Which direction is your brand going in? Moving from experience to purpose, a 2021 Key Retail Trend
"Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are."
- James W Frick (Former VP for PR at the University of Notre Dame)
“In the age of social media, it's easier than ever for companies to market themselves, but it's also easier for consumers to push back on companies that don't share their values.” There is a new expectation that brands need to support important movements that are happening in society. In essence, brands need to find their purpose in order to survive. A big statement you might say! The following few paragraphs will investigate this issue further. We will discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend, along with other key factors that are driving it. We will also look at the brands that are currently practising moving from experience to purpose. Finally, I will list 5 things that you can do to help your brand get on the righttrack for a socially responsible future!
“A macro trend is a pervasive and persistent shift in the direction of some phenomenon on a global level.” Examples of macro trends include urbanization, automation, and now in 2021, increased consumer awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and brand ethics. In today’s society, we expect high-quality goods and value items because there’s no shortage of them. In fact, it’s often that we have 2-3 shops to choose from that stock a similar level of quality at a similar price in just one area. How do we choose? How can we differentiate between them? Consumers now are not just choosing a retailer based on their stock, they are choosing them based on their brand’s purpose. Consumers expect brands to utilise their position to give back to the community. If you and your competitor are selling essentially the same item, your brand ethics and your responsibility will drive your sales. People believe that brands have a responsibility to be empathetic rather than just increase their short term KPI’s. Kolter (2011), in his article “Reinventing Marketing to Manage the Environmental Imperative,” concluded that: “increasing numbers of people will prefer to buy from companies that care. Companies will need to add an environmental dimension to their profile. They do not want to appear indifferent to larger economic, social, and political concerns. Word of mouth is becoming a growing force in shaping consumer decisions. Consumers can be e-mailing, blogging and tweeting to their friends and acquaintances good things or bad things about a company. Companies are increasingly swimming in a highly transparent fishbowl.”
What’s driving it?
For the last number of years, marketers have been talking about experience being the differentiator for brands. Experience being; every interaction a customer has with a brand, how they are greeted, the user journey and the satisfaction they feel once they walk out the door of a shop or purchase an item online. In 2017, BrandWatch predicted that “customers will no longer be comparing [your] customer experience to those of [your] competitors, they’ll be judging [you] based on the best customer experience they receive anywhere.” Fast forward to 4 years later, and it is obvious that experience has become commoditised. Experience doesn’t differentiate brands on its own because most brands have already nailed it! While it is definitely still a consumer expectation, the differentiator has evolved. The formula has now changed to experience plus purpose. If you don’t have a purpose that aligns with what people expect and demand, in this day and age, you can wilt very very quickly. In 2019, CONE Communications (Instagram @conecomm), a leader in CSR and social impact, completed a research study on the importance of Purpose for Gen Z. “Gen Zers believe positivity is the go-forward strategy and are near-unanimous in their belief that we need to come together to make progress. They are looking to purpose-driven companies to be partners in that progress and stand ready to take action. This is a generation that feels empowered to change the world for the better.”
Has the pandemic accelerated this movement?
According to a recent report curated by Accenture, named COVID-19: A brand. New. Purpose, “Purpose was already rising in importance. Now it matters more than ever. The pandemic is testing our humanity and values. COVID-19 has given us all a common purpose and thereby elevated the very idea of a company’s "purpose." 43% of consumers walk away when disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue.” In a word; yes, the pandemic has accelerated this importance of brand purpose.
During this pandemic, people are more isolated and missing the positive bonds and connections they would usually experience in work places, on public transport, with friends and in shops. Young people especially are conscious of missed life moments and are searching for positive experiences in other places such as social media and digital behavious. A recent study of consumers’ tendencies in social media from GlobalWebIndex found that for all generations, there’s increased dependence on social media news feeds - and 60% of Gen Z consumers lead the way. For Gen Z, social media has lessened the loneliness of isolation (65%), 61% among Millennials. Along with this, the concept “You vote with your wallet” which showcases consumer power as activism has seen a huge uptick in recent months. According to B The Change, consumers believe that “by choosing brands that align with [their] values, [they] vote with [their] wallets for the kinds of businesses [they] want in the world — and pave the way toward a more sustainable and just economy”. Buyers are more aware, connected, and empowered by the information revolution through the Internet; economic stability is questionable; and pressing environmental and societal issues are the dominant talking points. People feel disengaged with politics and are unable to make change on a macro scale so they do it on a personal scale - such as choosing what to wear, what to eat and what brands to support!
What does it mean for you?
Today, everyone is just one click away from a different choice. The importance of brand and purpose is completely underestimated. Competition is soaring. More and more merchants are realizing that giving back doesn’t just make the world a better place, it’s also good for business. Demand for fair trade and eco-friendly products is increasing and consumers are respecting companies who outwardly support social movements online. If you are a key stakeholder in a business at the moment, you need to take the next few months that are more quiet than usual to take a step back and define what is important to your business. You also need to take this time to decide how you are going to communicate that message to your consumers. Social media is the most common channel in which people get information about brands and products - it is a one-stop-shop to spread all of your news, showcase your products and speak about your brand’s core purpose. Not only do consumers use social media to view products, they use it to see if they can resonate with the brand’s overall social media presence.
Let’s get on the right track to Social Responsibility!
The most successful CSR initiatives tell a company’s story, implement stakeholder feedback, position a company as a leader on social issues, and guide how community investment will best be spent. Let’s look at how your brand can start from scratch:
- Build a strategy based on what your company values or represents - you need to hit the sweet spot between spending money to help the world and opportunity seeking.
- Do some market research and recognize what issues your customers connect with.
“A brand’s purpose will only be relevant if it sits within people’s own purpose, and not the other way around. If you’re not sure what direction to head in, your customers and employees will help lead the way.”
- Create a plan on how you will communicate your new message of purpose
According to the Digital 2021 Global Overview Report from DataReportal, the number of social media users is now equivalent to more than 53 percent of the world’s total population. It cannot be ignored as one of the most pivotal methods of communication for brands.
- Be adaptable - be prepared for rapid responses to current events and new social movements.
Once again referring to the extensive market research undertaken by CONE Communications, “more than eight-in-10 global consumers consider CSR when deciding where to work (81%), what to buy or where to shop (87%) and which products and services to recommend to others (85%).” There is no doubt that there is power in choosing your purpose and supporting specific social movements relevant to your company. Every morning we wake up, there seems to be more bad news in the newspaper and with a pandemic highlighting them even more, people need a break and some positivity in their lives. Everyone is just one click away from a different choice, so why not make it easier for people to choose your brand?
Whether it is the ethical treatment of your supply chain, your people, your community, keeping jobs local, whether it is body neutrality or supporting social matters such as BLM; people want to go on to your website and see who is on your board, who you support, who you hire and at the end of the day, is your brand kind?
We hope this has helped offer some insight on the importance of purpose for today's businesses. If you work with us, reach out to your Community Manager and have a chat about how we can help share your message through social media.