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Brand Inoculation

Brand Inoculation
07/18/13
by Oliver Palley
This past week, news stations around the globe have been non-stop analyzing the crash of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco airport. Thankfully, the number of casualties was lower than we might have feared with a plane crash. But what about the injuries to Asiana Airlines, in particular to its brand? Brand Strength is much easier to lose than it is to create or recover.

In the BAV model we have explored how much damage crises can cause to a brand and how well they are able to weather a crisis. Some brands have a powerful reserve of brand equity that allows them to move through crises quite strongly, and others suffer tremendous declines. What our analyses have found is that brand forgiveness and resilience is reflected in our Esteem pillar. Interestingly, Esteem is also the pillar that reflects the loyalty that brand commands, and indeed the model shows that the inoculation effect that some brands have is often essentially the mirror of brand loyalty. Consumers are proud to be associated with brands they hold in high regard, even when those brands face a public challenge, and this translates into loyalty, and forgiveness. The greater the Esteem, the higher consumers perceive the quality of the brand and respect it.

Now how does this relate to Asiana Airlines?

In its home market of South Korea, Asiana Airlines is an exceptionally strong brand. A representative sample of all adults there puts the Esteem level for Asiana Airlines in the 98th percentile among all brands in that market. With that high an Esteem level, Asiana should have little to worry about in its home market in terms of brand resilience.

Beyond South Korea, Asiana is in a more uncertain position. Across Asia, its Esteem level is just under 40, only six points higher than the average Airline in Asia. This would be good in ordinary times, but depending on how the investigation continues to unfold, Asiana may need more than an ordinary reserve of Esteem to come through this without suffering a significant loss. This risk is compounded by the fact that once a brand starts to lose ground, the media and public opinion sometimes join in to push it down even faster.

So what to do? In the short term, given its vulnerability, Asiana will need to be proactive in shoring up its Esteem reserve. Our analyses have shown that the elements of Esteem include high quality, customer service, leadership, and reliability. These are the attributes Asiana will want to watch for an early indicator of where it is heading, and where it should focus its public affairs efforts.

Longer term, if the brand does suffer an Esteem drop, it may ultimately need to turn to a reinvention campaign. Examples of these working successfully are not common, but they exist. One of the more successful ones was Domino’s Pizza Turnaround campaign from 2009, made possible by its solid Esteem reserve, which was 25 points higher than its category average. The campaign helped consumers forgive the brand for its perceived lower quality and uncertain reliability, and return to a higher loyalty.

Crises obviously carry uncertainties every day as events unfold, but managing the brand in the short and long term with the Esteem pillar in mind is the best way to help keep a company focused enough to make it through, in some cases to an even better place than they started.

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