Ipsos Corporate Reputation

Global Vs Local

Local relevance is climbing the corporate agenda for global businesses and reputation management has a vital role to play in getting the global versus local balance right.

Globalisation and the growth of the digital economy make it increasingly important for businesses to understand cultural norms, customer expectations and regulatory views across every market.
Conversely, as the media, political pressure groups, and investors have become global, local incidents can now quickly escalate into global reputation crises.
Reputation Council members are clear that the balance between local market needs and global strategy requires experimentation and analysis, as well as evidence-based trust.

In 1983 Theodore Levitt published his classic treatise ‘The Globalisation of Markets’ in Harvard Business Review. His central contention was that advances in communications and technology were leading to a more homogenous world, indeed, a world where uniformity in consumer tastes would increase and global brands would flourish by delivering the same proposition and experience – regardless of location.

Reality seemed to support Levitt’s contention as companies such as McDonalds, Levi’s, Toyota and Panasonic exported standardised products (and marketing campaigns) around the world. The concept of the ‘global consumer’ was in the ascendancy and businesses aligned their organisational structures accordingly. Decision-making became centralised with the focus on global business units rather than individual countries.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the same principles permeated global reputation management: The idea that an organisation and what it stands for should be consistently expressed regardless of the location and cultural context. Ideas such as vision, purpose and core values were seen as essential truths that underpinned the corporate reason for being. They needed little in the way of adaptation to local needs or sensitivities and were at their best when unadulterated.

This doctrine held true for a number of years but became increasingly questioned with the emergence of fast-growing economies such as China and India, which spawned increasingly powerful local competitors. Consumers no longer needed to default to global brands as local companies were producing products and services that were catching up in quality and brand appeal. It became apparent that local relevance was climbing the corporate agenda for global businesses and that reputation management had a vital role to play in getting the global versus local balance right.

It’s in this context that we decided to ask our Reputation Council members from around the world to share their thinking with us in this area. Our findings fell under a number of clear themes: authenticity; measurement; autonomy; and digital and social media.

Authenticity

In an environment of increased scrutiny of global corporates in domestic markets, corporate communicators report the growing importance of translating global strategy into authentic localised outputs.

To do this effectively, corporate communicators must have a deep and evidence-based understanding of both the role of localism in driving reputation in the domestic market and local stakeholders’ expectations of the corporate entity, and then be empowered to turn broad global strategies into effective domestic communication plans, backed up by meaningful practical demonstrations of the entity’s commitment to the local market.

In addressing this challenge, many Council members referred to one of the bedrocks of good reputation management: authenticity. It emerged that if an organisation has done the groundwork in developing and embedding a strong corporate brand strategy internally, it will be well positioned to apply a specific market or stakeholder lens to this strategy to develop and tailor external communications that are authentic. That is, they’re true to the master strategy and relevant to specific markets or stakeholder groups, and will not put the business in a position where it is communicating in one market or with one stakeholder group in a way that compromises it with another.

"The stakeholders in each market whose views make up your reputation are shaped by their cultural, historical, political and market differences. There is a culture in every country that is different, no matter what global strategy you’re trying to deploy."
"Stakeholders don’t expect you to be a global brand, they expect you to be a local brand. When they interact with us, they interact in the local context."
"We have to operate with sufficient consistency so that we bring the same value set and value proposition wherever we operate around the world. We have to do this whilst also knowing that different audiences care about different things and therefore expect different things from you. We must appreciate this balance, else we risk not being authentic."
of Council members working in multinational companies analyse perceptions of their sector or business across different countries.
Measurement

As barriers to global business continue to diminish and the world becomes smaller, many businesses find themselves in new markets and new regions, managing different cultural norms, customer expectations and regulations. It’s normal in these situations to wonder why a company’s reputation varies by market, much as a reputation may vary by stakeholder audience. The majority of Council members we spoke with recognise this complex environment and understand that it’s nearly impossible to have a consistent, unified reputation across markets.

"It’s impossible. A general theme could come through, but it’s different at the local level. You can create a general belief about an organisation, but not a unified reputation across markets."

Within this context, most global communicators and marketers aim to develop a consistent global positioning strategy and framework that has the flexibility to be tailored to local markets, and also strive to demonstrate a long-term commitment to the local markets where they operate.

