‘Well-intentioned’ brands receive more product-harm incident reports

Brands perceived as caring and friendly receive more reports after product incidents. However, instead of vengeful complaints, consumers report more helpful feedback so the brand can fix the problem, finds new research from UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.

Anshu Suri, Assistant Professor of Marketing from UCD Smurfit School, alongside colleagues from Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University and Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, analysed reports of harm incidents by car owners and found that a 1% increase in brand warmth is associated with a 27% increase in the number of reports a car brand receives after an incident.

Further analysis shows that a 1% increase in brand warmth is associated with a 4% increase in helpful feedback compared to complaints. Since the feedback aims to provide information to help the brand solve the problem, such reporting is for a “good” reason.

A brand can cultivate a warm brand personality by demonstrating responsibility and care, often through investing in societal and environmental initiatives, such as when ownership of Patagonia was transferred to a non-profit focused on combatting climate change. Brand warmth perception is particularly relevant following a product-harm incident where products fail to meet certain safety standards or contain a defect that could cause harm to consumers.

Further study suggests brand warmth induces consumer benevolence. Prof Suri says, “In the wake of a product-harm incident, a consumer will experience benevolence towards a warm brand, which drives them toward providing feedback and away from complaining. This is a consumer’s sincere concern for a brand’s interests and motivation to do good for the brand.”

Researchers also investigated brands responding to consumer reports. Their findings show that if managers of a warm brand acknowledge consumers’ motives to give helpful feedback, this enhances consumer satisfaction.

These findings suggest managers should invest in developing a warm brand personality as this will encourage consumers to give helpful feedback about a negative situation. Brands that do not invest in cultivating a warm brand personality suffer after a negative incident, as consumers intend to punish the brand by complaining against them.

These findings were first published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.

Featured Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash.

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