Duncan Shand on kids, culture, and climate change

A few weeks ago, tens of thousands of Kiwi kids took to the streets. Not to goof off or create havoc, but to take a stand and demand change. This scale and level of activism hasn’t been seen since the Foreshore and Seabed Hīkoi in 2004. The Occupy Movement, Bastion Point and Springbok Tour protests were all influential and received widespread attention, but there’s something different about this climate change crusade we’re now experiencing. This movement is headed by a younger, more connected and engaged crowd, who are proactively looking to make a difference – the only way they know how.

The size and scale of this movement is something all brand leaders need to seriously take into account. That’s because a number of recent studies have consistently highlighted how both Gen Z’ers as well as Millennials are making a switch to support brands that make a difference and align with their ethical values.

The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand Study showed 64 percent of consumers around the world now base their buying decisions on belief – a 13 percent increase from the previous year’s results. This means that nearly two out of three consumers indicated they would move away from or avoid brands that acted recklessly or, conversely, move to support brands that operated in alignment with their values and beliefs.

Another report by Futerra in 2018 surveyed over 1,000 consumers across the United States and United Kingdom, and found that 96 percent of consumers believed their personal actions, such as donating, recycling or buying ethically, could make a difference to some degree. And over half of this group believed their actions could make a big difference. These beliefs are what’s driving the change in purchasing behaviour, and of course, the fabric of our society.

Consumers today are more connected than ever before – and their consumption is more public. They’re increasingly more likely to share the excitement of a new purchase with their friends and family via Facebook or Instagram. This behaviour, combined with a new social awakening to the vast challenges in front of us (including climate change), is driving consumers to be more deliberate in their purchasing, including for social good.

The new woke consumer strongly believes that the efforts of governments and businesses are still inadequate, and the required systematic changes aren’t being implemented fast enough, so they’re voting where they can – with their wallets.

Businesses are likely to have already felt this impact. Triple bottom line reporting was a concept arguably ahead of its time when it was first introduced in the late 90s. The idea that businesses shouldn’t just report on profit, but go beyond and also report on the impact they make for both people (social/community) and the planet (environmental) is still relevant today – perhaps more so than ever before.

With this in mind, there are three things I’d suggest all marketers should encourage their organisation:

  • Revisit and redefine purpose. At the heart of every business should be a purpose that represents what it’s striving for and that it’s endeavouring to change. Each of its brands should also have its own specific purposes (which should layer up to the overall cause).
  • In line with its purpose, consider what adjustments the business can make that demonstrate real activism, and that its customers and staff can be proud of. These initiatives should be on brand and related to the business – a perfect example is Macpac’s decision to close its stores on the day of the climate change march.
  • And finally, implement – make sure that these initiatives are real and embedded in the business. The last thing businesses want is to be exposed trying to fake it (otherwise known as woke washing).

In an environment where consumers are more connected than ever before, and regularly impacted by the influence of social and traditional media, modern businesses need to make sure they’re doing good. It’s imperative brand leaders help consumers connect the dots, distinguish between fact and fiction, and position the business in terms of genuine purpose and the things they believe in.  

In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that today, a brand ‘for good’ point of difference will make more impact than trying to create a product differentiation.

Duncan Shand, co-founder and managing director, YoungShand.

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