The essence of branding is attempting to forge a non-verbal conception that is associated with a product without the cognitive process of ascribing value based on external information. However, it is often assumed that this goal can be achieved through explicit mediums. The world-renowned marketing consultant and professor Philip Kotler said branding is about more than visual assets such as typeface and logo, and commented that the activity of a brand will have an effect on its branding in the minds of consumers:
“A socially responsible company needs to shape its offerings to minimize personal or societal ill-effects of their brand offering.”
The advent of social media has been revolutionary in this sense as it has allowed people to quickly share news about a brand, company or individual’s activities without having to navigate the web of vested editors and brand partnerships. It is no longer good enough for brands to say they believe in certain values – there has to be action to back it up.
World-renowned marketers such as Mark Ritson have chastised brands who bleat about social responsibility with little regard for the deeper implications of its offerings. As Ritson comments in his lecture, consumers are not stupid and will usually see through the meek pretences of brands. In the travel industry, this has hit certain brands particularly hard as the options available to consumers have made it easier to take business elsewhere, and here we look at how increased social awareness among consumers has impacted a number of travel brands.
Examples Of The Influence Of Social Awareness In Travel
Since its inception in 2008, Airbnb has become synonymous with the rapid expansion of the sharing economy. However, as with many members of this coveted club, it has not been without criticism and although many such criticisms have been levelled at its users, the model upon which the company is based has also come under fire.
In 2014, it was revealed that there was no existing policy protecting guests from being watched through surveillance cameras by their hosts. Despite a change to correct this regulation, subsequent lawsuits taken up by guests who have been a victim of intrusions by hosts have raised questions about who is ultimately responsible for the actions of the host. Airbnb claims it warns its hosts about the implications of breaking its terms, whereas detractors have said that Airbnb owes a greater duty of care towards its customers.
The muddied waters of contractual employment and responsibility are a major threat to the sharing economy, as Deliveroo and Uber have already found out. In response to this and other negative stories, Airbnb has launched a campaign for marriage equality in Australia. The campaign shows a real commitment to social change as it goes beyond brand values and claims to agree or sympathise with certain causes, but rather it looks to take action to generate debate and actuate social change.
A fellow profiteer from the sharing economy, Uber, has also come under fire for its behaviour. During January’s protest at JFK Airport near New York over the government’s radical policy towards immigrants, Uber attempted to curry favour by announcing that potential passengers would be able to use its service without invoking a surge charge. However, this move was seen to be undercutting the strike of many taxi drivers in the area who were joining the protest of many concerned citizens.
In this instance, social awareness hit Uber hard as in the aftermath of the controversy, it was reported that over 500,000 users deleted the app as a part of the socially-driven #DeleteUber campaign and CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to step down from his position on the government’s economic advisory council. This shows that travel companies are having to consider the implications of becoming involved in social issues and are paying the price for putting business ahead of politics.
United Airlines was the latest travel company to endure the wrath of adverse publicity after shocking videos emerged of a man being forcibly dragged off an overbooked flight. The transmogrification of CEO Oscar Muñoz’s stance on the issue has highlighted that whilst companies are keen to address the potential damage that such incidents can have, there is no sure-fire way to quell the rampant hordes and protect the brand image.
However, although social media has generally reacted with vociferous disdain for United Airlines’ handling of the entire debacle, it remains to be seen whether price wins over principles. Volkswagen’s highly publicised emissions-cheating was predicted to be the end for one of the world’s most recognisable brands, but despite these early claims strong sales in China and Eastern Europe saw the company’s sales increase in 2016.
Although consumer behaviour can be influenced by mob mentalities and a desire to shop with a conscience, ultimately the bottom line has the greatest say of all. However, this isn’t to say that social awareness hasn’t had an impact on the travel industry. The very fact that such companies are being forced to face up to such incidents will push some customers away from the brands. Brand values have been thrust under the microscope in recent times and the surge in social awareness among consumers has forced many travel brands to react with greater care.
How do you think social awareness has affected consumer behaviour? Has the change been for the better or worse? Share your thoughts with us below or on Twitter @mporiumgroup.