As a communications industry, we are guilty of overemphasising people’s relationship with – and interest in – brands. It is our job to think hard about brands but the truth is that people simply care a lot less about brands than we do.
The assumption that nobody cares, has been at the heart of our planning philosophy for more than 20 years.
And it only became more embedded with the annual Havas Meaningful Brands Study, which sets out to uncover what makes brands matter, surveying the attitudes of 300,000 people from around the world.
The results are particularly pertinent during the current health crisis.
One of the study’s most sobering findings:
- Australian consumers would not mind if 77 per cent of brands in their lives disappeared overnight.
It tells us that the vast majority of brands overpromised and underdelivered.
Perhaps in our desire to make brands matter more we can get carried away with ‘purpose’, the ‘why’, the ‘higher order benefit’ and ‘collective’ benefits and place less emphasis on the more functional and personal benefits. These are the benefits which drive consumer behaviour.
So why do we keep focusing on this as marketers?
One key reason is because it’s what we would like brands to be doing – partly because it can lead to a more distinctive communications package and partly because we keep being told that millennials are more principled than any other generation. Even so, we do it despite the data consistently telling us that when push comes to shove, people are more driven by what’s in it for them.
So, if people don’t care about brands in normal times, how might we expect people to think about brands in the current crisis and beyond?
It stands to reason that when faced with significant stress, anxiety and uncertainty, they would care even less about brands and even more about what’s in it for them.
However, as it turns out – that is not the case.
Our latest piece of Australian research (conducted across more than 1,000 Australians) into how brands can be more meaningful right now, paints a surprisingly different picture. Like all research, it has its limitations and can’t be used to accurately predict how this will all play out. But it’s a moment in time and further shows how pivotal this moment really is for brands.
As you might expect, people are worried about impact the COVID-19 will have on numerous aspects of their life; notably their physical health, financial situation, mental health and the welfare of elderly friends and family.
Interestingly, although people wouldn’t care if the vast majority of brands disappeared overnight, eight in ten people said that brands had an important role to play in supporting people through the crisis – just behind that of NGOs such as the WHO and the United Nations.
- 78 per cent said that they will have a stronger affiliation to brands and businesses who go above and beyond
- 78 per cent believe brands need to adapt their business to help the greater good during the COVID-19 crisis
- 66 per cent have even gone as far as saying that they will abandon brands and businesses that only act in their own self-interest in the current environment
The message from consumers is loud and clear
Now is the time to walk the walk, rather than just talk the talk, and brands need to be going beyond business as usual and be seen to be ‘doing something’ that is meaningful to support the community in navigating through this crisis.
For the first time, respondents are placing more importance on brand behaviours that help others rather than themselves, ranking ‘collective’ benefits, such as acting with integrity over the functional and personal. This may just be a moment in time and yes it might be a research effect, but it also could be the beginning of a new set of expectations from consumers about brands – that they need to make a positive contribution to society not just the stock market.
- Don’t panic: now’s the time to double down on your marketing efforts
- Brands pivot their marketing strategies in the wake of the coronavirus
Right now, this is manifesting itself in a myriad of different responses and brands have stood up. Tactics will come and go but the strategy of demonstrating how a brand has a positive contribution to play in society, might be here to stay.
Time will tell better than any research – who knows, when it’s all over we might snap back into our cynical ways and look back on platforms like Houseparty as a quirk of its time. Then again, we may not, and some beliefs about how brands behave and what people expect from them, will be forever changed.
Brands with integrity and commitment to the greater good, might well start to form stronger, lasting and more meaningful relationships with everyday consumers who seek for brands to stand for ‘more than the sell’. We may also see a movement from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have.
The goal to make the world a better place may be more relevant now than ever before – and it’s a dream that certainly has the foundations of becoming a reality.
Olly Taylor is Chief Strategy Officer at Havas Australia.