Opinion: The rise of purpose-driven brands in the New Normal

Yatnesh Pandey, Kansai Nerolac Paints Ltd, decodes how both brands and consumers are rapidly moving away from being just transactional partners to becoming equally responsible purpose-driven agents of change in the face of the pandemic.

Even as we come to terms with the post-COVID world, rife with a global, economic, and political crisis, the need for initiative and inclusive action, is becoming increasingly imperative. Traditionally, consumers made a purchase decision based on one of the three fundamental needs that align with a brand’s offering – rational, emotional, and social need. Over the years, with digitization, the evolution of global marketplaces, and the tech innovations leading to real-time consumer engagement over social media platforms, consumers today have evolved to be one of the most significant brand custodians, ambassadors, and stakeholders, and all-in-all, purpose-driven brands.

Given the current global situation of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, the modern consumer’s need to seek emotional and social alignment with brands is equally important compared to the rational/ functional need. With e-commerce, the era of information overload, and wider access to a variety of products, the age of a brand is reduced. Gone are the days when it took a couple of years to build a brand. Today, it is about compelling narratives that can drive an experimental customer to ‘click’ and experience a brand and form an instant affinity or aversion to it. From having to compete on areas like pricing, ease of use, quality, and legacy in the past decades, brands today are fiercely competing on global digital platforms for consumer validation through narratives that go beyond the product and profit parameters, and address the larger social/ environmental issues.

The new consumer is seeking a larger, almost vicarious relationship that is driven by the need to belong, to relate, to identify, and to find a voice in the brands that they endorse. As per a survey by Forrster, consumers in the post COVID era are set to make purchase decisions based on values like environmental protection, data privacy, and social/ ethical business practices, and are set to ‘vote’ with their wallets and commit to brands that exhibit practices which benefit the community and society at large. The survey also found a positive correlation between ethical marketing practices and consumer loyalty, stating that brands who can find a balance between purpose and profits will be more likely to win over loyal consumers and rule their hearts, and wallets! 

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And rightly so! In the highly radicalized and crisis struck the world, there are several issues that impact larger populations across the world. When brands take a stand for a cause, they automatically become reflections of the collective psyche of their customers, offering them a larger voice, a purpose, and a more structured approach to take action and drive change. And this feeling satiates a strong psychological need of being able to act, show support, and become a part of a larger mass movement.

Three key pillars of brand driven causes that reflect the changing consumer sentiment, are as follows:

  1. Health and sustainability: The pandemic has spread awareness around the urgent need to address climate change, and consumers are actively seeking to shift to more ‘conscious’, or ‘green’ alternatives. As a result, brands that offer organic/ environmentally friendly alternatives automatically enjoy a stronger affinity for these customers. Transparency and trust are also equally rewarded, as more consumers are switching to brands that are more open about the ingredients used in their packaged food or about the source of their products etc., resulting in the rise of organic and healthy brands. Thus, mindful initiatives like planting trees, recycling wastes or switching to more sustainable/ organic raw material options, altering the manufacturing/ operations process to arrest pollution, etc., are narratives that are driving consumers to support and endorse brands.
  2. Social equality and security: Apart from environmental and health concerns, an inclusive, safe, and just social fabric that is devoid of gender, caste, or race-based discrimination, is another key aspect that is driving the modern consumer. From being aware of a brand’s corporate and social responsibility and their ethical/ inclusive HR policies, consumers are increasingly alibiing with smaller ethical and social entrepreneurs and responsible corporate, who can take a stand to address the larger issues impacting the social fabric of the community. Arising from a deep-rooted need to feel safe and to belong, consumers are choosing brands that are able to stand up for democratic and inclusive values. Seeking more than just a voice or a representation, consumers today are seeking an opportunity to be a part of a larger group that can help them maintain a safe, and just social fabric, and offer a strong voice that goes beyond just the product or service that they provide. 
  3. Mutual growth Vs Profits: Lastly, the entire crux of the modern consumer’s relationship with the brand is the ‘collaboration’ approach to creating social impact and change. A shift from the transactional, profit-first approach to a collaborative, ‘win-win’ approach for all stakeholders, is a major driving force when it comes to building long-term brand loyalties and affinities. Legacy brands like TATA and Godrej, for example, have stood the test of consumer loyalty over the years, for their ‘mutual growth and development approach towards society at large, instead of only focusing on their immediate, paying customers. As a result, the overall brand valuation has been created over decades, in the form of education institutes, hospitals. NGO’s and entrepreneurial incubation centers that empower indigenous and local entrepreneurs etc. are still looked upon with respect and admiration.     

While the above are key aspects that drive the new consumer, investment in cause-marketing has been proven to pays huge long-term dividends for a company’s reputation. The bottom line of this is, in the end, it is about solidarity and consumers will always remember how their favorite brands reacted in times of crisis – who stood by them and who selfishly recoiled to safeguard personal gains when they look back on the COVID-19 era. When a brand adopts or partners with a cause to support the community, one not only builds brand loyalty, increase sales, engage employees, and address a critical need, but also creates a stronger collaborative foundation for an evolving society, which in turn, passes on the brand legacy and nurtures a new generation of brand loyalists!

This piece is written by Yatnesh Pandey, DGM Marketing (Decorative), Kansai Nerolac Paints Ltd.