Attitude and trust in communication. Five strategic risks and opportunities for brands

Imagine: Cinemaxx boycotted all the films of the Weinstein Company since the beginning of the #metoo debate.

Shell petrol stations inform at the pump that Germany has used up its ecological footprint. They grant discounts for carpooling and support co-operation with carsharing services.

Invented scenarios.

Actually done: Gerken takes off his rental lifts from the Hambacher Forst. Edeka symbolically clears the shelves for all goods purchased from “foreign countries”. Immobilienscout24 will be with #bautwasgesuchtwird at the residential summit (“Wohngipfel”) in Berlin.

For Meike Leopold of Start Talking an occasion of many, to initiate the blog parade on the topic of attitude in communication: fake or true trend? An important topic that I like to pick up. For all the enthusiasm for the opportunities, it is worth taking a look at possible risks.

Trust me

Brands have to do more today than constant product quality. They need values. Saturated markets and almost interchangeable product features fuel the search for differentiating characteristics. An overflowing flood of information and altered preferences of Gen Y do the rest. After charging with emotion now meaning – based on values that allow attitude.

Marc O. Eckert, Bulthaup Managing Director said in an interview in 2014 with the magazine Hohe Luft:

“Products are always the result of a conviction, an attitude. And this attitude always springs from values. In that sense, it’s the values that make the company first.”(1)

In 2015, the Brands ahead study analyzed the sustainability of brands and defined six main drivers. Three years later, recommendation Number Six seems to be “Attitude Vs. Function. Value proposition supplements performance promises” arrived fully in everyday marketing.

Just save the world?

In the context of brand management, attitude is a demanding strategic task – in any case unsuitable for patent recipes for the purpose of favorable PR or trend-conscious brand strengthening. Incidentally, this does not only apply to explicitly political attitudes, but also environmental, climate or socio-political positioning can be promising at first glance, but tricky on the second.

Attitude requires systemic quality

Strategically speaking, Meaningful Natives like Greenpeace or Basic are easier to do than Meaninful Immigrants. Nevertheless, the retrograde charging with attitude is in principle possible. Only: Anyone who wants to recharge their brand – as it were uncoupled from organization and corporate culture – socially, environmentally or otherwise politically risks much. Dangers do not arise only at the level of the attitude-pointing product mark itself.

1. Entrepreneurial credibility

Diversity sounds good. However, those who swing the colorful Diversity flag, but prevents Equal Pay in their own company, has little convincing, not only among well-educated female junior staff. Sexual discrimination is considered backward. In more than 70 countries around the world, however, conflicts with national legislation lurk as long as the company promotes this as a cultural advantage. Organizational stringency is anything but trivial and can affect both employer branding and international business relationships. Showing attitude in climate protection seems relatively easy, but it is by no means. Especially not for energy-intensive industries. We still expect stringency. If the product’s production, packaging and logistics are climate-conscious, then why not set an example for the board’s electric fleet, for public transport instead of gas vouchers or fair instead of non-fair trade coffee?


2. Public denunciation

Activists and influencers watch in their watch blogs very closely the actual status of the well-worded commitment. Logically, that they praise or complain about their findings via Twitter, Facebook, etc. In 2017, analyzed the discrepancy between announced goals and contrarian lobbying among 250 large companies. Apple, Unilever and IKEA were considered to be exemplary in political support for the Paris climate protection goals, but 35 of the 50 most influential large companies actively lobbied against the climate targets, according to the observers “companies in the fossil fuel value chain (ExxonMobil, Valero Energy, Chevron), energy intensive companies (BASF, ArcelorMittal, Bayer, Dow Chemical and Solvay) and electric utilities with large amounts of coal-producing capacity (Southern Company, Duke Energy and American Electric Power) and four powerful automotive manufacturers (Fiat Chrysler, Ford, BMW and Daimler ). ”


3. Portfolio disagreement

Mono brand manufacturers have less difficulties with consistent attitude. In companies with a wide range of products, and in addition from different sectors, attitude in systemic consequence can be unpleasant. It could be that brands (or divisions) no longer fit the portfolio, because they are no longer compliant.


4. Revenue losses

Showing attitude can influence the economic outcome. Negative, for example, if one consciously renounces a margin, because the principle of attitude could suffer. Example: fair pricing. A study shows that women are not only affected by hygiene articles: they also pay more for laptop bags, hairdresser visits or textile cleaning. In 2015/16, the Hamburg consumer center analyzed that disposable razors for women are around 7% more expensive than comparable products for men. All a question of quantity? The gender pricing gap is further explosive due to questionable taxation. Everyday hygiene items such as tampons are subject to a luxury tax in some countries. Fair? For the politicians and activists in Germany and Austria not – they started petitions. It was reported in all media coverage, also in the digital magazine Bento or in the BR transmitter Puls – media addressed to young target groups. In the US, the online drugstore retailer Boxed occupies the subject with the #RethinkPink Movement. Clear statement of the male CEO Chieh Huang: “We take a stand here.” Also Impulse blogger Franziska Pörschmannreminds that attitude can cost a little. Thus, the English company LONSDALE had to accept up to 75% sales losses when it was active in 2004 against right-wing extremism.


5. Implementation difficulties

The example compliance teaches how hard it can be to show an attitude. And that, although in this case it is even lawful. The entrepreneurial reality is complex. Thus, the most beautiful rules communicated to case studies can brutally fail in reality: be it that the culture of the company permits gray areas or structurally promotes the diffusion of responsibility, or that employees simply refuse for personal reasons. Context plays a not insignificant role here.(2) The fact that employees behave in compliance with the law can at least be lamented by the company. Attitude-conforming behavior, however, can at best desire and promote it. When management shows its attitude, it does not automatically create the right practice. Want to say: A CEO statement against racism does not automatically lead to better integration of foreign skilled workers in the company, but they are the first steps that need to be followed by others. Attitude also needs to be understood, practiced, lived and, ideally, endorsed. Employees with a similar understanding of values facilitate implementation. But attitude also touches personal freedom.


Attitude – good for watching, good for business?

Does attitude provide more than a temporary image boost? Anyone who knows how strongly image values affect purchasing decisions evaluates that, more than ‘not at all low. Where risks lurk, there are known opportunities. These are:

1. Business credibility

2. Public recognition

3. Portfolio credibility

4. Profit increase

5. Identification

Scientific evidence that determine the economic benefit of keeping clean, pending. Concrete examples already exist. Example Ariel: With the question “Is laundry only a woman’s job?” And the associated action #sharetheload the brand Ariel even achieved an increase in sales by 60%. Men all over the world posted photos of themselves doing laundry as a sign of their support in sharing the burden.

The proverbial question is: what weighs harder? The economic or the ideal profit? With well-made communication with attitude both equally.

(1) Dominic Veken: Der Sinn des Unternehmens. Wofür arbeiten wir eigentlich? Hamburg 2015, S.29

(2) Tanja Rabl: Do contextual factors matter? An investigation of ethical judgement of corruption acts. In: Zeitschrift für Betriebswirtschaft (ZfB). Special Issue 6/2012, hrsg. von Thomas Wrona und Hans-Ulrich Küpper, S. 5-32

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