Navigating Shifting Consumer Values

Brand activism must always evolve to align with shifting consumer values – making a noise in an empty room is a waste of energy. Here WGSN Insight’s Senior Editor Laura Santer explores how the things that people care about have changed with the impact of the pandemic, and looks at some different examples of activism that we saw from brands as a result.

By Laura Santer Senior Editor, WGSN Insight

Purpose has long been a mainstay in the marketing lexicon and a buzzword at Cannes Lions over the years, as brands have sought to align with increasingly values-driven consumers. More than 55% of consumers will consider company values when making a buying decision in 2020, according to Forrester. And as we live in ever-more turbulent times, the purpose and global impact of a brand are more important than ever. This is something that consumers have grown to expect; demanding that brands take active roles in social, environmental and political discussions, instigating and effecting positive social change on the same level as governments. In fact, 55% of consumers believe companies have a more important role than governments today in creating a better future (Havas Brands Report, 2019).

And doing good is good for business, too. According to Kantar's 2020 Purpose study, brands that are known for their high commitment to purpose have grown at more than twice the rate of others. Deloitte found that purpose-driven companies grow three times faster than their competitors, and yield high employee and customer satisfaction. Following years of global transformation and political turmoil, we have seen companies pivot from supporting a cause to acting with intent, taking a political stance on behalf of consumers and driving up brand loyalty in the process.

ACTION REQUIRES COURAGE The shift in conversation from cause marketing to brand activism is evolving the marketing landscape. But brand activism is no small undertaking, requiring cultural fluency and courage. You must be prepared to be uncomfortable, to lose customers and to speak up to power even in your own company. If done right, it can drive loyalty and initiate conversations that are often swept under the rug. Some companies are already using their voice to aggressively champion change, sacrificing potential profits for purpose. During CES 2020, Delta's CMO, Tim Mapes, shared how the US airline lost $40 million in tax breaks after cutting ties with the National Rifle Association to show support for school shooting victims. "It was one of the most important things we’ve done,” he said. The COVID-19 pandemic is helping to rapidly evolve the meaning of purpose beyond CSR, accelerating value shifts across the world to become a central business priority.

STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE Many brands have found innovative ways to connect and make a difference during this time, stepping up to provide emotional, financial and medical support where governments haven’t. From Anheuser-Busch repurposing factories to produce hand sanitiser, to Starbucks giving staff free mental health support, the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted brands acting as a pillar of support, prioritising people’s wellbeing on an unprecedented scale. Thoughtful discounting was another key strategy that emerged, with the likes of Pret A Manger, Costa Coffee, Uber and Deliveroo lowering prices for frontline medical workers. Going forward, brands should be mindful of messaging around discounts, however. Don’t bombard customers with offers and deals, but speak to at-risk groups with meaningful offers that will resonate.

REDIRECTING NEGATIVE ENERGY For brands to survive the long-term impacts of the coronavirus crisis, how they reacted to it in real-time is key. Be aware of purpose-washing and act authentically now, with results-driven solutions and services that will help during the crisis and beyond. Above all, look to ways that you can give back and make a positive contribution – however small – in this tense environment. Redirecting the negative energy and fear of the current climate towards something positive will result in more loyal customers in the future. The future of brand activism will increasingly need to reflect the new value shifts that the coronavirus pandemic has created. With governmental shortfalls being exposed on a global scale, brands will be under the spotlight more than ever as consumers look to them to navigate the repercussions of the crisis.