Consumers are increasingly expecting that brands to also take responsibility for the society in a larger sense.
Raksha Bandhan or Friendship Day has seen an outpouring of emotional creativity from brands. This is an indication of social mores, as we as consumers have become more socially aware and also advocacy driven. Even commercialization has increasingly moved to more meaningful and purpose-driven initiatives respecting and giving back to society. This is indeed a sign of times that commercial interests are seeking a higher plane.
- Millennial Behaviour
A significant factor that has also influenced brands is the customer of the present/ future called Millennials. Given the nature of the audience, they are driven by shared values, communities and hence brands must be built on existential values.
- Moving Up Maslow’s
In my opinion, brands are moving up the ladder or are shifting from the lower bases of Maslow’s hierarchy to the higher ones. Functional aspects of the brand are shifting to love, esteem and self-actualization. We are perhaps at the cusp of an evolutionary leap for brands. Some of the brands who are in the safety space are moving to love and brands in the love phase are moving to esteem and so on. This step-by-step process will eventually lead to the ultimate part – self-actualization.
- Functional – Lesser Importance
A pure consumption play is slowly losing its meaning. And hence, while talking about functional aspects are important, brands need to take an emotional lift. It increasingly comes from within, and brands need to look at ways and means of maximizing our lives – a purpose to help contribute to a better world.
- Emotionally Driven
90% of our decisions are driven by emotion. So by giving a purpose to a brand, we are conveying a larger story. Stories create an emotional response in the brain and brands that address the wrong part of the brain and by just listing rational features and benefits, are at a disadvantage.
- Being Practical
Putting all the ‘socially good’ initiatives aside, purely from a practical angle it also helps brands and products move to a plank that has a higher calling and receptiveness. How long can a detergent brand say that it washes whitest? How long can a brand say that it makes life easier by washing better? Innovation has become so rapid that new products are launched every day and with the democratization of technology, newer products are being launched even by upstarts.
- Changed Environment
Over the last few years, the environment has also changed physically and socially. For example – consumers are beginning to recognize that we are facing a using shortage in terms of water and hence water conversation has become an important issue. Whilst it may not influence the buying decisions, there is a sense of appreciation of brands that respect the environment. Undoubtedly there will be a trade-off but the fact remains that customers are acknowledging and making environmental concerns a part of the purchasing decision process. Needless to say, influential consumers who know are making this change.
- Increased Ownership and Activism
Very importantly, and partly hastened by the access to news from all across the world, consumers also believe they have to take responsibility for the problems they are facing and cannot leave it to governments/ politicians to solve their problems. Correspondingly activism has also increased.
So consumers are increasingly expecting that brands also take responsibility for the society in a larger sense. This means that businesses should have a larger stake than just profits, they should improve the economic and social conditions.
- Be True
However, when communicating with customers on this level, nothing is more important than authenticity and integrity. Claims by a brand should be no different from reality. If there is a dissonance, this will anger the consumer and it is not surprising that many consumers are rising against brands, which do not follow the path.
The authenticity will inspire support from customers who share the purpose. The stronger the purpose, the stronger will be a connection to customers. Simon Sinek said ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ And when customers identify with the purpose, he/she is connecting on an emotional level and as I mentioned before, most customers are emotional in their decision making.
Some brands and their leaders are becoming more purpose-led by rediscovering and rearticulating their core values. More importantly, they are leading with action. Both Howard Schultz of Starbucks and Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani have been outspoken advocates for refugees (much to the chagrin of Trump). Closer home, Tata Tea has talked about getting consumers to “Jaago (awaken) Re”! – act before it becomes too late.
- Don’t Be Untrue
Other brands are taking notice of such transformations and the power of a cause to drive business.
It’s natural to expect that some of these are knee-jerk opportunism and elitist puffery. Uber, on one hand, talks about helping pet adoption but their sexist organizational culture has been detrimental. Lyft has increased market shares dramatically after the controversy has broken out.
And yet, they seem to be so much more—they are corporate attempts to create brand purpose and evolve it beyond love and esteem on the part of their customers. Well-aligned with purpose.
And therein lies the tension, and opportunity. Brands that want to be purposeful can become a purpose-led brand, but not without intention. An intention, without action, is cowardly.