Consumers no longer expect brands to merely market their products, but to provide reliable and accurate information, take a stance on social issues, and make a positive contribution to society and the community. At the same time, people are increasingly concerned about the spread of fake news, which impacts their perception of media channels, social media platforms, and brands.
This phenomenon is exacerbated by the fact that fake news spreads about six times faster and is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the truth, according to a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published in Science. How can brands maintain and even earn more trust from their customers in this complicated landscape? This question becomes complicated as consumers demand brands take more of a role not just in a “purpose-driven” way, but an evolved one that includes supporting roles for the consumers themselves and a host of social issues. Following are three things brands can do to become trusted sources of information.
1. Brands Should Not Associate With Fake News
To reach larger audiences, brands often associate themselves with the most popular stories, whether these are true or fake. Publishers that propagate fake news often take advantage of advertisers by placing mainstream ads next to misleading articles, because known brands make the content look more credible. Brands can’t merely ban specific keywords but must carefully select the publishers they advertise with.
2. Brands Must Provide Content To Educate And Inform The Public
Except for a few niche categories such as luxury, brands can no longer expect consumers to just fantasize about owning their products. They must also inform and educate the public. For example, Whole Foods puts posters around its stores that explain how to choose sustainable seafood. Its sustainability ranking has been created through a science-based, peer-reviewed approach done in partnership with the Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium.
3. Brands Can Inform And Help Tackle Social Issues
When appropriate, brands can speak out about social issues, although they should focus on contributing to change rather than making a vague, washed-out statement. For example, Ben & Jerry’s has a long history of championing social causes such as marriage equality and climate activism. Most recently, the ice cream brand teamed up with Vox Media and the Who We Are project to create a podcast that will look at segregation and the violence Black people face in America.
The Post-Purpose Role Of Brands
People Expect Brands To Play New Roles
Brands can no longer merely advertise their products, they must also educate consumers in their area of expertise. In a recent Ipsos study on brand truth, seven in 10 people said they hold tech companies responsible for educating people on using their software and platforms. That’s why Microsoft plans to provide digital skills training for 25 million people this year under a new multimillion-dollar initiative. The initiative will bring together multiple branches of the company, including LinkedIn and GitHub. In a similar vein, Google offers free training, tools, and resources to help people grow their digital skills, career, and business. In particular, Grow with Google can teach business owners how to manage their business remotely, create a website, and connect directly with their customers. In finance, people feel that financial services companies are responsible for educating people on topics like investment (74 percent), money management (73 percent), and saving (72 percent). Bank of America has a Better Money Habits initiative that provides free tools and practical training about money to help people make smarter financial decisions. In healthcare, respondents feel that healthcare companies are responsible for educating people on topics like diseases and symptoms (84 percent), physical fitness (82 percent), and leading a healthy lifestyle (80 percent).
Actions Speak Loudly
Brands must demonstrate their positive impact on society, not just talk about it. Ipsos’ survey on brand truth reveals that participants expect tech platforms to actively enforce their standards of behavior (71 percent) and censor content proven to be misleading (68 percent). Further, people expect tech companies to support small businesses through economic recovery. And the younger people are, the more emphasis they place on tech brands’ contributions (18 – 34: 62 percent; 35 – 54: 55 percent; 55+: 48 percent). During the pandemic, Salesforce, PayPal, and Slack teamed up with GoDaddy and 27 other companies to create “Open We Stand,” a platform to help small businesses stay afloat amid the virus. American Express established “Stand for Small,” a coalition of more than 40 companies across media, technology, consumer goods, professional services, and many other industries that provide meaningful support to small businesses as they navigate the effects of the pandemic.
Although the public’s expectations had started shifting before COVID-19, the pandemic rushed brands to no longer talk about, but demonstrate their positive impact on society; 60 percent of Americans (70 percent of Gen Z) are more likely to consider a brand if its stance on such issues as equality aligned with their own.
Education, economic recovery, and sustainability are just three of the initiatives the public seeks. But brands can also contribute to society through innovation, safeguarding users’ data privacy, or protecting users from harmful online content, among other avenues. In any case, a brand’s contribution must feel tangible and relatable. To do so, brands must move away from bold, vague mission statements and focus instead on what your brand can do for me, my family, my business, and my community.
Brand Activism: Carrefour’s Black Supermarket
Europeans have access to only 3 percent of the fruits and vegetables produced because of a law that deems the 97 percent of varieties that are not registered in the Official Catalogue of Authorized Species as illegal. France’s supermarket chain Carrefour decided to become an activist and defy this law by creating “the black supermarket,” where it sells “illegal” fruits and vegetables in defense of biodiversity. These supermarkets staged 600 forbidden varieties of fruits and vegetables in large herbariums, complete with posters of producers who had been sued by agrochemical lobbies. Visitors were encouraged to sign a petition to change the law, garnering over 85,000 signatures. Carrefour further broke the law by entering a five-year contract with illegal producers and even invited opinion leaders to a signature ceremony.
The campaign boosted store traffic by 15 percent and drove a 10 percent sales increase for its produce section. As a result of the extensive publicity the campaign received, the European Parliament reauthorized the cultivation and sale of farmers’ seeds.
The advertising campaigns featured relatable outlaw producers holding a fruit or vegetable of their production, along with provocative taglines such as “Taste this forbidden pumpkin and you’ll find the law disgusting” and “Ironically, these brussels sprouts are forbidden by Brussel’s law.”
How Brands Can Take A Stand
Be mindful when aligning your brand with a cause. Today’s discerning consumer can easily spot the difference between genuine purpose and marketing gimmicks. Consumers expect brands not only to claim but demonstrate their purpose; they will closely examine if the brand’s operations align with its claimed values. Based on this, consumers will patronize, advocate, or possibly cancel brands.
Benetton, The Pioneer Of Brand Purpose
Luciano Benetton, founder of the eponymous group, and his then-art director and photographer, Oliviero Toscani are, in my view, the inventors of purpose-driven advertising. In the 1980s, the clothing brand started a series of provocative advertising campaigns that relied on shocking photographs to grab viewers’ attention. These campaigns dealt with social and political issues such as AIDS awareness, child labor, poverty, war, pollution, and racial integration. Some of its most memorable ads featured a set of identical hearts with “white,” “black,” and “yellow” written on them, a gay interracial family, or a nun kissing a priest. Benetton and Toscani believed the point of Benetton’s advertising was not to sell pullovers but to promote its image by drawing public attention to important societal themes. Luciano Benetton explained why he focused his advertisements on causes rather than products. “By removing these images from their familiar contexts and putting them in a new context, they are more likely to be noticed and given the attention they deserve as the viewer becomes involved in the process of answering the questions: What does this image mean? Why does this image appear with a Benetton logo? How do I feel about the subject of the image? What can I do?
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Dr. Emmanuel Probst, excerpted from his book Assemblage: Creating Transformative Brands
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