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See which companies are the ‘least engaging brands of 2014’

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Kmart and Sears are among a group of companies identified as “the least engaging brands of 2014,” in a recently released index of customer loyalty.

"A brand can’t do well in today’s marketplace if it can’t engage consumers, no matter how many ads are run, and no matter how much social networking one does," said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, a New York-based brand loyalty and emotional engagement research consultancy.

Passikoff adds that brand engagement correlates very highly with positive consumer behavior, sales and profits.

“All you have to do is look and see how the brand is doing in the marketplace to confirm customer assessments,” he added. 

Brand engagement — defined as the degree to which a brand is seen to meet the expectations consumers hold for the Ideal in the category — is a leading-indicator of positive consumer behavior and brand loyalty. They are the ultimate measure for the brand, which according to Passikoff, should always be the beneficiary of any marketing or advertising effort.

“People can be engaged with a show or a social network or an event or an experience, but those are methods of engagement. Brand engagement is the ultimate goal,” he said. 

By examining how well 64 brands — each at the bottom of their respective categories in the 2014 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index — did at meeting those expectations for their Ideal (100%), Brand Keys identified the 10 least engaging brands for 2014. From the lowest level of engagement, brands ranked as follows:

1. Blackberry, 52%

2. Quiznos, 57%

3. Kmart, 59%

4. Sony (e-readers), 60%

5. WOW search engine, 60%

6. Sears, 64%

7. American Apparel, 65%

8. Budweiser (regular), 70%

9. Coty Cosmetics, 71%

10. Volkswagen, 79% 

“Brands compete in specific categories,” said Passikoff. “By seeing how well customers think a brand measures up to meeting their Ideal retailer, or beer or smartphone, allows for cross-category rankings like these.”

Numerous validation studies have proven that the benchmark for brand success is something higher than 85%.

“Below that, you are generally looking at a brand in trouble. Where engagement is high consumers behave better toward a brand and the brand sees more sales and, along with that, should also see increased share and profits. Where engagement is low, the reverse happens,” added Passikoff. “Always.” 

For the Brand Keys 2014 survey, 32,000 consumers, 18 to 65 years of age, drawn from the nine U.S. Census Regions, self-selected the categories in which they are consumers, and the brands for which they are customers (top 20%). Seventy percent were interviewed by phone, 25% via face-to-face interviews (to include cell phone-only households) and 5% participated online.

Assessments are based on an independently validated research technique that fuses rational and emotional aspects of the categories to identify the behavioral drivers for each category-specific Ideal. The Ideal describes a precise path-to-purchase, describing how the consumer will view the category, how they will compare brands and, ultimately how they will engage with the brand, buy and remain loyal. Then the assessments measure how well the brands own customers see the brand meeting expectations consumers hold for the Ideal (100%) for a specific category.

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NRF: Imports to increase in March

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 12.4% in March 2014 as retailers begin to stock up for the spring and the summer season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.36 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in January, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 5.3% from December and 4.1% from January 2013. One TEU is one 20-ft. cargo container or its equivalent.

February, historically the slowest month of the year, was estimated at 1.17 million TEU, down 8.8% from the same month the previous year. March is forecast at 1.28 million TEU, up 12.4% from the prior year; April at 1.36 million TEU, up 5.1%; May at 1.44 million TEU, up 3.7%; June at 1.43 million TEU, up 5.3%, and July at 1.49 million TEU, up 3.4%. The first half of the year is expected to total 8 million TEU, up 3.5% from the same period in 2013.

The total for 2013 was 16.2 million TEU, up 2.3% from 2012’s 15.8 million TEU. The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting 4.1% sales growth in 2014, contingent on how Washington policies on economic issues affect consumer confidence.

“Retailers are bouncing back from the annual post-holiday slowdown and getting ready for the surge in activity that comes each year as the weather warms up,” said Jonathan Gold, VP for supply chain and customs policy. “Shelves are going to be well-stocked with everything from bathing suits to barbecues.”

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

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After they’re gone: Communicating about departed employees

BY HBSDEALER Staff

You’ve just informed an employee on your team that he or she has been terminated. What you do next is important to the morale and the productivity of the rest of your team. Whether the termination is due to eliminating a position, poor performance that hasn’t improved despite remediation efforts, or an egregious action that warrants immediate dismissal, the affected employee’s co-workers will have questions. To maintain trust, morale and productivity, you must quickly divulge the separation and explain what it means for the remaining staff. What you communicate depends on the reason behind the employee’s termination.

