of Chinese consumers hold this view, more than their counterparts in the US (48%) and UK (42%).
Secondly, brands seen as "cutting edge" are more likely to be viewed as working for the common good as well as being a pleasure to do business with.
Consumers also want brands to take an active position on social issues – what the report describes as the "Unilever effect" – and half or more across all three markets want brands to balance their products and services with providing social value.
The fourth reality concerns the love-hate relationship consumers have with brands. Of the eight industry categories assessed in each of the three regions, two-thirds of consumers said they loved that industry, but 90% of them said they would shame a brand if it stepped out of line.
Based on these four realities, WE also developed a "motion matrix" to help brands keep track of the rational and emotional drivers that affect consumer choices and perceptions.
Mapped across four quadrants, WE's motion matrix identifies brands as being either "Movers", "Defenders", "Agitators" or "Survivors".
Mover brands are described as scoring highly for both emotional and rational drivers, while Defender brands are high in rational but low in emotional, meaning they should try to engage customers more.
Agitator brands have high emotional connections with consumers, but need to prove everyday benefit to improve on their low rational score.
Finally, Survivor brands have both low emotional and rational scores, which means they risk becoming irrelevant unless they act fast to do something different.
"At its core, brand positioning is a flawed construct," said Alan VanderMolen, International President of WE Communications. "Brands need to understand and capitalise on the forces of motion around them and turn that into momentum. The Motion Matrix gives them a way to do that."
Data sourced from WE Communications, additional content by WARC staff