#StopHateforProfit, COVID-19, a global recession, racial injustice — all events continue to permeate in 2021, plus the events at the Capitol. These are all events that consumers are now expecting brands to take a stand on. In fact, 61 percent of audiences now rate inclusivity as a crucial factor for brand loyalty, amongst others. No longer is it OK for brands to simply sit back from the conversation and continue to target consumers without a point of view. Today, there must be intent behind every campaign.
The everyday consumer is now expecting some form of support from brands. It can be emotional, to make consumers feel, such as Nike’s campaign with Colin Kaepernick for the brand’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It.” Or financial support, where brands reduce prices to be more inclusive or in an understanding of tough times, like ThirdLove, which lowered its prices amidst COVID-19 to stay competitive and affordable.
For some brands, however, they’re scared to move forward at the risk of alienating groups of consumers. While understandable, as we're facing unprecedented times, it’s more important today than ever to discuss how to properly incorporate purpose-driven marketing within an organization. This includes ensuring it’s genuinely a part of one's brand and not just a campaign to hijack a trend.
Let’s dive into how brands can be purposeful in their marketing approaches.
2020: The Year the Consumer Demanded More From Brands
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that consumers have a voice, and they’re more than willing to use it. Scratch that — they're going to be vocal. It can be on social media, with consumers documenting racial injustice, activism, or simply speaking out, or through brand boycotts. After all, according to YouGov, half (50 percent) of Americans say they've boycotted a business at some point in their life. Consumers are using their voices to demand more, and in increasing waves.
For some brands, these campaigns are personal. Under Armour’s Run to Vote campaign not only focused on increasing voter turnout, but it reinforced President and Chief Executive Patrik Frisk’s personal experience voting. 2020 was the first year he voted in the U.S. since becoming a citizen, and strengthened his resolve in doing what he can to make voting easier for U.S. citizens.
Brands also considered financial support for employees and consumers. BlackRock Inc’s CEO made the decision not to lay off any employees in 2020 due to COVID, and would pay full-time wages to support staff. And Comcast’s CEO pledged $500 million to employees whose jobs were impacted by the virus.
In a time of uncertainty, people want companies of all sizes to help out. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 90 percent of survey respondents want brands to do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and suppliers.
Brands need to do more. The question is, how?
Don’t Hijack a Trend for the Sake of it
Another thing 2020 taught us? Consumers can see through an unauthentic message. Purpose-driven marketing must be a genuine part of a brand, while understanding their target audience.
Patagonia has always been a brand that has taken a stand. Its latest campaign, Vote the Assh**** Out, focused on voting out politicians who denied or disregarded climate change. While a bolder stance than previous strategies, it didn’t come across as disingenuous. And Patagonia made sure that its core audience wouldn’t be offended by the new products.
On the flip side, Cadbury pulled a TV ad depicting an Easter egg hunt during the beginning of the pandemic. Concerns arose that it promoted irresponsible behavior by depicting a grandfather hugging his visiting grandchildren.
Consumers can be quick to love a brand one day, and then abandon their cart the next. Having a purpose isn’t something that's decided overnight. While supporting racial injustice or political activism might work for some, it might not work for all. Understanding the target audience will help determine which causes to support, and the proper way to do so, ensuring it’s a part of the company’s DNA. Not just through marketing, but within diversity and inclusion efforts internally.
Focus on the Experience, Not the Trend
Consumer loyalty isn't a new concept, but 2020 did reinforce it. As the world halted, brands were faced with shuttered storefronts and an acceleration to digital. And with shopping experiences transitioning to online in an accelerated fashion, experiences are crucial.
Marketers should focus on building it into their offerings. Create a more pleasant experience for shoppers, including ad experiences that aren’t intrusive and disruptive.
When’s the last time you were browsing content and were annoyed by a pop-up ad? Or were targeted by an ad that had nothing to do with your interests? While brands can’t physically interact with shoppers, replicating that in-store experience is key. There’s a higher expectation from marketers to make more meaningful connections that seamlessly integrate into content. Focus on building and sustaining trust digitally. Engage with your audience across multiple channels such as social media or email. It all starts with where, and how, you market online.
2020 might be over, but purpose-driven marketing is here to stay. Consumer trust and loyalty is everything, and can make or break a brand. But remember, any and all purpose-driven efforts must be baked into each and every campaign. These experiences must be reflective from one idea to the next, ensuring consumers have a solid understanding of who the brand is each time they visit.
Andrew Furman serves as senior vice president of sales at Outbrain, overseeing North America. Outbrain is a digital native advertising company at the center of the feed discovery innovation.
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Andrew Furman serves as Senior Vice President of Sales at Outbrain overseeing North America. Outbrain is a digital native advertising company at the center of the feed discovery innovation.
In his current and past roles, Andrew consults brands, agencies, and publishes on how to successfully execute digital content marketing strategies and initiatives. Andrew has over 20 years of advertising sales and sales management experience, which includes over six years at FOX in both NY and Chicago. Andrew graduated from Indiana University School of Business with a BA in Marketing/International Business and received an MBA from Baruch Zicklin School of Business in NY. Andrew resides in Chicago with his wife and twin children and is an avid skier.