Chun Zhang is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Dayton. She holds a Ph.D. from Concordia University. Her research interests are in branding, service marketing, culture and communication. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Business Research, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Journal of Promotion Management and Marketing Education Review.
How a Company Can Reduce Brand Hate
Most people have experienced brand hate – a strong negative emotion toward a brand. They might have complained to a friend about it, or posted on social media. Even boycotted. Brand hate can stem from a negative experience a customer had with a company. Or it can happen when the public thinks a business has done something irresponsible, unethical or illegal. It can be costly for the customer, who then has to search for another brand to trust. And it can severely impact a business.
Think of the massive Southwest Airlines disruption during the Christmas of 2022, which ruined people’s holidays and triggered widespread brand hate. Southwest saw extended negative publicity and losses in the stock market.
My colleagues and I set out to understand how an organization might address this issue by studying the smartphone industry. We looked specifically at whether a company’s complaint handling system can make a difference. We find complaint handling is important and can allow a company to regain customer trust and satisfaction. Effective complaint handling means effective communication in a timely manner, such as a sincere apology for a brand’s mistakes.
Complaint handling can work to lessen brand hate when it’s by symbolic incongruity, meaning someone thinks “the brand doesn’t reflect who I am.” It also can work when the cause of hate is incompatible ideology, meaning a customer’s ideals don’t match that of the brand, for example on a moral issue.
But there are limits. If a customer already has one negative past experience with a brand, then complaint handling does not play an effective role in overcoming brand hate. And, if a person feels brand hate because they think the company has been socially irresponsible and acted unethically to harm society in some way, then complaint handling won’t make a difference.