Staying silent may be worse than taking a stand.
In 2020, the success of your brand is no longer measured by your product, service, or how much money you are willing to pump into your next marketing campaign. The adage that the ‘customer is king’ hasn’t changed.
But the world has.
Environmental issues, social upheaval, game-changing new technologies, and turbulent global markets are changing the way consumers think, act and behave.
Not only are customers highly-connected, smarter, and more aware of social issues plaguing the world, they are scrutinizing businesses like never before.
The important question is: Can brands keep up?
Traditional businesses that refuse to adapt will sink, while more agile, socially-aware companies will rise beyond all expectations.
In 2020, “business success” is determined by how well you nurture relationships with your consumers – and society.
If you want to stay relevant, engage with your consumers more effectively, and supercharge your bottom line at the same time, one clear lesson has emerged.
Take a stand on a social issue in 2020
Beliefs drive consumers. According to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand report, about 59% of U.S. consumers are belief-based buyers.
It isn’t enough to simply buy a product. Customers must also believe in what the company stands for. In 2020, belief-driven buying will likely become the mainstream mindset across ages and incomes.
Because people want brands to engage in issues and conversations that communicate their values.
An Axios/Harris poll found that consumers are increasingly looking for brands to promise a brighter future. They believe brands can lead to societal change.
Large companies that have been in the marketplace for decades are finding themselves facing competition from younger, purpose-driven companies that are committed to building a better world.
Brands viewed as old-guard corporate giants, unconcerned with the greater good, may need to quickly reposition themselves.
The consensus: A study by Unilever found that 1/3 of consumers base their purchases on a company’s social and environmental performance.
The days of a company’s only responsibility being to sell a product and make a profit are over.
Today’s consumers are turning to companies to express and solve issues that governments and individuals can’t.
The winners will ultimately command their purchasing power and advocacy, and consumers will reward businesses with their loyalty time and time again. The lesson here is that consumers want brands to take a brave stand on an issue rather than not.
CARE International’s #March4Women is a global movement for gender equality. (Souce: CARE International)
But supporting a current social issue isn’t enough. Taking a stand on a social problem is all about confronting the issue head-on and through action.
It doesn’t mean supporting a cause only once a year when the festival lights are on, nor does it mean supporting every cause on a Facebook newsfeed.
On the contrary, it means aligning your brand with social, environmental or political issues that match how consumers view the brand.
This is done through crafting nuanced, bold, and human-centric messages that resonate with your brand. But there’s a catch.
Brands must provide intrinsic value by inspiring, educating and enlightening customers on why the issue is essential to the brand.
Consumers are smart and discerning. They can tell an authentic campaign from a disingenuous one from a mile away. There can be no corporate fake promises and no jumping on any bandwagon.
So how is this achieved in a way that is honest and authentic? Let’s take a look at two examples of brands that took a stand on social issues but experienced very different outcomes.
2017 – Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty Line
Source: Fenty Beauty
Rihanna created Fenty Beauty “so that women everywhere would be included,” focusing on a wide range of traditionally hard-to-match skin tones. “Fenty Beauty by Rihanna was created for everyone: for women of all shades, personalities, attitudes, cultures, and races. I wanted everyone to feel included. That’s the real reason I made this line.”
People celebrated the diversity of the makeup shades, and Rihanna received praise and respect. In return, Fenty reportedly made $100 million in sales in its first 40 days on the market.
Fenty Beauty is now available in 29 countries, including Bahrain and Malaysia—forcing competitors to expand their own products in what is described as the “Fenty Effect.”
By confronting the lack of inclusive skin tones, standing on it bravely, and creating a tangible product that contributed to solving the problem, Rihanna was rewarded with fierce consumer loyalty.
Of course, there’s also the fact she is Rihanna – but she was smart enough to recognise that her attached name was nothing compared to a solution she could offer unrepresented women all over the world.
On the flipside, for every great marketing campaign, there are also ones that anger consumers for exploiting their sensitivities.
2017 – Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Ad
Source: The Independent
In 2017, Pepsi apologised for an advert which appropriated imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement to sell its product. The universally panned video, where model Kendall Jenner gives a police officer a can of Pepsi to cheers from the protesters, was pulled from the internet soon after.
Elle Hearns, an organiser for Black Lives Matter said the advert “plays down the sacrifices people have historically taken in utilising protests.” The advert was pulled just hours after its release, following widespread condemnation.”
A spokesperson for Pepsi said: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologise.”
The Big Picture
2020 will undoubtedly be a challenging year for businesses to stay relevant and financially viable at the same time. The difference maker will be how brands engage with their consumers and go beyond their expectations to support their beliefs. This can be achieved by developing a 3 step action plan, as outlined by the 2018 Edelman report.
- State your Purpose: “Clearly articulate why your brand exists and make a proactive effort to address that purpose,” Edelman’s report says. Companies need to live this purpose every day.
- Develop your Culture: “Authentically connect your stand to a relevant moment in culture,” Edelman’s report says. Companies must make sure they’re connecting to culture and not simply co-opting it.
- Explore Activism: “Confront a controversial issue that has a direct impact on your stakeholders or your brand,” Edelman’s report says. You have more to gain by speaking out than staying silent.
The message is clear: By supporting existing social, environmental and political issues, and taking a clear stand, brands can build powerful, emotional bonds with their consumers in 2020 and beyond. And at the same time, spread a touch of human warmth in a world that needs it.
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