Brands that have a “why” to live can bear almost any “how.” A somewhat-butchered quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, sure, but a great encapsulation of the power — and promise — of purpose.
In an ever-evolving era of radical visibility, technology and media have matured to give individuals the capability to voice and stand behind their convictions in front of a massive audience. This reality, which has manifested itself in movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, is touching every aspect of people’s lives — including their purchasing decisions.
The pandemic has accelerated these realities. Now that everyone is online all the time and entrenched in their own orbits of belief, the demand for brands to stand up for a common shared value has never been greater.
Companies and brands are under the spotlight as they struggle for competitive advantage in the context of this reality. Traditional elements of product selection or price don't drive customer decisions anymore; consumers are now assessing what a brand says.
What it does (or doesn't do).
What it stands (or stays silent) for.
Before the pandemic and social-justice issues raged and reigned, Unilever proved a tangible value in putting a heavy emphasis on purpose to trigger growth and separate itself from competitors. Of its top 40 brands, nearly half are strongly committed to sustainability efforts. So-called “sustainable living” brands are marketed as good for society — and they are markedly good for Unilever's bottom line: These product lines have grown 69% faster than the company’s other brands and produced more than 75% of the company’s growth.
Since the pandemic, these values stand out more than ever before, and consumers are quick to abandon a brand that doesn't meet their expectations — whether it's to align with their political perspectives, diversity of media shared, or even safe practices when it comes to COVID-19. As cancel culture becomes more and more of a threat to a brand, teams that create advertising and marketing materials need to consider their consumers' interests before launching a campaign.
To that point, I don't think a brand can survive nowadays by thinking its addressable audience comprises everyone. People are too segmented in their beliefs and values. As a result, brands need to consider who their products are built for, consider the persona, and ensure the values and messaging align with the beliefs of the consumers. This is the new normal for marketing and brands.