The year 2000 could be regarded as the birth of the digital age. It was a steep learning curve for us all, with many of us ‘winging it’ to this present day.
As we leave our teenage years behind, many of us wonder what maturity awaits us in our twenties. How will brands, marketers and consumers adapt?
The first decade brought with it the .com boom.
We saw rapid data sharing, the ability to connect people who shared our views and the acceleration of ecommerce.
The second decade brought social connectivity on an unprecedented scale.
We saw social platforms bring like-minded people together, political campaigns digitise, news sources diversify and the emergence of blockchain.
So what will the third decade bring?
The Evolving Relationship Between Consumers and Brands
When we look back over the last 22 years, there are few standout trends that leave telltale signs of what’s to come.
According to a 2019 global survey conducted by Salesforce, 73% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. And companies have risen to the challenge, with more complex data analysis for understanding the customer journey, better technology for managing customer data, and more personalisation to deliver experiences unique to each user.
The companies that have achieved success over the last two decades are the ones who have invested in understanding their customers. As technology continues to evolve, brands will be able to create deeper relationships and deliver even more targeted experiences.
In the age of Amazon, customers have a wealth of product information at their fingertips. They can read reviews, search for the best prices and fastest shipping, and find coupons and discounts, all within minutes. In fact, consumers have so much choice that they are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of products and services available.
With limitless options for, well, everything, consumers have all the power – and brands have to compete for their attention.
Companies that can differentiate themselves from their competitors with things like superior customer service like Zappos or a wealth of engaging content like Netflix have a better chance of standing out in a crowded marketplace.
Brand Loyalty and Sentiment
Here’s a surprising statistic: 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers. What that tells me is that brands should spend just as much time – if not more – deepening relationships with people who have already made a purchase than they do trying to acquire new customers.
Consumers will pay more for products and services from brands they know and trust. And in the age of social media, that trust can be broken quickly. One wrong customer interaction or social media post could do irreparable harm to your business.
Keeping your customers happy doesn’t end when they click the “buy” button – that’s just the beginning. Ongoing engagement and a trustworthy reputation will help you to retain the customers you have as well as get new ones.
Blockchain has been around since 2008, but its use has only expanded beyond cryptocurrency in recent years. Today, blockchain has applications in finance, supply chain and digital payments, among others. And the thing that makes blockchain appealing is transparency.
Consumers increasingly want to know where their products come from. Using blockchain for supply chain management means that every aspect of production is tracked. How fair is that fair trade coffee, really? How did that food get from the farm to the table? Blockchain can answer those questions.
Blockchain also has the potential to make companies more accountable financially. Knowing how a company spends and manages their money can help consumers decide if that company aligns with their values or not.
In summary, people and brands understand more about one another than ever before. The impact of this is a rise in consumer power that has never been possible before.
Consumers are free to take a unique journey through the challenges that their life presents and they are able to find solutions that suit them easily. As a result, they are spending cautiously and are particular about who they transact with.
With 2023 approaching quickly, many brands, leaders and businesses are unsure of how to continue achieving growth. The learnings of previous decades all point towards an unavoidable future of empowered consumers.
How will brands and consumers adapt to this?
Brands that succeed in the twenties will be those that stand for a cause.
What Does Your Brand Stand For?
Thanks to these recent developments, consumers are unavoidably aware of the impact that their dollars have. Brands who work for a cause are suddenly cooler than those that exist for profit.
Consumers are speaking with their dollars and brands are starting to listen.
Where governments fail to listen, brands are stepping in to act on social problems that matter to them.
Child labour, sustainability, environmental restoration, plastic collection, climate change, education, equality and freedom of speech are just a few causes that consumers care about.
The challenge: Brands exist to turn a profit, therefore the involvement of social issues could be seen as a distraction toward growth. Right?
Brands that support causes that align to their consumers needs or beliefs will see increased volumes of the ‘right customer’ – a challenge that has plagued marketers for decades. As a result, businesses that do not adapt will find it harder and harder to exist. It’s no longer okay to exist for the sole purpose of making money for yourself and your shareholders.
