Less than three months into 2022, which has started with as much gusto as the first two years of the decade, presenting us with not only a resurgent pandemic, but a land war in Europe for the first time since World War II (this time with nukes, how fun), we’re going to try to take a break from a new season of doom scrolling and get super positive in order to answer the rhetorical question: “Can Marketers Really Make a Difference?” The answer is an emphatic yes! Yes! YES! Marketers can make a difference, and they can’t just take that for granted; consumers are demanding that marketers make a difference, and the long-term success of their brands depend on it.
First, let’s talk about the stats. According to McKinsey, 68% of consumers say their social values shape their purchasing decisions. IPSOS has also found that approximately 70% of consumers tend to buy brands that align with their personal values, and in the UK, France and the US this number has increased by at least 15% in the last 10 years. IPSOS and McKinsey are not alone. Edelman has found that consumers want CEOs to speak out on social issues, and Taluna has found that almost 60% of consumers believe “it is the responsibility of brands and manufacturers to drive change in society and better support social issues.”
As for issues themselves, we’ve already talked a lot here about the importance of DEI. “Digital Transformation without DEI is no transformation at all,” talked about the moral imperative of DEI, and in “Talk is Cheap: Consumers Demand DEI Action” we cited the data, which speaks for itself:
“According to Facebook IQ 71% of NOW Gen consumers expect brands to promote DEI in their advertising. According to Microsoft 70% of Gen Z consumers are more trusting of brands that show diversity. A study conducted by The Female Quotient, Google, and IPSOS found that 64% of NOW Gen consumers took some action after seeing an ad that incorporated DEI. That same study found that 69% of Black consumers were more likely to purchase from a brand whose ads positively represented their race, and that 71% of LGBTQ consumers were more likely to click ads that authentically represent their sexual orientation. Furthermore, 75% of Gen Z consumers will end relationships with companies that run ad campaigns perceived as macho, racist, or homophobic. These statistics pretty much speak for themselves, and the trend is that DEI is only becoming more important to consumers.”
As we have already discussed in detail, DEI is not just a business imperative but a moral one and companies that turn their backs on the opportunity this cultural moment presents will be left behind. When it comes to DEI, marketers don’t just have the opportunity to create change but a responsibility, and most importantly those who have accepted the challenge are making a difference.
Sustainability and reducing environmental harm are two other major issues for consumers. In fact, according to Google, 78% of consumers think big brands must play a role in fighting climate change. Marketers in turn have a duty to inform consumers about what companies are doing to fight climate change and spread the message that action to fight climate change is possible. Data shows that consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable CPGs. In 2022 consumers are going to continue to demand that brands turn everything on its head to have the most minimal environmental impact possible.” Fifty-nine percent of consumers say they prefer buying from brands that are addressing the climate emergency, and “91% wish to see brands ‘show by example’ and demonstrate the actions they are taking to support the planet.”
While all of this data shows there is strong consumer demand for these types of initiatives, the recent Unilever kerfuffle is illustrative of the fact that not everyone agrees that brands should be trying to do things to make the world a better place. Unilever is loud and proud about its commitment to sustainability. It says that it is “working towards a better, fairer, greener world for all,” and that “taking action on climate change is taking action on human rights.” Recently one of their shareholders took issue with the strategy, and it generated a lot of press, but an equal amount of backlash. In the end, it boils down to a political argument between those with a vision of a soulless capitalism trundling blindly forward in the name of short term shareholder profit and those that think the purpose of capitalism “is to produce profitable solutions to problems of people and planet.” That debate won’t be settled anytime soon.
But to frame “brand purpose” as somehow anti-capitalist is absurd, and the debate is founded on the basis of a false choice. Whether to pursue a “brand purpose” or to work towards sustainability and human rights is a strategic choice. And as all the data above shows, the strategic choice for brands to move to sustainable practices and to support DEI would be based on meeting consumer demand. That old dichotomy of supply and demand might sound a little old-fashioned, but it’s rather new that multinational corporations who adjust their strategies to meet consumer demand might be accused of being anti-capitalist. The Unilever debate mentioned above may well be better framed not as a debate over brand purpose but whether brands should dedicate themselves to shareholder demand rather than consumer demand, which would be way way way beyond the scope of this article.
Since “behavioral science teaches us that when we feel positive about our actions, we are more motivated to continue to act” we are going to try and crank up the positivity here. As all the overwhelming weight of data shows, consumers are demanding that brands take action when it comes to making changes to make the world a better place. As marketers, it’s our job to communicate with consumers and when consumers are communicating to bring that message to the c-suite and to make sure that consumers are heard and that brands are delivering what consumers want. Consumers are telling brands what they want and the only question is whether brands will listen. In this historical moment, marketers really do have an opportunity to “make a difference. Marketers can really make a difference and they should.