"It’s critical to understand reputation by market and have an umbrella narrative globally but understand that different markets, different cohorts and different subgroups are going to require pushes and pulls that are nuanced in the messaging. That will always be the case. Unless you have that diversified approach, you’re likely to fail at a global approach. The more global we get, the more local we get."

Additionally, this localisation of messaging and communications within the broader global context requires strong teams and partners on the ground.

"You need respect for regional and country communicators. They know the local market better than anyone else. Companies should be listening from the bottom up, not the top down."

Nearly all the Council members interviewed indicate that they evaluate their company’s reputation globally to provide the insight necessary to tailor their strategies and understand how to prioritise messaging and communications to local markets and various stakeholders. In many instances, this reputation measurement informs everything these companies do – programme prioritisation, partnerships, key messaging, stakeholder prioritisation, resource allocation, etc.

"It helps you to invest where it’s needed, but also get ahead of pushback. Research is a guiding tool for resource allocation and to measure the success of programmes."

Reputation measurement plays a critical role in the long-term strategy for local markets, and in the words of one of our Council members:

"You can’t improve what you don’t measure."
Autonomy

Our research suggests that tailoring corporate communication to local markets has become more important in recent years. Council respondents point out that it is vital to find a balance between local market needs and corporate-level strategy. The alignment builds on continuous exchange and relationships of trust.

The paradox is that the media, political pressure groups and investors have become global, but it is precisely this global perspective that has made local reputation problems more urgent. Today, a local reputation issue has the potential to grow into a global reputation crisis. On the flipside, communication tools on hand today have also made it easier to tailor global strategies to local particularities.

Mixing global and local communication strategies brings different points of view to the table. The way businesses talk to clients or organise a campaign and the images they use to build a corporate brand differ greatly between Saudi Arabia, China and Sweden. What matters depends on local cultural values, including religion. It is this broader context that needs to be considered when building communication strategies. Blending local and global communication can be a source of refreshing innovation.

Council members agree that the balance between global communication objectives and local needs has got to be right. Companies experimented with a spectrum ranging from totally autonomous local to totally centralised global communication strategies. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Whilst global narratives set the broad framework of a strategy, alignment with local needs is important. Both ought to be interlocked. Continuous exchange with local communication experts is necessary to achieve this. Local communicators should have a degree of autonomy, because they are the ones with robust knowledge of their local communication landscape. This autonomy presupposes trust in the vernacular expertise of communication teams on the ground.

"There are also questions of internal governance: What is the relationship between the holding company and its local market branches? How much autonomy do you grant local communicators? How far can this be, or should this be, controlled centrally?"
"On the corporate level, we must understand that it is very well possible for a local reputation issue to grow into an existential global reputation crisis. A system must be in place that allows communicators to allocate resources and to react with precision on the ground."
Digital and social media

For global businesses, digital and social media have dramatically increased public scrutiny of local operations. What may once have been considered local incidents can now quickly escalate into global reputation crises. At the same time, connecting with local consumers and stakeholders increasingly requires tailored engagement at a local level.

The challenge for global businesses is therefore a simple, if paradoxical, one: to build a reputation that is globally consistent and at the same time locally relevant.

"The growth in digital media in the last 20 years does mean that being able to segregate reputation by geography is not really tenable."

In last year’s Reputation Council report, we discussed how equity flows between corporate and product brands, offering both opportunities and threats to corporate communicators. The same principle applies to reputational equity flow between regions. And this flow has been accelerated by the growth of digital media, which has collapsed the barriers to information flowing between regions. In this environment, inconsistency of positioning or behaviour between regions becomes a threat to global businesses.

Reputation Council members stress the importance, therefore, of establishing a principle or framework that anchors corporate behaviour and messaging globally. This is the role of the corporate brand. As described in Ipsos’s white paper, ‘Brand Purpose: What’s the point of you?’, part of the purpose of brand positioning is to act as the “guardrails for communication.”

Final thoughts

It’s clear that the world has indeed changed since Theodore Levitt mused on the role of the global brand over 35 years ago. Global marketing and communications are no longer homogenous; we now live in a world where brands and reputations are seen through the prism of local market needs and expectations.

Council members clearly recognise this change and are working with CEOs and other members of the senior leadership team to implement communication and business strategies that achieve the right balance between globally consistent and locally relevant messaging.

