Cancel culture customer loyalty

How cancel culture is harming customer loyalty - and how to respond


While poor customer service is the most influential reason for consumers to abandon brands, objections about malpractice or reputation are increasingly significant. 

12th Feb 2020

The rise of so-called 'cancel culture' is not only impacting individuals, but brands too - with objections about brand reputation or behaviour increasingly causing consumers to stop using a company's products or services. 

In a new survey by Opinium Research on behalf of PR agency Brands2Life, over a third (35%) of UK consumers have stopped using or used an online brand less as a result of poor corporate reputation or organisational malpractice. The figure rose to just over two-thirds among consumers aged between 18 and 24.

According to the report - Walk the Talk: What consumers expect from today’s online brands - the top reason for abandoning a brand is poor customer service (cited by 15% of those polled). But the next most common responses were a failure to treat workers and suppliers fairly, and failing to pay appropriate levels of tax in their country (9% respectively).

The significance of an organisation’s environmental impact, although currently only about halfway up the list of desired behaviours, is also definitely on the rise, especially among the 18-to-24 age group. Indeed, some 71% of all respondents said they would cease using a given brand in future if they felt they were not doing enough in this area, although inadequate customer service (90%) and poor protection of their data and privacy (88%) would still be the main reasons for rejecting them.

When asked what brands must do to keep them happy, the priority was to provide good customer service and ensure their privacy and data is safely protected (both reported by 94% of respondents).

Other key considerations when choosing a brand though include treating workers and suppliers fairly (90%), putting safeguards in place to protect vulnerable groups (89%) and paying the right amount of tax in the consumer’s country (87%). In this context, brand authenticity and honesty were also felt to be very important, with twice as many people (46%) citing these factors than anything else.

The message from consumers is that brands need to:

  • Demonstrate they care about their customers: This means delivering great customer service and protecting their privacy and data. 
  • Be real: Authenticity and honesty are very important to consumers when they are considering which online brands to use. 
  • Get greener: A growing number of consumers say they will stop using a brand if they don’t think they are doing enough in this area, and it's a particularly sensitive issue amongst the consumers of tomorrow, with three-quarters of 18-24 year olds saying they would cut ties with a brand. 

Giles Fraser, co-founder of Brands2Life, said: “This report illustrates that [brands] need to be fully aware of how consumers see them and their behaviour If they don’t offer best-in-class customer service and display the highest standards of corporate citizenship, consumers will simply stop using them.”

As a result, the report recommends that online brands be:

  • Customer-centric: Consumers expect great customer service, which includes the opportunity to talk to a human being. Brands that choose to invest in this area should shout about it;
  • Better: Whether it is about treating staff or suppliers better, respecting the countries in which they operate or tackling climate change, customers want to see more;
  • Local: An investment in, and commitment to, a consumer’s home country drives loyalty;
  • Transparent: The better consumers know a brand and its positive intentions, the more they will use it;
  • Engaging: Consumers want to be informed, educated and entertained in equal measure.


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