The Authenticity of Brand Imperfection

To build a strong, differentiated and purpose driven brand, there must be absolute alignment between what you ‘do’ and what you ‘say’. That is, your brand communications, company behaviour and customer experience must sing in harmony. This brand management 101 but success stories are rare!

The new brand alignment

More than ever, there must also be a degree of correlation with what they do and what they say. ‘They’ of course are all the regular consumers and technical experts out there who take the time to talk about your brand (for either commercial or personal reasons). These sources can be more credible than your own channels.

 like and don't like

like and don't like

But this brand alignment does not mean an aspiration of perfection. Nobody’s perfect (except John Eales!), and likewise no business is perfect either. In the age of conscious capitalism where humanistic brands are thriving, the flaws are expected. What’s most important is the attitude and desire to always do the right thing.

The digital economy has helped to amplify all forms of word of mouth. For example, we know intuitively that online ratings and reviews influence consumer decision making. In September 2015, Northwestern University together with Power Reviews published a report to back up this logical instinct with hard behavioural data.

A 5 star rating isn’t the best

The relationship between a star rating and hard sales is not linear. That is, a higher rating does not necessarily mean a higher likelihood to purchase!

From 1 to 3 stars, the likelihood to purchase a product or service is relatively low and flat across categories. Then there’s a significant jump from a 3 to 4 star rating. The likelihood to purchase peaks with a star rating from 4.2 to 4.5 and then drops as the star rating approaches the ‘perfect 5’.

"So a perfect 5 star rating is not the most desirable! The sweet spot is 4.2 to 4.5 stars."

As counterintuitive as it may seem, ‘negative’ reviews can have a positive impact by helping to establish trust and authenticity. Consumers are increasingly suspicious about brands spruiking ‘5 stars’ as it looks ‘too good to be true’. Consumers understand that a brand is never perfect and can not be all things to all people.

The context is so important

To understand the impact of ratings and reviews on consumer decision making, the context is so important. So too is credibility of the information source.

Firstly, ratings and reviews tend to be more influential for more expensive rather than cheaper products and services. This holds true across and even within the same category (i.e. a premium versus discount brand). So if a consumer is solely driven by price, then ratings and reviews will have much less impact and vice versa.

Secondly, ratings and reviews tend to be more influential where there’s a lower initial likelihood to purchase a brand within a category. For example, this could be a new product or service where there is less information or an existing product or service where there is active consideration (rather than a habitual purchase).

Remember that source credibility is of paramount importance. According to Dean and Biswas 2001, this source credibility is based on expertise (i.e. knowledge) and trustworthiness (i.e. unbiased). With high source credibility, ratings and reviews can help consumers mitigate risk and speed up the process.

Things to think about

So here are a few important things to take into consideration when it comes to what they do and what they say about your brand:

  • Recognise perfection is not what consumers want
  • Embrace and do not sanitise negative reviews
  • Encourage reviews and make it as easy as possible
  • Prioritise for ‘lower likelihood’ products and services

Remember that many expert and / or consumer ratings and reviews will be run by 3rd party independent websites (not just your own channels), so participate selectively but do not manipulate. It’s game over if source credibility is lost. But with the authenticity an imperfect rating of 4.2 to 4.5 stars, it’s well and truly game on!