The August 12 webinar “Marketing Re-imagined: A New Global Purpose” kicked off with an attendee poll: Will consumers be more judgmental of brand behaviour in 2021 vs. 2019? A resounding 93 per cer cent replied “yes.”
Jacqueline Loch, SJC’s EVP of Customer Innovation (and past chair of The Content Council), moderated the live conversation from Canada with leaders from marketing and content agencies in three other countries: Munni Trivedi, Co-Founder of Magenta in Mumbai, Andy Seibert, Managing Partner of Imprint in New York and Martin MacConnol, Executive Chairman of Wardour in London.
Offering a global perspective, the webinar considered whether we live in a time in which brands need to show more heart (more empathy, compassion and understanding) in their marketing. And if so, what are the risks and opportunities?
Factors influencing the need for more heart in marketing:
An increase in public activism
Black LIves Matter (BLM) is a primary example. The death of George Floyd in the U.S. sparked outrage in countries around the world. Citizens are concerned about big issues affecting humanity and want to know where brands stand.
We are in the wake of an economic decline and we’re not sure yet how steep it will be. A lot of people are hurting – physically, emotionally – and financially. They need to feel understood and supported.
Pressure from regulators, investors and governing bodies
They all are pushing for companies to behave more responsibly and with more purpose. Covid-19 has in fact accelerated this momentum of thinking beyond profit and bottom line.
Consumers’ constant access to information
Society is more connected than ever. Consumers are scanning social channels and researching companies from the palms of their hands.
As a result of these factors, we are seeing an increased need, and demand, for social purpose from brands. “Brands that ignore reality and the public mood do so at their peril,” said MacConnol.
How brands should incorporate social purpose in their messaging
Focus on what will help and be of value to your customers. Show you understand their challenges. Offer insights that solve customer needs rather than just selling products. Think long-term. How is your business innovating to make life work in a Covid-19 world?
“Bringing heart into communications can dovetail with business goals,” said Seibert. If companies infuse their brand with a genuine sense of a purpose, and step back from product sales, ironically sales will likely go up.
Choose a cause that’s connected to your brand. Social purpose and social stance are two different things. While every brand will have a social purpose, a brand can’t take a stand on every issue or it won’t be genuine.
Here are six international examples of brands getting it right with an appropriate mix of empathy and action. (Or as Seibert refers to it, of “heart and hand.”)
- Legal & General (U.K.)’s customer-centric approach to COVID-19 questions and concerns
- Barclaycard (U.K.)’s dedicated coronavirus support
- New York’s Brave of Heart Fund, showing 175 years later, they are still “here for you”
- National Players Basketball Association (NPBA)’s support and community rallying around BLM.
- TATA (India) – reinforcing purpose as a pillar of its success.
- Netflix – using its medium as an enabler to education, introducing a new BLM category
While the pandemic and a rise in social consciousness are touching every corner of the globe, there are regional differences for brands to consider.
Trivedi provided the example of Hindustan Unilever, which recently rebranded its indigenous skin whitening range Fair & Lovely to Glow & Lovely. The brand faced some backlash when several Bollywood celebrities, who had been the (fair) faces of Fair & Lovely, were vocal about BLM. “The reality is BLM has very little purchase power in India,” says Trivedi. “The country has plenty of its own inequalities to contend with. There’s a long way to go.”
Regardless of country or industry, the three panellists agreed that companies are faced with a new common purpose. A distinctive and genuine concern for humanity needs to be woven into every business strategy and the resulting marketing actions.
To watch a recording of the webinar, click here.
Also check out: A time for brands to be human.