However, given the rise of connected and savvy stakeholders, it is imperative that such strategies are built on the pillars of:

  • Authenticity – behaviour is aligned to communications
  • Autonomy – power is devolved wherever possible
  • Digital and social media – understanding their role in breaking down barriers
  • Measurement – objective assessment of progress

Methodology: 154 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between 25th June and 12th November 2018.

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Reputation on the rise: Safeguarding your brand reputation through investment in cyber security

There is a difference, it seems, between knowing something and really knowing something. As a professional of 15 years’ experience in the brand reputation space there are a number of issues that I have to talk to clients about again and again, where it is clear that the people I am speaking to know, and largely agree with, what I am saying… but then either fail to take the appropriate action or come back and ask the same question a year or so later. There are a number of these issues; whether general public marketing affects the opinions of politicians is one, as are questions about how to improve trust.

One that is perhaps less obvious a question is the importance of cyber security to reputation. However, it is a topic that has come up frequently over the years, both from clients asking about it through to Ipsos writing articles and thought pieces on the subject. Myself and colleagues wrote about the cybercrime threat to reputation back in 2016 and 2017, and warned that businesses were perhaps overconfident and underprepared for the risks posed by cybercrime in both 2018 and 2019.

Nevertheless, we still got the sense that despite our clients knowing that cybersecurity is a potential threat to their hard-worn corporate reputation, they somehow didn’t really take it seriously. I get that IT is less sexy than marketing and events when it comes to reputation management, but it is certainly as important. Losing data on a large scale strikes a blow against any company’s ability to portray themselves as competent, well managed or trustworthy.

Nearly 9 in 10 senior industry leaders invest in cyber security to protect the reputation of the companies they work for. It’s high time you joined them.

Bearing all this in mind, I was enthused to see data in Ipsos’s 2020 Captains of Industry survey that seems to indicate senior business leaders are not only cognizant that cybersecurity is important from an operational perspective but also from the point of view of reputation management.

When asked directly to give the main reasons for investing in cybersecurity, nearly nine in ten Captains of Industry said that it was “to protect our reputation”, with 30% saying that it was the most important reason. Only business continuity was more important. This is a huge endorsement of cybersecurity as a reputational shield, and one that is being embraced by business leaders themselves rather than being forced upon them by shareholders or customer demand (the more traditional triggers for investment in cybersecurity).

Given the importance of reputation – it is now the third ranked factor that Captains of Industry look for when judging an organisation – the way cybersecurity is being directly linked to reputation is huge positive and suggests that business leaders (and my clients) are beginning to understand its importance. I would even go further and suggest that cybersecurity not only protects a firm’s reputation, but it also safeguards its financial performance and perceptions of the quality of its management, the top two factors listed by Captains of Industry when judging a company or organisation.

While I am under no illusion that questions about the importance of cybersecurity to reputation are going to go away, hopefully these results indicate that we have reached a tipping point and that soon cybersecurity will take its place alongside the other recognised and respected tools of reputation and brand managers.

For more information please contact:

Carl Phillips
Director & Global Stakeholder Research Lead
Corporate Reputation,
Technology Sector

Carl.Phillips@ipsos.com

Fashion Victims: The Losers in the Fast Fashion Race

What can comms. leaders learn from the challenges facing companies in the fashion Industry?

The fashion industry has been under the spotlight recently for all the wrong reasons. The industry is going through a period of rapid change, brands and retailers are increasingly exposed to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues in their supply chains, resulting in an intensified threat to reputation. Just last summer Boohoo was caught up in allegations around poor working conditions and allegations of paying employees in their supply chain below the minimum wage.

The restrictions imposed on consumer life throughout the COVID pandemic have acted as a rare speed bump on an industry that has otherwise been evolving unabated at a frightening pace. Ipsos Sustainability Monitor (SBM) 2020 data reveals that over half of consumers (55%) are buying less clothing than they were pre-pandemic. With the world on pause we ask what’s next for the fashion industry? How do brands best navigate these issues? How engaged are consumers in these issues? And what can comms leaders, across all industries, learn from the challenges being faced by the fashion industry?

Fast Fashion: a quick overview

Fast Fashion: “Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”

Since the late 90s, globalisation has opened-up Western markets to cheaper labour in the East. Cheaper clothing and ever shortening fashion cycles (including the development of the weekly ‘micro season’) means that clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, while the average number of garments purchased by the average Western consumer increased by 60% (McKinsey).[1]

Fast fashion is fuelled by celebrity culture, fads and the 24/7 nature of social media. SBM 2020 data shows that three-quarters of consumers agree that clothing and fashion are becoming cheaper and more throw-away in nature. And while just 14% of consumers say they feel under increased pressure to keep up with the latest trends and fashion, this rises to 24% among the youngest group (18-34 year olds). The fashion industry (and fast fashion in particular) are associated with serious ESG issues, outlined below.

