What have the brands ever done for us?
By Sam Shennan, Managing Director, Incubeta
Brands have become far more than just the products, logos and slogans they are built on. Those at the top of the pile – i.e. the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google – have become interwoven into the very fabric of our society, with a huge amount of influence over economic and social spheres, and an established place in our day-to-day lives.
Even smaller brands, the ones we may not interact with daily, can have a massive impact. Take the ALS Association for example. An American non-profit organization working to discover treatments and a cure for ALS, who almost certainly reached you in one way or another – when it ran its 2014 ice bucket campaign (which, incidentally, increased annual funding for research by 187 percent).
Brands have the power to change consumers behavior and perceptions, whether for the duration of a campaign, or for a longer period of time. But, to quote the late, great, Uncle Ben “With great power, comes great responsibility”.
Because, the thing is, we know the influence brands can have. We’ve become acutely aware of their impact on our world, and we expect them to do the right thing with it. The consumer is now reshaping the way brands must conduct themselves, in order to appeal to today’s socially conscious audience. Particularly so for the digital native Gen Z, many of whom have created their own ‘personal brand’ online and want to support companies whose values align with their own.
The importance of values
Values are, of course, not a new concept. They can be traced nearly as far back in time as humanity itself. The Ancient Egyptians, for example, adhered to the principle of ‘Ma’at’, embodying truth, balance, and order. The Ancient Greeks emphasized the virtues of courage, wisdom, and justice. And every religion throughout history has been governed by its own set of moral values.
What is new, however, are the values people hold. They have continued to evolve alongside society, with concepts such as freedom, equality and self-expression gaining prominence in recent years, and contemporary challenges like climate change and digital privacy leading to a rising importance placed on the values of sustainability and data security.
And the important thing for brands to consider here, particularly when marketing to Gen Z consumers, is that these new values are now having a huge impact on which companies people are buying from. The days of selling products based solely on quality and pricing are gone. Instead, customers are now seeking a deeper relationship with brands, built on shared values, ethics, and social responsibility.
This means for brands to continue thriving in the modern world, social values need to become an integral part of their marketing strategies. They must engage with their audience on a more personal level, thread ethics and corporate responsibility through all of their actions and communications, and ultimately demonstrate that they aren’t just trying to sell something – but are acting with the best interests of their consumers, and the planet we all live on, in mind.
Actions speak louder than words
Just saying you care about something, without actually acting on it, isn’t enough. Except for maybe in politics, where we’ve all grown accustomed to a certain level of BS. But for brands, token gestures and empty promises will do nothing but sully their image and damage the loyalty of their customers.
Taking a proactive role in driving change, on the other hand, makes a huge difference. More and more, consumers are seeking brands that are making a difference, with their actions having a real, measurable impact on the world. Just look at the success of Patagonia, world renowned for its use of recycled fabrics, initiatives like the repair and reuse program, and the company’s firm stance on social and environmental issues – not to mention their fast increase in growth and value year after year.
The same principle applies when dealing with a mistake. We’re all aware that businesses are run by humans (for now anyway) and sometimes things go wrong, but to simply say sorry isn’t going to work. Brands need to be seen making clear steps to rectify the situation, make recompense to those adversely affected and prevent any future recurrence.
In the words of Elvis, ‘A little less conversation, a little more action, please’.
It’s time to start making a change
It isn’t enough for brands to remain neutral or indifferent to the world’s societal and economic issues anymore. Today, they are expected to take on a larger role in society – one that drives change, prioritizes ethical conduct and moves away from the ‘sales, sales, sales’ mentality often attributed to larger corporations.
This is doubly true when dealing with a Gen Z audience, who are well versed in the world of digital marketing, having grown up with it constantly around them. They expect brands to be the driving force behind social change, both in their words and their actions, and will quickly move on from any companies that don’t demonstrate this.
For brands that have already taken this on board, and continue to drive positive change in the world, there is a bright path ahead. For those still prioritizing sales over society, a change is needed, or else they’ll quickly find themselves out of touch with the new generation of consumers.