Picture: 123RF/Weerapat Wattanapichayakul
Picture: 123RF/Weerapat Wattanapichayakul

The assertion that the face of the consumer is changing is nothing new. In fact, if you had to look at marketing research over the past 50 years, the theme of how consumers’ wants, needs and demands have changed is likely to be a constant.

With every generation there is a shift and as technology advances, this shift becomes more apparent and certainly more challenging.

Historically, seismic events have resulted in the biggest of these shifts in global consciousness and with this, consumer trends. Two world wars, stock market crashes and financial sector collapses, planes, cars and smartphones and, of course, the internet, have all had a considerable impact on society over the past 100 years.

Technology in this globalised world we now live in has not been the only recent attributing factor, however. Covid will surely go down in history as one of the most seismic of events and the effects of the world being paused are likely to be only fully realised a decade from now.

Consumers are changing and so are their choices

A global survey undertaken to measure the impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour by management consultancy firm Accenture reaffirms the assertion that people are now making more environmentally friendly, sustainable and ethical buying decisions.

In the UK, a similar survey revealed that “72% of consumers plan to continue with their changed shopping habits following the pandemic”.

However, before the lockdown forced all of us to re-evaluate our lives and the world we live in, many other studies showed a growing trend towards ethical consumerism and the desire to lead a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, specifically among generations Y and Z.

Traditionally the 18-34 age group have been regarded as valuable to advertisers as they are considered to have more disposable income, and if brand loyalty is affirmed, this may mean a customer for life.

Reality check! This cherished age group are millennials and Generation Z, the generations that have grown up in the globalised world of information and are overwhelmingly in favour of supporting a product or brand from a purpose-led company, as shown in this 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli survey (66% overall and 91% among millennials).

Countless other studies support this claim. The Edelman Earned Brand study claimed that “64% of consumers surveyed globally will buy a brand or boycott that brand based solely on the social or political stance”.

Covid seems to have extended these sentiments beyond the Gen Y and Z age groups as more people take stock of existing paradigms and question their lifestyle and the future.

If brands have the power to affect social change, they should

When brands understand that they are speaking to real people with real lives, they can better identify the positive impact they can make with their marketing.

Having a corporate social investment (CSI) campaign is great, but if it doesn’t reach people on a deeper level and have a genuinely positive impact, there are missed opportunities for real brand engagement and consumer advocacy.

The Cone/Porter Novelli survey suggests that as many as 78 % of consumers will encourage others to support a purpose-driven brand that they use, and 68% would even be willing to share content on their own social media channels, over those from traditional companies. About 73% said they would stand up for a purpose-led brand if spoken badly of. 

This is where the art of storytelling comes in, and brands that are already doing this are reaping the rewards. Not only are they engaging their audience, but they are also boosting their brand value, all while contributing to social good. It’s a win-win.

If brand advocacy and customer loyalty are not convincing enough, a recent study by leading data, insights and consulting company Kantar reveals some further telling insights. Over a 12-year period companies with a purpose-led business strategy experienced brand growth of 175% versus 70% for brands that did not. 

Nielsen study in 2015 reported that two in three consumers were prepared to pay more for brands that showed a commitment to positive social change and/or issues.

Today’s consumer does not care about boardroom objectives – they are wise to overt brand promotion and want to be reached on an emotional level.  

This is where “marketing with heart” and a purpose-led business strategy come in, as many of the stats around this highlight.

Simply put, if brands have the power to affect social change, they should!

It’s what people can get behind in a crowded marketing space and it is what the current and future market demands.

Greg Viljoen is the CEO & founder of social change agency Bigger Than Me

The big take-out:

The big take-out: If brands have the power to affect social change, they should.

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