I was sitting through a rather uneventful keynote speech about a change from customer relationships to customer experience at TFM&A in London the other day, and one of the topics that briefly surfaced was around how the recent horse meat scandal has impacted our overall trust and experience with supermarkets and meat products in general. But has the impact been isolated to only the FMCG sector or has it changed our wider perception and trust in products in general? Have a case of horse meat changed how we ultimately trust any brand?
Brands spend billions every year on building up trust and loyalty amongst their customers, hoping to turn them and their friends into brand ambassadors, or customers for life. The FMCG industry is amongst the biggest spenders, so when something like the horse meat scandal comes along it could have ramifications beyond the scope of what it could seem to be on the surface; a bad case of poor industry wide supply chain quality control. This is no longer about a case of mislabeling of meat content. This is now about a paradigm change in consumer perception, and ultimately behaviour.
Do I have any scientific evidence for this statement? No, these are hypothesis that remains to be proven, but from simply listening to people discuss the scandal, and my own thinking around this, it would make a very interesting case for research. Although likely hard to measure with a decent degree of accuracy. The best case is likely going to be how the immediately affected FMCG industry will experience this over the coming months.
Back to the keynote. If the key to success is consumer experiences, one has to take into consideration that a consumers experience of a brand or product goes way beyond just the physical experience, but also includes the conscious, and subconscious experience. While time (and money) can help in restoring some credibility to the industry, that lingering subconscious thought that you are not 100% sure that what you are buying is what it says it is, can be more tricky to get past. For products like meat that we physically eat, that lingering doubt could be the difference between success and failure, but I also believe that we could easily start asking ourselves those same questions when it comes to other products as well, thereby causing a wider change in consumer behaviour.
Then again, mistakes leads to new opportunities. Where some brands will fall, other will emerge and take their role. Hopefully not repeating the same mistakes.