The world's most successful brands are using their platforms and resources for the betterment of society and are reaping the rewards. Consumers are, more so than ever before, highly aware of world issues and tend to conduct their lives accordingly. Instead of blindly consuming products based on overused advertising techniques, Global and U.S. Retail Sector Leader Mark Larson states that people are leaning towards brands that “operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues.” It is becoming increasingly necessary for brands to align themselves with positively impacting the world in order to fulfil the consumer expectation that they “stand for more than the products they sell.”
In a survey conducted by The Macarthy Group, it was found that 84% of millennials are not won over by traditional marketing methods, clearly illustrating the fact that brands need to do more to catch their attention. With the rise of social consciousness as a whole, it is becoming necessary for brands to move towards actively engaging with world issues. Tim Neilson, Co Founder of the Global Philanthropy Group, points to the fact that 93% of millennial consumers are more likely to buy from brands that have a clear “cause association.” While advocating for more than one’s product may seem risky, it has been shown that the benefits are paramount. By integrating meaningful change, brands gain credibility with customers who are increasingly socially and environmentally aware.
As part of Fortune’s Change the World List, Alan Murray noted, “businesses are searching for new ways to prove capitalism’s power to rectify social ills,” showing that there is a recognised need to move away from being solely profit-hungry. Millennials are, in particular, disillusioned by the marketing practices of big corporations who deny that they have any responsibility in shifting inequality and other social issues. There is, as Murray notes, the opportunity for capitalism to do good and use their resources for the betterment of the world. In the 2016 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study it was highlighted that 90% of consumers absolutely expect brands to work in a way that directly confronts environmental and social concerns.
The success of this change-driven approach has been demonstrated by a number of influential brands such as Tesla, a car manufacturing company that rejected the use of fossil fuels and shifted its focus to developing sustainable technology. By employing various strategies that boosted the manufacturing and distribution of electric cars, the company actively aligned itself with environmental sustainability and proved to its consumers that it was committed to doing its part to alleviate environmental concerns. Not only did this gain the brand positive publicity but, as a result, allowed for a jump in their profits, showing that doing good is also wise from a business perspective.
Paul Polman, CEO of consumer goods company Unilever, looks to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as being the “fundamental cornerstone to secure future economic and business growth.” Unilever itself began implementing the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) in 2010, clearly aligning itself with the SDGs. Polman notes that this plan illustrates just how effective a focus on sustainability can be, with their “Sustainable Living brands growing 30% faster than the rest of the company.” By actively working with the SDGs, Unilever was able to achieve tangible returns, illustrating just how beneficial a change-based focus can be.
Apple is another huge brand that is using its platform and resources to make a difference and, therefore, attracting customers who expect and value this focus. In Greenpeace’s 2015 Clicking Clean Report, they pointed to Apple’s impressive efforts, noting that it has “…increased its impact as a change agent driving renewable energy.” 93% of the company’s energy usage comes from renewable sources and is a perfect example of how one can positively impact the world whilst simultaneously making massive profits. In addition to their use of renewable energy sources, Apple also announced their “sustainable forestry agenda” that looks to conserve 35 000 acres in the US, as well as 1 million acres in China. It is clear that even the biggest brands are getting involved in the movement towards actively engaging with social and environmental issues and receiving significant good publicity as a result.
In addition to environmental sustainability, many brands are also focusing on social issues throughout the world. Coca-Cola, for instance, ran a campaign in both Pakistan and India that encouraged people to move past their differences and connect over a Coke. Highly advanced vending machines were set up and allowed people in each country to communicate through “a live communications portal linking strangers in two nations.” The relationship between Pakistan and India is deeply affected by historical conflict and, by recognising this issue and working towards alleviating it, Coke gained credibility with consumers who value social change. The thought behind the “Small World Machines” was to spark a moment of happiness and unification that the consumer would inevitably associate with Coca-Cola’s product. Coke is a prime example of how positive this shift towards the incorporation of social awareness can be.
Simply put, brands need to keep up with a growing social and environmental consciousness amongst consumers. Having little to no regard for world issues is becoming more and more unattractive and it’s important for companies to actively move towards making meaningful change in order to combat this perception. The way forward, then, is for brands to gain publicity through making a positive impact on world issues and fulfill the consumer expectation to actively engage with such.