Over-inflation rate is a cause for concern

Image inflation is increasing the risk of brands failing to deliver their promises, according to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week, says Jo Roberts.


“A brand is a promise delivered,” according to Clare Fuller, group managing director at Promise. But the co-creation agency’s latest research shows that image is taking centre stage at the expense of experience.

The Promise Index, shown exclusively to Marketing Week, demonstrates the difficulty businesses have in matching their image to the reality of what a brand actually delivers as well as the pressure marketers are under to attract attention. The Index is a ranking of brands put together by assessing the difference between image and reality (see Methodology, below).

The obvious danger in over-promising and under-delivering is that customers will eventually realise that a brand is not as good as it claims to be and will vote with their feet. But it is not just a few companies or a certain sector that can be blamed for puffing out their chests and telling people how great they are, image scores have improved across every sector, says Fuller.



Three of a kind: BMW, MetroBank and Freeview increased their Index ranking

“Marketers are trying to buy their way back into consumers’ hearts through marketing, advertising and communication. That’s one reason why image scores have gone up. Marketers are spending money on exciting, motivating communications.

“The obvious danger in that is we’re creating image inflation. Unless a brand is investing in experience as well as seductive marketing, you’re creating a bubble that will burst if you’re not living up to your promise.”

This is the reason why consumers react angrily to certain brands. Promise labels this type of consumer as ‘brandenstein’. “Over-promising and under-delivering has woken up the angry consumer,” says Fuller.

Groupon in particular incurred the wrath of disgruntled consumers at a recent workshop held by Promise and has dropped down the agency’s index. In the previous year’s workshop, which Marketing Week attended, participants praised the daily deals site for the value offers it provided. But this year was a different story. Promise scores for the brand image and experience have fallen to 6.28 out of 10, down from 6.64 in 2011.

“Groupon had a very quick honeymoon period. Two years ago, everyone who attended the workshop was saying Groupon would change their life. This year, it spontaneously came up again and the opposite happened – they hated it. The big thing was the inability to deliver on a promise, for example people would buy a deal and then find there were complications in redeeming the voucher. This is borne out in the survey.”

The automotive sector is also fluffing up its feathers with a large jump in image scores this year. BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Jaguar have all parked themselves in the top 10 of Promise’s Index, with Mercedes leading the automotive sector with a score of 8.04, which puts it in third place overall. However, unlike Groupon, these prestige car brands can largely get away with it, according to Fuller, because their aspirational marketing is matched with quality products.

While some brands seem to excel on image scores, Amazon has grabbed the top spot for the first time for excelling at both the experience people have and how they perceive the brand. The online retailer’s ability to diversify its product range and live by its mantra of listen, invest and personalise has lifted it above Google to first position, says Fuller.

She adds: “The business has the added benefit of not being shackled by its history or heritage. It was an online bookshop but now nobody thinks about that because it is diversifying its products so quickly. Its brand idea is built around a set of service principles rather than a particular type of product.”

Online brands top the sector listing followed by content providers, which also benefit from giving people a service that suits their needs. Marketing Week Engage Awards 2012 brand of the year the BBC has risen up the ranks to 11th position, scoring 7.81, followed by Freeview on 7.77 (see The Frontline, below).

ITV and Channel 4 have also improved their image and performance scores to 7.35 and 7.4 respectively. Overall, the content provider sector scores 7.29 on image and 7.28 on experience.

Fuller explains: “People don’t pay much, if anything, to access content from these brands, so they provide real value. They’ve all adapted to a changing environment. While other sectors, such as music and retail, have faltered in the changing digital environment, you’ve got media brands providing a great experience for viewers.”

The value theme continues in the budget airline sector. According to Fuller, they are “no longer considered the dirty cousins of the full-service airlines.”

Both easyJet and Ryanair’s image and experience scores have risen this year, compared with 2011 figures. Travellers now consider these carriers as normal means to fly, and are appreciating the benefits of lower-cost flights in straitened times. EasyJet scores 6.44 on experience and 5.99 on image, creating a positive gap, where experience is still marginally better than the image (see The Frontline, below).

Ryanair scores 5.02 overall, with its image score significantly lower at 4.69, showing that it could do more to convince travellers that it is an acceptable carrier to fly with.
If budget airlines are flying high in the index, the mobile sector is experiencing turbulence.

Despite the fact that Apple hasn’t introduced any new products to the market this year, and suffered the loss of its leader Steve Jobs last year, the technology company has actually improved its scores, ranking in fourth position with a score of 8.03 out of a possible 10.

Another winner is Samsung Mobile, being assessed for the first time as a separate brand from Samsung. It scores 7.82 out 10, and is in 10th position for delivering both a great brand image and experience.

