It’s funny how some words become so ingrained in society and culture that people stop actually paying attention to what they can mean. Take ‘consumerism’ for example, we’d posit that most people, even well respected, highly intelligent and handsome folk such as marketers – if asked to summarise the meaning of consumerism in today’s marketplaces – would come up with something close to the standard interpretation, such as that offered up by Thomas Edsall:

“… the contemporary marketplace is shaped solely

by the craven needs of lowbrow consumerism …”

The above definition is. we would say a comment on today’s extreme consumerism. However, if you were to pause reading this and actually look up the word, there is a different, less pessimistic interpretation that states consumerism as simply 

‘the promotion of the consumer’s interests’

For most of its history consumerism has had a pretty simple relationship between the marketer and consumer. The majority of people ‘just wanted their things’ regardless of consequence, and businesses catered to the needs and wants of their consumers. This has stood everyone in good stead….to date. 

‘The only thing that is constant is change’

If you look at that ad from the beginning of this post, you’ll probably laugh and think ‘gosh, how far we’ve come and how much has changed’ and you would be right. Consumers today looking back increasingly see consumerism as having been and continuing to be a drain on the natural resources of the world. A prioritisation by all of us, in the satisfaction of our wants cloaked as needs.

In today’s mid-COVID world a large, important and long term shift is happening; the rise of the conscience consumer. For the previous few years there has been a quiet but consistent trend in consumer behaviours, a trend showing that today’s ‘free range’ consumers judge a brand not simply on what it provides but how, and for what purpose.

The COVID pandemic has only hastened this trend as people experience more time to think and reflect. To feel more vulnerable and, certainly during lockdown conditions, to yearn for a sense of community. 

If you’re thinking to yourself at this point ‘who are these conscience consumers and what do they want?’ they may tell you:

  • We are ethical
  • We are mindful 
  • We are better informed
  • We are becoming more self-sufficient
  • We are influential
  • We want authenticity
  • We want to impact our world
  • We want to be thoughtful

So how can business survive, and indeed thrive in this new world of the conscious consumer? By committing to being or transforming into a purposeful brand.

A purposeful brand is one in which the brand:

  • Is trustworthy
  • is responsible and acts in an ethical way
  • Is innovative
  • Is visionary and has a bigger idea for the future
  • Is relevant for the future

“Done well, pursuing Purpose means better performance and higher profits.”

By this point you are likely asking why exactly a business should care and invest in the hard work to reach the heady heights of becoming a purposeful brand.

Research from EY Beacon Institute, showed that executives from different industries say that their pursuit of purpose delivers the greatest value in areas that arguably are most critical to them.

…the executives identified several specific ways in which embedding the pursuit of Purpose in all that they do creates value. At the top of the list is building greater customer loyalty (52%), followed by preserving brand value and reputation (51%), attracting and retaining top talent (42%) and developing innovative new products and services (40%) (Figure 7).”

You may prefer case studies to research papers. Some of the largest companies in the marketplace are already transforming themselves into purposeful brands.

Unilever

Companies like Unilever have seen first-hand the tangible value of making purpose a core driver of growth and differentiation. Nearly half of the company’s top 40 brands focus on sustainability. These “Sustainable Living” brands, including Knorr, Dove and Lipton, are growing 50 percent faster than the company’s other brands and delivering more than 60 percent of the company’s growth.  [source: forbes.com interview]

L’Oréal France

In 2018, L’Oréal Professionnel launched a new line of vegan and 100% plant-based salon hair dyes called Botanēa in Western Europe. Botanēa is a 100% herbal hair colour composed of three ingredients. Cassia, grown in several regions of India, is used as an adjuster and luminiser; Henna leaves release warm copper colours; Indigo leaves deliver colour results varying from blue to purple. When mixed with hot water, these three powders enable colourists to create a huge palette of shades and tailor them to each client. L’Oréal Professionnel highlights how it combines the best of nature and scientific research with this product.  [source: Top ten global consumer trends report]

ASOS UK

In 2018, ASOS revealed plans to ban any product from the site that has been made using feathers and down, mohair, silk, cashmere or bone, teeth or shell. The ban, which came into effect at the end of January 2019, comes after ASOS stated that it would join more than 140 international retailers in their promise to stop selling products that have been manufactured using mohair. Consumers are developing more conscious shopping habits, decreasing demand for fashion that “abuses animals, from goats to geese to silkworms”.  [source: Top ten global consumer trends report]

“We’re in business to save our home planet”

Personally one of my favourite examples of a brand that has completely absorbed having a purpose, indeed existing for that purpose is Patagonia. If you have any interest in exploring the outdoors you will have come across Patagonia. They connect completely with their consumers by caring about and helping drive a shared purpose – in this case Patagonia’s and their consumers shared passion for protecting and nurturing the very thing that sustains both of them – the natural world. 

Patagonia, and companies like it are understanding that to thrive in this new world a consumer is no longer happy with simply knowing that a company offers a product but rather they need to connect with the why and how of the brand’s offering.

In times of uncertainty such as we’re currently in with COVID-19, it is the brand with a strong purpose and a community that will stay loyal to that purpose who will survive and continue to grow. If you are already a purposeful brand, congratulations on making the journey and investing the work into connecting with your consumers. They will no doubt reward you for it with years of brand loyalty and outreach.

Here at Grand Central we are on our own journey to becoming a purposeful brand for our clients, and we can help you on your journey too.   

hello@grandc.co.uk / 020 8546 0150