Brands — the force of change and its societal impact
Media and marketing can teach the world to be a better place. The 2018 Sprout Social report noted, “Two-thirds of consumers (66%) say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues, and more than half (58%) are open to this happening on social media — the top channel for consumer receptivity.” Also, consumers believe brands that leverage social media to support specific causes, including participating in events or donating to these causes, do a better job.
We already know that marketing has an extraordinary influence on your mind. Linked to storytelling and social media, we all have a natural tendency to mimic characters and situations we identify with. The customer awatits to be inspired, to be led into a better, brighter future — so the question I’m asking is, why don’t we use marketing enough to have a positive impact on us, or society in general?
Firstly, let me point out that the whole point of marketing is to improve society on a practical level by making products more accessible and, through a diverse product offering, ensuring the customer gets the best deal.
But let’s switch from the practical to talk more on purpose-driving marketing. Are brands really positively affecting society’s attitude and, in this case, our view on sustainability? Can they do more?
As a first example, I’m taking the beauty industry. There’s been a great shift over the last few years for beauty brands to include more natural ingredients and source them sustainably. The pressure to evolve has come largely from consumers, but the message has been amplified to additional audiences through the industry’s marketing communications.
Actually, when we look at The Body Shop, in particular, their entire “philosophy” named “Enrich Not Exploit” aims to educate on the importance of natural ingredients and sustainability. Through channels, such as fossil fuel-free packaging and sustainable stores (some decorated with grass mats!), The Body Shop is managing spread its message to anyone, including the media, who is connected to the brand.
Now if we shift our attention to the FMCG sector, there’s a similar trend. Unilever, for instance, they see themselves “tasked with changing consumer behaviour for the better and inspiring social good while driving profitable business growth.” They aim to do this by embedding a “social purpose strategy” into each of their top brands like Dove, Lipton and Lifebuoy. Alongside existing brands, they’ve started to introduce sustainability as the main selling point for a handful of new brands, including Love Beauty and Planet.
Note, I am in no way claiming here that Unilever is able to successfully operate as a sustainable company — we’ve all seen a scandal, or many, from this giant. What I am saying is through this brand’s reach and influence, Unilever is educating society on the importance of sustainability.
Have you heard of Made of?
MADE OF began with the sole purpose of offering better products for consumers — “We believe health and wellness are dependent on everyday products we use. It’s no longer just important to look at food as being natural/organic. Unfortunately, with the rapid market growth in beauty, organic, natural, and transparency hold less value with consumers. This is why we’ve opted for the NSF Organic standard that’s an independent third-party, which can’t be manipulated and holds high trust value.”
“MADE OF is the first and only brand to disclose our whole product development to the consumer on our site. This means going beyond just disclosing the ingredients on the bottle. We partnered with suppliers to get the origin and safety of each ingredient. MADE OF’s testing program surpasses FDA requirements. On each product page, we disclose the test results. Finally, we state each product’s manufacturing location.”
So some brands do acknowledge their responsibility toward the customers and they make efforts to earn their trust.
This concept of a need is an interesting one, as it does go two ways.
I believe companies hide behind the typical “customer does not want this product or done this way” excuse. I believe they don’t want to change, they don’t want to cut on thier profits or they have not looked further enough for a solution.
I believe the brand is responsible to act as ethically as possible and give back to the society, maximise its positive impact. If you were brand out there — why would you not look into the core of your business, your purpose and see what can you change as a company for the better? Once you found the positive changes you want to make, advertise that, invite the customer as part of the process.
And yes, it’s not just the brand that needs to support the motion, the consumer also needs to long for the change and spread the message. Which is, after all, the whole point of business. There needs to be a demand for a certain product, or stance.
And this demand for companies to take a stance is growing. While the trust in media plummets, consumers are turning more and more to brands to act on the issues they care about. In fact, 54% believe it’s easier to get brands to address social problems than get the government to take action.
But people want more. The Guardian claims that customers, consumers and employees demand real social leadership, and, “to meet this demand companies need marketing. And marketing is not up to it.”
The demand for brands to take a social stand is there for the taking and there’s a real hunger for it. It’s up to brands to meet this need, not only for the good of society, but also as an intelligent business strategy.