Tesco: Ranks seventh in the supermarket sector behind Lidl and Aldi

But the mobile telecoms sector image scores have fallen overall, sitting near the bottom of the sector table just above utilities and public sector brands, which languish at the bottom.

When it comes to service providers T-Mobile is the eighth-fastest riser in Promise’s ranking. T-Mobile’s second place in the sector puts it ahead of Orange – also owned by Everything Everywhere – but behind sector leader O2.

Supermarket brands have also suffered from mixed fortunes. Tesco is investing in its brand after poor financial performance, but it needs to do more, according to the Promise Index scores. It might well be one of the big four supermarkets but it ranks at a dismal seventh position in the supermarket sector table, behind Aldi and Lidl.

The brand has been damaged by focusing on price and has a huge job of investing in customer service, stores and a brand positioning that will see it jump back up the table.

While the financial services sector might have improved slightly, it still sits at the bottom, along with utilities and public sector brands. One of the few bright spots in this sector is MetroBank, which is rising quickly up the ranks, coming third in the top risers index with a score of 6.71.

This is in marked contrast to the embarrassment suffered by Barclays in recent weeks following revelations about its rate fixing and the subsequent resignations of chairman Marcus Agius and chief executive Bob Diamond.

One lesson that the financial services industry, and indeed the wider business community, needs to learn is not to say one thing and do another. And it seems that for many brands they are failing to live up to their larger than life promises.

top 20 by index score

sector comparison


The Promise Index measures brand image and brand experience. Around 1,000 people are asked to rate their image of a brand between 1 and 10. The actual customers of the brand are then asked to rate the latest experience of the brand scoring between 1 and 10. The Promise score is derived from an average of image and experience and is an indication of brand strength.

Some brands in the Promise Index have a positive gap – an experience that is better than its image. On these occasions, marketers and PRs could perhaps be doing more to boost the company image.

On the flip side, some brands have negative gaps, where a brand experience is actually worse than its image. This means that companies should consider investing more in their brand experience to ensure that customers keep coming and do not drift off to a brand that offers something better.

The frontline

We ask marketers on the frontline whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground

anthony thomson

Anthony Thomson

I think the difference between us and other high street banks is the fact that what we say and what we do are the same thing. We say that service and convenience are the most important things, so we open seven days a week.

Other brands talk about putting customers first, but if you walk into their branches the person behind the counter has a sales target. If people are incentivised with sales targets then there’s a fair chance that they’re going to sell you something, whereas all of our people are incentivised with customer satisfaction targets.

So when the other banks talk about customer satisfaction, their incentive arrangements mean they could be saying one thing and then be doing another. I think that can have a very powerful effect on brand experience.

The last piece of research that I saw, which is based on a YouGov Omnibus survey, said that one in two Londoners were aware of MetroBank. We have to be very careful to distinguish between awareness and understanding of our brand because I think building brand awareness takes time. People need to understand who you are and what you stand for.

guy north

Guy North
Marketing communications director

My challenge is to make sure that people know enough about Freeview so they consider it a valid alternative to paid-for subscription services. That was at the heart of the new positioning last year.

Research carried out in the early part of last year suggested that there were a number of people out there who didn’t really know that there was a viable alternative to pay-television out there. There was this notion of people sleepwalking into a pay-TV world.

Hopefully, the reason we are in the position we are on the Promise Index is because of our four key ethos pillars, which we’re basing our communications on, and they are: quality, accessibility, value and ethos.

Quality is about the content that we offer. In terms of accessibility, that’s around the simple-to-use and easy-to-understand technology that we offer.

Value is about what we offer in terms of content that comes subscription-free. Ethos isn’t something that we would communicate to consumers but it is about the fact that we’re a not-for-profit organisation that fundamentally believes in the right to access TV – free from subscription.

peter duffy

Peter Duffy
Marketing director

The profile of our customers is ABC1, which is the same as British Airways. One of the things we wanted our advertising to do was to tell customers the story. Why would a customer spend two or three times the price for a two-hour flight to go with a flag carrier than go with an airline like easyJet?

It is interesting that the experience scores have gone up as well because we’ve got a huge level of focus on that. We are absolutely at the top end of service that customers want with an airline – they want to get there on time. It’s something that we put a lot of operational focus on getting right.

We are targeting business travellers because we have footholds in all of the big European cities. What we’re finding is that more and more customers are turning their backs on higher prices where they may get a free gin and tonic. Companies are wanting to make sure they get the best value so travelling with easyJet makes more sense. We’re seeing business travellers flying with us in increasing numbers.



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