If you can successfully avoid tax you know your brand is healthy



From horsemeat in the lasagne to Libor fixing in the blood, not to mention industrial scale tax avoidance, brands have to put up with a hell of a lot at the moment. By which I mean that brand reputations, painstakingly pieced together over years, suddenly seem on the line in a way they have never been before. Brand reputations used to chunter along quite nicely, growing and shrinking at reassuringly glacial rates but now they have an alarming habit of crashing about as the latest pile of shit hits the fan.

Now, I’m not entirely sure whether this is because the levels of borderline corporate criminality have hit record highs, whether this always been an issue but the wonders of the internet have made us more aware of what is really going on or whether in the past no one really cared what businesses where up to in their name, especially in Bangladesh of all places. Whatever the reason, brand reputations seem to be under increasing pressure right now.

People like you and I dedicate entire careers and sums of money that dwarf the national debt of southern European nations bolstering the performance of brands and their contribution to the balance sheet. But all too often we find, along with the rest of the populous, that some cretin in another part of the organisation is doing their very best to hole the whole endeavour below the water line with their behaviour. Imagine being the Marketing Director of Findus the morning you find out that one of your co-workers has been dumping equine protein in the ready meals and have to witness all your hard work go up in social media flames.

According to a survey by Which? Barclays is the least trusted brand in Britain and you don’t have to have the cerebal capabilities of anything more than a sea urchin to realise that it might have something to do with the repeated assaults made on a perfectly good brand’s reputation by scandal after scandal. But here is a thing, in repeated barometers of brand trust Apple, Amazon and Google, they of the tax avoidance school of business success, all continue to fare extremely well. Now of course it may be that we care less about our public services being starved of tax income at a time of extreme austerity than being sold beef burgers with an identity crisis, but how do they do it?

The answer might possibly be that, while desire and price are conventional ways to measure a brand’s strength, these days we should add resilience to corporate misdemeanors and scandal. Because the truth is that no organisation can eradicate the possibility of someone, somewhere doing something undesirable in the business, any more than a parent can ensure a child never falls over or hits its head on the coffee table. That’s just life and shit like that happens all the time. What you can do is build a brand so robust and yes, loved that it is capable of taking direct hits to reputation and coming off reasonably unscathed.

So as brand marketers we should not bemoan the fact that Apple, Amazon and Google have been using every loophole known to Deloittes to avoid supporting our schools and hospitals in contravention of fibre of the brand mythologies we hold so dear. Rather we should applaud them from the rafters for building brands so strong that not one laptop, one DVD box set or one sponsored search result fewer will be sold.

Image courtesy of mikenusbaum.

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4 Replies to “If you can successfully avoid tax you know your brand is healthy”

  1. Always enjoy your posts Richard.

    I think it’s worth pointing out that the reason Amazon, Apple and Google all enjoy such high consumer favourability is that they provide excellent service and, in Apple’s case, highly desirable products.
    Their brands are strong because their products and services are good.
    We would all find our lives harder without them.

    Barclays, on the other hand, like all high street banks, has never excelled at customer service and so when their corporate reputation gets tarnished we simply have one more reason to moan about them. No amount of brand-building activity can make up for poor service and products.

  2. Lucy, I’m not sure that’s entirely true of Barclays. They have done much in recent years to innovate and bring new services to customers from contactless and mobile banking to Pingit. Infact one could argue that the UK retail banks have done quite a good job recently, even when there are operational cock ups like Nat West’s ATMs – one of the reasons that people don’t churn. I agree that Amazon has a great product and I am dependent on it but no more so than I am on my bank.

  3. Richard, I absolutely agree with you about Barclays having done a good job at innovating and this has definitely made them look distinctive in the context of other high street banks.
    Not sure if this is enough – are they as good at meeting customers’ core expectations of service. But then no high street bank achieves
    I wish I could agree with you that the reason there is so little churn in this market is anything more than ‘better the devil you know’ and fear of cock-ups in the transfer process!

  4. It is also worth bearing in mind the worst hit out of recent crisis have been brands that are optional for consumers. You don’t have to bank with Barclays or buy coffee at Starbucks, in fact it is easy to switch (yes banks make it hard but with determination it is easy) and many people already use their rivals. With regards Google, Apple and Amazon their core products are superior to rivals (by and large)and many people are already customers. Ultimately would you get an equal search engine product if you boycotted Google? would you get an equal product if you boycotted Barclays?

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