From when a brand could be built and maintained mainly through a strong marketing and PR strategy and changes in consumer perceptions had long lead times and space for a response – to now where the brand and everything around it is constantly scrutinised with information being available instantly. Changing consumer perceptions can make or break brands and companies almost overnight - just ask Volkswagen. This is driven by a change in how brand and company relationships with consumers are built. A brand relationship used to be built through TV ads, the products the consumer picked up on shelf or through the branch where the service was provided. Today, relationships are less driven by these somewhat static and controllable channels but often more driven by the negative or positive ‘buzz’ surrounding the brand coming from a myriad of different independent and less controllable channels, many of which are heavily driven by online media.
The changing media landscape and channels along with consumer’s use of these have enabled consumers to form more granular and nuanced pictures of everything surrounding a brand and for consumers to look beyond the agenda a brand is trying to set with its communication strategy. This has been picked up in particular by Millennials. They are the first generation to grow up in this new world deviating from the past when consumers had 1 or 2 sources of information as their trusted go-to points. Many consumers today balance a number of sources, weigh them up against each other with friends and family indirectly vouching for these through social media sharing or in other places – and for millennials, this is now a natural way of navigating information fast and easily.
This has further helped form the consumer demand for a greater focus on the role brands and companies play in the consumer’s life and how they impact the society the consumer lives in – essentially asking for a Purpose beyond mere profit and shareholder return. A change in demand that has often been attributed to being driven by Millennials more so than linking this with information availability, what this has enabled consumers to understand about a brand and the Millennials greater utilisation of this information availability.
On the back of this a lot of brands and companies have been proactively defining their purpose and driving this as part of the company or brand strategy and in consumer communication trying to communicate the answer to what especially Millennials are asking them. A lot of this seems to have been developed with a marketing and communication lens where the job has been to communicate to the consumer base that ‘we understand why we are here and what we do for you’.
But is the trend then still not just to use old tools to solve new challenges? Taking a marketing and communication driven approach based on satisfying a group of consumers seems like the wrong way round. From a consumer point of view this runs the risk of looking like an attempt to do what companies have done in the past by building a perception of what the brand or company is. If companies and brands are perceived to be doing just this, they are likely failing the core of what consumers are asking of them when they ask them to understand their purpose – and with how the world looks today, they will quickly call you out on this!
So instead of seeing purpose as another area to build a marketing and/or audience strategy for, maybe it is time to take a step back and understand what consumers mean by purpose and how it should manifest itself in a brand/company. If there is anything the millennials have taught us it is you cannot say you are something unless it is true throughout your DNA. So the purpose needs to be rooted within the organisation first and foremost. It should start at the highest level and flow through the company culture, values and decision making helping to engage employees at all levels and by this end up framing the company’s/brand’s way of thinking and its approach to business. Once this is achieved it will organically end up forming the way a brand or company behave and think – and then your PR and marketing guys can start shouting about it! A tough task indeed but the best approach if consumers are to buy into your purpose and ultimately you as a company/brand in the future.