Consider this: there are an estimated 10 million non-government organisations (NGOs) worldwide. By 2030, it is expected that the number of people donating money to them will be 2.5 billion. To put that into perspective, that number was 1.4 billion in 2014.
People care about causes. Businesses who success in 2022 will have to find theirs.
How to Find Your Brand’s Social Cause
Your brand’s social cause should be an extension of your business. For example, if you sell shampoo, helping to fight hunger may appear to be a disconnect. To find a cause that you can go all in on, answer these three questions:
- What are the major issues plaguing my industry?
Every industry has problems, whether it’s child labor in third-world countries in the apparel industry or bad farming practices in the food supply chain. Highlight the ones that are specific to yours, that you think you could actually have a positive impact on.
For example, if you sell stationary, a focus on sustainable forestry practices might make sense for your brand. Or paper recycling.
- Is my company a part of the problem?
If the answer to this question is “yes,” don’t give up. You can do better. And highlighting that you are doing better gives you credibility with consumers, and most importantly, it puts pressure on your competitors to do better, too. And that has the potential to reform entire industries.
If you source some of your products from China, for example, find a local supplier with ethical practices. You may have to increase your prices, but guess what? Consumers will pay more for ethical products. Maybe not all of them, but the right ones will.
- Is there an NGO I can partner with?
Finding an organization devoted to causes you want to support is beneficial in two ways: first, they can advise you on how to better align your production and marketing with your cause. Second, if a portion of your sales go to a well-known organization, consumers will feel good about spending money with you.
Many NGOs also work on changing government policy. If you are aligned with an organisation that makes a significant change on a legislative level, you can contribute to that effort and reap all the reputational benefits that come from it.
If your brand sells meal kits, maybe tackling food waste could be an issue for you to support. A partnership with a local food bank to eliminate your company’s food waste could be a good first step, followed by a partnership with a national charity devoted to the cause. A portion of every meal kit sold could go to ending food waste throughout the country.
Finding a cause that makes sense for your brand takes a lot of corporate soul searching, and you may need to change the way certain aspects of your business work. But by doing so, you might just change the world.
Not to mention, you’ll likely pick up a lot of new customers on the way.
3 Companies That Stand for Something
There are companies across the globe working hard to make the world a better place. Here are a few that are transforming Australia.
Hardware chain Bunnings has a strong commitment to sustainability. Within their operations, they strive to use less energy and water and produce less waste.
Bunnings also has a strong focus on ethical sourcing, especially in regard to Timber. To that end, they work with Greenpeace and the WWF on improving their operations and working to reform government policy across the industry.
Skin care brand Dove reinvented its image a decade ago to focus on “real beauty” and today, it is the business’s core mission. In an industry filled with impossible beauty standards, the brands commitment to celebrating women of all sizes, ages and colors has helped to set it apart.
To support this mission, the brand has created the Dove Self-Esteem Project, which strives to help foster body positivity in young people. They have partnered with several organisations on this effort, including Girl Guides Australia.
A natural extension of their brand, the banking company has a strong commitment to financial literacy within the communities they serve. To that end, their Start Smart program teaches primary, secondary and vocational students the basics of managing money, for free.
Commonwealth also has partnerships with the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) and Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) to help support education and inclusion for indigenous youth.
Make Doing Good Your Brand’s Mission
Having a corporate cause isn’t just about donating money to a charitable organisation and sending out a press release about it. Companies that want to succeed – and that’s every company, otherwise why would you do it? – must make an ongoing commitment to social change.
You can start small, of course. That check and press release obviously won’t hurt your business. But think bigger. How do you want to change your industry for the better? Your community? The world? Make it a part of your brand’s mission. And you’ll find the customers that care about that mission just as much as you do.
Even better? Those customers won’t just buy from you. They’ll become your brand advocates. And that’s the best advertising any company can get.
What do you think? Agree or disagree? Leave me a note on what you think the most important strategy for growth will be in 2022: