Meeting customer demand for purposeful products and services is a way to ensure brand relevancy.

Over the past week I’ve had many conversations that start with ‘what’s going on?’. We’ve had the worst start to any year I can remember and we all know why.

These huge events require us to reconsider our views of the world and scrutinise our place in it. Unsettled by changing societal values, climate change, the world health crisis, multiculturism, depleting natural resources and economic and political instability, it’s fair to say that most Australians are starting to question many long-held beliefs – including the notion that growth at any cost is acceptable. As a result, capitalism is in crisis.

The good news is that we as the community, consumers and investors are driving this crisis, so we will shape the outcome. What we know is that a significant proportion of younger people have turned their backs on capitalism. A Harvard University 2016 survey, which polled young adults between ages 18 and 29, found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism. Just 42 percent said they support it.

The question for brands is how they can focus on these all-important issues without losing focus on revenue in a world where customers scrutinise their environmental, community and governance approaches out in the open, on digital platforms.

My optimism stems from the fact that the desire to transition to a more sustainable and equalitarian society comes from a human drive. We can talk about the power of technology in transforming almost every aspect of the world, but technology is simply an enabler.

It was the last global financial crisis that laid bare the limits of pursuit of profit for its own sake. Since then corporate responsibility has become an increased focus for most brands. But is this enough? The Fjord Trends Report 2018 predicted The Ethics Economy, defined by the idea of businesses increasingly taking a political stance on issues of general concern affecting their business. The point was that businesses could no longer get by simply with corporate social responsibility.

Combining profit with purpose

Creating a compelling Employee Value Proposition and promoting “value for customers”, “investing in employees” and fostering “diversity and inclusion” can help companies win and retain talent but compelling values built into operational processes need to exist to start with.

A growing number of organisations and governments are already making important business decisions that point toward a more balanced view of what growth should mean and lay the foundation for future growth. In 2019, after talking about doing things differently with a “well-being budget”, Ardern’s government has unveiled its plans to make that strategy a reality. The initiative focusses on aiding the transition to a sustainable and low-emissions economy, supporting a thriving nation in the digital age, lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities, reducing child poverty, and supporting mental health for all New Zealanders.

If our government plans to move away from traditional methods of measuring growth and development in keeping with a global push to move away from capitalism, new metrics may be difficult to quantify and could take years to refine.

Customers, meanwhile, are starting to demand a different set of values from the organisations with which they choose to engage. Public companies should be mission-driven with a clear brand story as well as focused on shareholders and customers.

Meanwhile we’re still working hard for companies we may or may not really like and buying goods from them. Yet we see signals that this is changing, and consequently, organisations will increasingly need to redefine their understanding of the people they serve and employ, to allow people to find a greater sense of relevance.

Today’s children are also more politically aware and, with the help of the digital age, will be much more radical than their parents, simply because there will be no other choice for them. As this generation rejects capitalism, what do they want to see replace it?

A more inclusive form of capitalism is becoming the more publicly held view on the likely scenario. This includes employee-owned companies tied to local communities to strengthen and support local economies as well as the learning, happiness and communal good health of all employees.

Brands who really want to get to know their consumers are already moving away from traditional demographic based segmentation to meaningful mindsets and behavioural targeting.

How do you ensure your brand stays relevant in these unprecedented times?

To start contemplating this thought brands need to truly reimagine their purpose and offering for the conscious consumer. By helping your customers navigate the anxiety around ethical choices you will define new types of value while making the profit required to thrive.

The most recent trend is an evolution in user-centred design towards life centred design that replaces ‘me’ with ‘we’. According to the Fjord Trends 2020 Report, brands can exploit a considerable opportunity by providing a guilt-free customer experience – this is part of the explanation for the phenomenal rise of re-sale, an industry growing 21 times faster than conventional retail.

The perfect overlap between desirability, feasibility and viability is a sustainable and/or desirable product or service that also makes business sense. For instance, this month German luxury fashion brand Hugo Boss has just launched its first animal-free men’s suit exclusively made from non-animal materials including dyes, glues and chemical substances. After losing half its share market value over the past two years the company hopes to follow on the success of Dr Martin shoes who boosted profits by 7o percent when it launched its range of vegan shoes.

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What does this mean for your brand?

Businesses need to evolve at pace. Those that fail to transform will not survive to become the companies of the future. Brands will need to meet customer demand for purposeful products and services that make a positive impact.

The trade-offs between our desires and convenience will need to be managed carefully. Brands that offer alternatives for more conscious consumers will attract new customers, whilst converting existing ones, to more ethical choices.

Winning brands will practice ‘no harm’ in everything they do and demonstrate that life-centred design is integral to their purpose, not just a side project.

And, hopefully in five year’s time we won’t be asking ourselves ‘what’s going on’.

 

 

Without doubt, these are unprecedented times for everyone. If you need help with your brand purpose we’d love to hear from you.

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