Earlier this year, as we watched brands ramp up communication and respond to the COVID-19 health crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement, we asked ourselves: What does it really mean to have an authentic brand? After examining thousands of brand ratings across industries, we mapped out what it means to be truly authentic and created the Brand Authenticity Index™, which measures the five dimensions we found accurately predict and are diagnostic of a brand’s authenticity: Thoughtful, Transparent, Reliable, Committed and Socially Aware.
As part of this study, we looked at some of the most successful global technology brands—including Samsung, Amazon, Google, Apple, Uber and Facebook—to understand how consumers perceive them and how they measure up against the five dimensions of brand authenticity.
Of these brands, consumers rated Samsung as the most authentic and, among the five dimensions of brand authenticity, Samsung was rated highest for being reliable. These ratings could partially reflect the brand’s ad campaign earlier this year about how its devices are reliable and keep businesses, families and friends connected during the pandemic. Consumers also rated Samsung as more transparent than the other tech brands—a dimension in which most of the brands struggle.
Although we did not measure Zoom as part of this initial research, Zoom represents a great case study of a brand that reacted authentically to a failure in a very meaningful—and satisfying—way. At the end of August, when many parents were focused on getting their kids back to a mostly virtual schooling experience, Zoom had an outage. According to the Brookings Institute, “Zoom is now the foundation for education access from elementary school up through graduate school.” An outage for Zoom is a big problem.
If you happen to be a parent who experienced this, you know how much the outage affected you and your children in an already stressful situation. On that day, you were trying to balance work, school and life in general while faced with the fact that—at one of the most important moments of any year—your child or college student’s first day back to school was not going to work. At the very least, it was going to take a good share of your day to make it work. That whoosh sound that you heard was the sound of your planned schedule for the day as it went flying out the window!
So what did Zoom do? It immediately sent out a note apologizing for the outage and assuring its customers—many of whom are parents—it was focused on fixing the issue immediately. Anyone would expect that, however, the way the brand went beyond a mere apology is a brilliant example of an authentic, thoughtful, committed and transparent response: Zoom took full responsibility.
In part of the letter the president of product and engineering, Velchamy Sankarlingam, sent to all Zoom users, he accepted the responsibility of this outage as his own. Instead of evading blame or pointing the finger elsewhere, he personally committed to resolve this issue so Zoom can continue to reliably connect people using its technology:
We always take very seriously our responsibility to keep you connected, and we know that you are relying on us during this particularly challenging time. We deeply regret this incident and sincerely apologize. I’m personally disappointed that we have let you down and I am sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.
I am proud of our dedicated team working to enable our customers’ work, schooling, and social lives during the global health crisis. We are intensely focused on scaling our collaboration and cloud technology to help Zoom reliably connect the world now and in the future. I’m here to get this right and will personally do my best to prevent disruptions like this from happening in the future. Zoom’s availability and reliability is a top priority and we appreciate all of your support.
As Inc. tech columnist Jason Atan says, “…the fact that Sankarlingam takes personal responsibility is a brilliant lesson in emotional intelligence for every business.” He’s right—these are the words of a brand that is practicing what it preaches and is striving to be as authentic as possible even in the most difficult of situations.
Zoom was able to identify the issue and fix it within three hours. In order to further its case as an authentic brand, Zoom will need to continue this level of responsiveness and thoughtfulness when addressing any performance issues moving forward. We recommend the brand further demonstrates its commitment to transparency by following up with an explanation as to why the outage happened and what the brand is doing to prevent such issues from reoccurring when future key dates cause sharp increases in Zoom use. Keeping the communication lines open and demonstrating transparency will be key components to continued future success for the brand.
In our next blog, we will look at the illusive dimension of transparency, the one dimension that all 32 brands we evaluated struggled with. And in our current environment, this is something that technology firms need to improve to become and remain authentic over the long term. If you’d like to learn more about our study and this innovative new brand tool, download our white paper, “Brand Authenticity: What It Means, Why It Matters and How to Get There.”
Feel free to drop us a note if you are interested in improving the authenticity of your brand. We’d love to help you dig deeper into how authentic your brand is, and help you track that authenticity over time to get the most out of your brand research.