The ‘S’ in ESG: Reducing the Risk of Marketing Messaging

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ESG initiatives – Environmental, Social, and Governance – are on the rise as corporate priorities. This should be no surprise, as Gen Z consumers flex their purchasing power and influencing muscles. They expect the brands they invest in to match their social values and focus on the environment. Testing advertising and marketing messaging seems like it would be standard operating procedure in today’s ESG-focused, polarized world. Dodging negative consumer sentiment should be one of the top responsibilities of CEOs, CMOs, and Consumer Insights leaders, knowing how easily brand reputation can be destroyed. We have seen debacles by major brands in the past few years which could have been easily averted with some quick, efficient testing. A few that come to mind: Dolce and Gabbana’s social media content faux pas in China, Tiffany’s “Not Your Mother’s Tiffany” campaign, and more recently, Coach for slashing and dumping merchandise and Minnetonka for cultural appropriation.

In-touch brands recognize that avoiding offensive messaging is foundational to effective customer experience management. More every day are turning to digital testing solutions including First Insight’s Risk Alert to tap into the voice of the customer and move forward with confidence with messaging that they know is on-point without crossing the line.

The recent Tiffany’s campaign, the first for them under their new French owners, caused a storm on social media, with many wondering why Tiffany would choose to alienate its core consumer. Business of Fashion noted that the old house codes were not resonating with LVMH’s new target audience for Tiffany, Millennials and Gen Z. It wrote, “The campaign tackles the brand’s strengths and weaknesses head-on: namely that its signature color and links to mid-century pop culture figures like Audrey Hepburn have, for decades, compelled people to buy engagement rings and sterling silver necklaces. But those brand signatures aren’t resonating as strongly with young consumers.”

JCK Online, a jewelry industry trade publication, noted that many of the brand’s consumers were outraged: “…it was difficult to find anyone—on social media at least—who liked the campaign.” So then, the bigger question is, did this advertising campaign hit its mark with Tiffany’s new target consumer? When rebranding an asset as valuable as Tiffany & Co.—which represents the largest deal ever in the luxury world—shouldn’t that question be answered before launching the campaign? Deliberately provocative messaging will create a lot of publicity, but perhaps is not worthwhile if the messaging doesn’t speak to the intended audience while also alienating your core consumer.

Coach was also recently caught slashing and destroying unsold returned stock. Although Coach stated it will stop destroying “damaged and unsaleable” bags, demand for Coach fell by 44 percent. According to Fashion United, searches for ‘Coach bags’ also dropped 49 percent compared to the previous 24 hours.

The bottom line: all brands, even luxury brands, need to be more customer-centric. The luxury world has always been about the brand itself, wanting to appeal only to the “right” clientele. Today’s young consumers demand a more personal experience from brands, while also insisting that these brands share their worldview. Listening to the voice of this new consumer will be the only way any brand, from luxury to mass market, will capture and keep consumers coming back.

Getting consumer input to understand the response a brand’s audience will have before launching is just one of many reasons to test products and campaigns in advance, whether branded or anonymously. It’s vitally important that companies live up to and stand by the promises they make to consumers. Brands must understand their risk profile before launching items and campaigns because in today’s hyperconnected world, centuries-old stellar brand reputations can be destroyed in a heartbeat. Other reasons are to answer questions including: Does it resonate with your target audience? Is the product right? Does it offend your core audience? Is there a better tagline that works across both audiences for the purpose you’re trying to achieve? As brand stewards, CEOs, heads of Consumer Insights, and CMOs must advocate for the advance work required to assess the risk.

Consumer testing will always mitigate risks, both known and unknown. Cultural nuances and sensitivities become big news when disregarded. Reputational damage is a far worse outcome than money lost on a scrapped product or campaign, but both can be avoided simply by listening to the Voice of the Customer. After all, it costs far less to check in with your consumers and target audience first than it does to try to win them back.

retail  Retail Marketing Best Practices  Luxury Retail  digital product testing  marketing  Risky Product Alert  risk alert  ESG