 

Position elimination

If the situation allows, it’s helpful to the healing process to allow the departing employee to say goodbye to his or her co-workers. That way, the team can see that the person was treated with respect and ultimately will be OK.

When a team member is laid off due to a position elimination, call a meeting with the remaining employees to acknowledge and address what has occurred: “Everyone, this is an unfortunate situation and a sad one to lose one of our co-workers. I know it’s always unnerving to hear these kinds of things, which is why I wanted to bring us all together to discuss this. You can see that Laura handled the news professionally. We’ve treated her with respect and dignity, and she responded in kind.”

After that brief statement concerning the terminated employee’s well-being, focus on the team by stating that the company has no further plans to eliminate other positions as of today. As a manager, you can’t make any promises beyond that. Assure your team members that with the redundancy eliminated, the organization will get stronger—with their help. End the meeting with an action plan: “As a next step, we will take a close look at Laura’s responsibilities, as they will need to be divided among the rest of us. As always, I appreciate your support.”

Delivering the news in a professional manner will help quell uneasiness. Allow team members to express their thoughts, to vent and to grieve, but then remind them that they are still employed and have a job to do.

 

Performance problems

Performance and attendance problems typically don’t occur in a vacuum. The employee receives notices and corrective action plans that convey that the individual’s job is in jeopardy if his or her performance doesn’t improve. Most of the time, co-workers are well aware of the individual’s struggles, so a termination is often not a surprise.

“In fairly straightforward situations like these, it’s OK to make a generic statement to the team members informing them that John Doe is no longer with the company,” says Jathan Janove, managing shareholder at law firm Ogletree Deakins in Portland, Ore. “The key is to keep it simple, respectful and short.”

Call a quick meeting to make a straightforward announcement: “John Doe is no longer with the company effective yesterday, and we appreciate his efforts during the past two years. We will discuss backfilling his position and temporarily reassigning some of his responsibilities to keep things moving while we recruit for the opening. Out of respect for John, please keep this news fairly quiet. While we’re sorry he’s no longer here, we wish him well in his future endeavors. If you have any questions, please see me privately.”

 

Egregious Misconduct

Conduct-related infractions can be a source of intrigue for co-workers, especially if you can’t provide all the facts for legal reasons. Such misconduct includes harassment, bullying, discrimination, violence, gross insubordination, theft, fraud, embezzlement, falsification of records and substance abuse. “A sudden change in employment for these reasons can have much more of a shock value,” Janove says. “People don’t know all the specifics and are more inclined to fill in the void with inaccurate assumptions.” Therefore, the announcement should focus more on instructions and guidelines rather than alluding to details surrounding the separation.

For example, “Everyone, I called this meeting to let you know that Lucy Brown is no longer with the company. Please understand that I’m not at liberty to discuss specifics with you, but I can tell you that we treated Lucy respectfully, listened to what she had to say and took appropriate action based on our findings. Out of respect for Lucy, please do not engage in hearsay about her termination.”

Remind employees that they cannot respond to external queries about the employee’s time at the organization: “If you receive any reference calls or e-mails regarding Lucy’s employment, please refer them directly to HR. We have a policy and active practice of not sharing references with third parties like prospective employers or headhunters, and violating that policy could have serious consequences for you and the company.”

It’s important that your team members know not to participate in third-party reference checks under any circumstances. “Doing so could open your organization to claims of breach of privacy and defamation and potentially hold the referent as well as your company liable for damages resulting from lost wages due to a rescinded job offer,” Janove notes.

 

Break the silence

While it may be easier to let the news of a termination blow over, silence speaks volumes—and you may not like what it has to say. Take control of the message by communicating the circumstances of the separation in a concise, quick manner. Your clear, direct approach will be appreciated, and it will allow the healing process to begin.

Paul Falcone is an HR executive and has written numerous books, including 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems: A Guide to Progressive Discipline and Termination (AMACOM/SHRM, 2010).

© 2013, Society for Human Resource Management

Have HR-related questions and concerns? Get access to essential forms, policies and guides, plus a live call center, at ToolkitHR.com, powered by HCN and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).   

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