Figure A) ESG issues typically associated with fast fashion (and the wider clothing industry)

  • Environmental issues: The fashion industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to be the second largest polluter in the world, after the oil industry (UN)[2]
  • Social issues: Forced/ slave labour, child labour, dangerous working condition… The Clean Clothes campaign reports wages in Eastern markets are typically a fifth of average living wage there.[3] Average working days are 14-16 hours, 7 days per week (Clean Clothes Campaign)[4]
  • Governance issues: Overproduction is a massive issue. More than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year, (McKinsey)[5] with consumers keeping clothing on average half as long as they did 15 years ago

1) Ethical considerations and the impact on purchasing behaviour

ESG issues around fast fashion and the clothing industry have been widely reported. As consumer awareness grows, we might speculate that ethical considerations will come to take on more importance in the minds of consumers. But how much impact do ethical considerations have over clothes purchasing decisions?

When it comes to what actually drives clothes purchase decisions, the more conventional levers such as price style and quality hold the most sway. None-the-less almost a third of consumers say that ethical issues are one of the top 3 factors that influence their decisions over clothes purchases (and 8% say that it is their primary consideration).

In the era of fast fashion it is perhaps surprising that ‘trends’ (keeping up with friends, celebrities, social media and advertising) is the least selected factor influencing clothes purchases. Caveats should be applied (the results are self-reported and people might underplay the amount of influence trends hold on them, the sample is 18+, missing a key demographic target for fast fashion, teenagers). But the result does suggest that fast fashion is concentrated not only in small proportion of the worlds markets (Western markets) but also within a small proportion of the population within those markets. A small number of people are likely to be responsible for a lot of clothes purchases. While 30% of consumers say they buy more clothes than they need, this rises to 42% among those that say ‘trends’ are a top 3 influencing factor, and 55% among those that say that ‘trends’ are the primary influence on their clothes purchases (SBM data 2020).

#1. Know your customer: For 3-in-10 consumers ethical issues are a key decision-making criterion in what clothes they buy. Whether your business is in fashion or elsewhere, there is clear reputational risk in not being aware of, or not fully understanding what motivates and what matters to your customers.  

Chart B: Ipsos SBM data 2020: Clothing and fashion purchase decisions

2) Consumer disconnects over ethical issues

What consumers want they don’t necessarily get

Ethical issues play an important secondary role in clothing purchase decision making but what action do consumers think should be taken? Four-in-five consumers agree that brands and retailers should do more to help protect the environment and safeguard workers’ rights within their supply chains, and 77% of consumers say that clothing brands and retailers should provide more information. However, there is a large disconnect between what consumers want and what they get. Just 17% of consumers agree that the fashion industry provides enough information about the environmental and social impacts of the manufacturing of clothes.

Consumer good intentions not necessarily reflected by their actions

When it comes to taking personal action, although 56% of consumers say that if a clothing brand was associated with environmental pollution in its manufacturing process, they would be putting off from buying clothing from that brand, just 28% of consumers have researched brands that provide ethical clothing.

#2. Be transparent: As globalisation has increased the complexity of supply chains in the fashion industry, it’s becoming harder for many brands and retailers to maintain transparency. Whether your business is in fashion or elsewhere, consumers want to be able to make informed decisions, they want to be provided with clear and complete information (and they probably expect you to do at least some (if not all) of the legwork).

Chart C: Ipsos SMB data 2020 & Ipsos Sustainable Fashion Survey 2018 data: The disconnect between consumer good intentions and their actions

3) What's to be done?

Consumers clearly want more ethical accountability from brands and retailers. But by what means do they want this delivered? In 2019 the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published its “Fixing Fashion Report”[6] making 18 recommendations to the government to help clean up the industry, including;

  • Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million
  • More proactive approach to enforcement of the National Minimum Wage with greater resourcing for HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team to increase inspection and detection work
  • The Government should publish a publicly accessible list of retailers required to release a modern slavery statement. This should be supported by an appropriate penalty for those companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act

The Ipsos SBM 2020 survey tested what level of consumer support there would be for clothing and fashion brands and retailers that adopted similar commitments through their own volition. Across the 8 statements tested by the SBM survey (see chart D) between 67% and 78% of consumers said that the measures would make them feel more positively about a clothing brand or retailer. Commitments to national minimum wage (43%) and proof of compliance with the Modern Slavery Act (40%) had the most ‘much more’ positive impact. There are notable differences by demographics.

