Picture: 123RF/Le Moal Olivier
Picture: 123RF/Le Moal Olivier

Brands are seen to have an ever greater responsibility to bring a degree of stability to what has become a sharply polarised world, and that sentiment is more prevalent in SA than in any other market.

That’s the top line from a new survey by WE Communications in its "Brands in Motion 2019" global study. Of the survey respondents, 83% (90% in SA) believe brands could play a greater role in providing stability and 74% (88% in SA) expect brands to take a stand on important issues.

WE general manager James Wilson tells the FM: "SA consumers have an extremely high expectation of brands." He says brands operate in a high-stakes environment of insatiable expectations, a push for accountability and consumers who are armed with unprecedented levels of customisation, knowledge and choice at their fingertips.

James Wilson. Picture: Supplied
James Wilson. Picture: Supplied

"We live in challenging and chaotic times, from the looming threat of junk status to the femicide crisis. People are scared and desperately looking for something or someone to steady the ship. No longer being able to rely solely on government, consumers naturally are turning to the many brands in their lives for comfort or answers. This provides both an opportunity and a risk."

Wilson says this high expectation places a huge responsibility on brands to deliver. They must be "human to the core" to thrive in today’s consumer revolution. "Brands have never had more power or opportunity to act with bold purpose, and they’ve also never been more vulnerable or replaceable."

Wilson believes consumers are demanding that brands take a stand on key issues more than ever before. "Brands need to find their purpose and lead with it."

He says: "South Africans want to support and be aligned with brands they believe in, brands that are contributing to the greater good of their consumers and the communities they operate in. Yet those consumers won’t think twice about leaving a brand behind if it doesn’t resonate with their own purpose. Purpose is why you do what you do. What’s changed now is that it has to go so much deeper than corporate social responsibility. You can’t just talk about it — you have to live it."

But this raises the question about risk and how brands weigh it up. Says Wilson: "The risk is in losing your customers. With greater choice and knowledge at their fingertips, consumers are more empowered to make demands on brands, and we are seeing the consequences when brands don’t come to the party. This month hundreds of women gathered at the JSE for the #SandtonShutdown to call on corporate SA to take a greater stand against the abuse of women in the country. Corporate environments plagued by sexual harassment are being called to task, and demands are being made for the JSE to charge a 2% levy on profits to help fund the fight against gender-based violence. The risk is loud and clear."

One brand that understands the zeitgeist of compassion is local airline FlySafair.

"Since its launch in 2014, the airline has lowered its price of air travel, making it more accessible to South Africans from all walks of life," Wilson says.

Brands have no choice but nail their colours to the mast. "The consequence of failure is that you may risk losing your customers — in 94% of situations surveyed, the majority of respondents said they would shame a brand if they perceive it is stepping out of line."