How should brands navigate the current landscape of hyper-connected, socially conscious consumers?
This was the question addressed by Icon Agency’s managing directors Joanne Painter and Chris Dodds along with The Palau Legacy Project’s co-founder Laura Clarke, in a recent webinar with the Australian Marketing Institute.
The lively discussion about purpose-driven marketing covered topics from social purpose to inclusive design and the opportunity to foster a better world.
All three speakers agreed that consumers have more agency than ever before, which poses both challenges and risks to brands.
Joanne said: "We live in an era of radical visibility, hyper-connectivity and brand activism. This era is giving consumers unprecedented power to stand up for, and put their money behind, their beliefs, and they're doing this on a global scale."
Against this backdrop of increasing consumer power, Chris championed the importance of human-centred design, which should be built through listening.
"One of the most valuable gifts we can give to someone is our focus,” he said.
"Listening is arguably the most effective tool you have when building useful, empathy-led products and services."
With this growing consumer influence comes increased danger for companies that fail to heed the power of consumers.
“Get it wrong, and the consumer backlash can be instant, vocal, costly and global," Joanne said.
"Look no further than the case of Coopers Brewery, whose 2017 partnership with the Bible Society led to a national backlash of truly biblical proportions.
"Cancel culture is alive and well, particularly among Millenials and Gen Z.”
Laura similarly stressed that younger people are especially conscious of brands’ actions and stances on social issues.
"Younger generations are demanding that brands are sustainable. People want their brands to stand for something and we need brands to show the courage of their convictions because only then will consumers start to show true brand loyalty," she said.
Purpose was a common theme discussed throughout the session. While many communications and marketing professionals understand the importance of a brand living out its purpose, it is not always easy for brands to identify and articulate what that purpose is.
Joanne looked to answer the question: how do brands find and embrace their purpose?
"While every single journey is unique to the brand and to the organisation, I believe there are three primary considerations that should be your framing ideas when you approach this challenge: cultural zeitgeist, causes within that zeitgeist and ensuring your chosen purpose aligns with the values of both your brand and your audience,” she said.
"It's really important to be true to your own beliefs and that of your organisation.You need to go deep into your organisation's history, culture and values, and make sure they connect with your brand's purpose.
“At the same time, you need to understand how they interact with the big social issues of our time and the specific causes that you can champion and support as a business. This includes the brand from a corporate perspective, as well as the actions of the senior leadership team and individuals within an organisation.”
The importance of authenticity was also highlighted by Laura in the Palau Pledge campaign, which drastically reduced ecological damage caused by tourists by requiring them to sign a pledge, promising to protect the island for future generations.
“The Palau Pledge was very much in line with Palauan culture. Palau had a real culture of conservation, so the Palau Pledge was really building on the brand of Palau," she said.
More than merely an effective or even necessary marketing strategy, Laura asserted that communications professionals have a responsibility to change the world for the better by championing social purpose.
"Governments come and go, and their policies come and go with them, but if we're doing our job right then businesses and brands stick around; we're the ones that have longevity,” she said.
"We change behaviour for a living: we have a moral responsibility to the next generation to use our skill set to shift the dial for the better."
Ultimately, communications professionals must embrace rising consumer power and the public’s desire for socially conscious brands. This can only happen when we accept some moral responsibility and truly listen to our audiences.
“Humans are a diverse bunch, but one of the few things we all have in common is appreciating that our voice is heard and that we are truly seen,” Chris said