18-34 year olds are much more likely to say that they would be ‘much more’ positive about brands across all of these measures:

  • 44% of 18-34 year olds said they would be much more positive about brands that set themselves environmental targets compared to 24% of 55+ year olds
  • 44% of 18-34 year olds said they would be much more positive about brands that made commitments to using sustainable materials compared to 28% of 55+ year olds

Women are also much more positive across all of the measures:

  • 46% of women felt much more positive about stores that set-up in-store schemes to help customers recycle their old clothes compared to 30% of men
  • 40% of women felt much more positive about brands that helped to reduce textile waste compared to 25% of men

Women and millennials with disposable income form a key target audience for the fashion industry. As ethical and ESG considerations climb up the agenda they are likely to hold more influence over brand reputation and consumer purchase behaviours. If your clothing range is targeted at younger consumers and women in particular, then commitments to the environment and the wellbeing of employees in your supply chain is quickly transitioning from a nice-to-have to a necessity.

#3. Collaborate with your customers: There is clear support for measures that help clean up the fashion industry and reputational rewards are available for brands that adopt similar commitments. Whether your business lies in fashion or elsewhere it pays reputationally to align your business’s commitments to those of your customer. Take pride in your commitments and collaborate with your customers.

Chart D: Ipsos SBM data 2020: Impact of brand and retailer ethical commitments

4) Conclusion & Recommendations: An opportunity to build brand reputation

Fashion at its heart is an outlet for self-expression, choice, freedom, communication, it’s a vehicle to bolster confidence, for consumers to feel good about themselves. Exploitation and corporate greed aren’t a great look for brands trying to make their customers feel good about themselves. And there’s evidence that fashion brands are starting to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Model examples   

  • Sustainable materials & Slow fashion - H&M offers a new ‘Conscious’ range. To qualify the product must contain at least 50% sustainable materials e.g. organic cotton or recycled polyester. Levi’s ‘Water<Less’ collection uses up to 96% less water in its denim production. Patagonia only uses sustainable materials in their outwear. They champion “slow fashion” by helping customers repair garments and encouraging customers to recycle and buy second hand
  • Circular economy – TK Maxx ‘Give Up Clothes for Good’ campaign has recycled 1.6m bags of clothing since 2004. They also have a zero waste to landfill target. M&S ‘Shwopping’ partnership with Oxfam 30million garments swapped and £21million raised for people living in extreme poverty. The circular economy is based on reusing and recycling materials rather than throwing them away
  • Codes of conduct – TK Maxx operates a ‘vendor code of conduct,’ committing vendors to use no child or forced labour, protect employee rights on wages, working hours and adhering to health & safety regulations in the workplace

Whether or not we see a return to business as usual on the high street as COVID-19 subsides, consumers are expecting more from businesses and brands, challenging them to perform a social purpose beyond simply turning a profit. This increased scrutiny presents a risk certainly, but with it also a growing opportunity. Ipsos Corporate Reputation Centre has 40 years’ experience in helping global businesses navigate reputational challenges.

Ipsos Recommendations

1) Know your customer – understand what issues concern them and to what extent it concerns them. How does this impact how they perceive your brand?

2) Transparency & third-party endorsements – good brand reputation is built on trust. Third party endorsements such as the Fair-Trade Foundation and the Impact Report are a means to showing your customers that you care and take their concerns seriously. Avoid shortcuts and greenwashing and practise what you preach.

3) Collaborate & take pride – show consumers that you are on their side, that you want to make life easier and more straight forward for them and that you can help bring clarity, speed and convenience to the purchasing decisions that they care about. Collaborate and work in partnership with customers towards shared goals.

Article links

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/style-thats-sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula

[2] https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035161

[3] https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry#anchor-environmental-impact

[4] https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry#anchor-environmental-impact

[5] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report.pdf

[6] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/2311/2311.pdf

For more information about how Ipsos can help you, get in touch:

Tom Cox
Research Manager
Corporate Reputation, Consumer Sector

Tom.Cox@ipsos.com