A company’s products and service must align with consumers’ values and beliefs

 To say that millennials have changed the face of commerce could well rank as the understatement of 2019. Over the past few years, this new generation of employees, business owners and consumers has become the driving force of global business and consumption trends, and is also fast becoming the dominant force in transforming worldwide investment trends.

And the changes are far reaching. For one, as young consumers gain most of the buying power, there has been a tangible shift in the way purchasing decisions are made. Where previous generations were primarily swayed by pricing considerations or brand loyalty, today’s young customers are largely influenced in their buying choices by the demonstrable commitment of companies and brands to have a real and lasting positive impact on the Earth.

These same consumers are bringing this fervour for and insistence on positive social, environmental and economic change into the workplace. In fact, it could be argued that for many of today’s talented young job candidates, when considering an employment opportunity, the prospective employer’s commitment to doing good carries as much weight as the salary package and benefits they are offering.

Khensani Nobanda is group executive of Nedbank group marketing and corporate affairs

Khensani Nobanda is group executive of Nedbank group marketing and corporate affairs

This seismic shift in brand and organisational perceptions among today’s consumers and employees was confirmed by Accenture’s 2018 Global Consumer Pulse Research survey of 30 000 consumers across the world. The findings indicated that companies and brands that went beyond communicating just their product or service offerings, but also engaged with consumers around their social commitment, significantly increased their attractiveness to consumers and positively influenced their buying decisions.

The findings are a clear indication that consumers are no longer willing to invest their time, money or loyalty into organisations and brands that merely focus on selling products and services — even if those products and services are of good quality at competitive prices. Today’s consumers are far more discerning than those of the past, and their buying decisions are carefully considered, with significant weighting placed on whether a brand, company, product or service aligns with their personal values and beliefs.

And given that   consumers now have access to comprehensive information about the brands and companies they are considering supporting, this shift in decision-making factors has huge relevance and importance for every business in operation today.

That’s because this new wave of socially conscious and environmentally aware consumers and employees is adamant that it is the responsibility of today’s businesses to be drivers of positive change and meaningful transformation. And this expectation has resulted in a significant shift in the way in which brands must see their role in society. What the new generation of young consumers and employees expect of brands today is nothing less than absolute authentic commitment to positive social and environmental change. So, where in the past it may have been sufficient for a company to have a separate corporate social investment strategy and give some of its profits to worthy causes, today the expectation is that the entire organisation demonstrates real commitment to sustainable transformation, and that this commitment is central to its business strategy and operational decisions.

That’s not to say that CSI doesn’t still have a massively important role to play in bringing about positive societal change. But what it does mean is that making such change the sole responsibility of a CSI arm simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. What is expected of organisations now is that contributing to the transformation of society and conservation of the environment is core to the business. And delivering on that expectation ultimately comes down to one thing, and that is that today’s brands have to be purpose led.

There are few places in the world where this shift is more important, or more necessary, than South Africa. Our country’s damning legacy of social and economic inequality places both a moral obligation and business imperative on every organisation and brand to be driven by a clear purpose to deliver positive change.

While this has always been the case, the fact that a new generation of consumers and employees has reached the age where they have the financial power to literally make or break a company means that those brands that have managed to survive without a clear purpose now have no option but to fundamentally transform the way they work.

The reality is that today’s marketplace is driven by technology, which is resulting in ravenous consumption of communication and information that, in turn, can bring about extremely rapid behavioural and perception shifts.

When you overlay this dynamic market environment onto a hugely volatile and uncertain global economic, social and political environment, the eye-watering pace of disruptive technology development, and steadily declining levels of trust among citizens and consumers, the imperative for brands to go beyond being just a visual representation of a company or product becomes patently clear.

But against this backdrop, the question then has to be asked: What is a purpose-led brand? For us at Nedbank, a purpose is ultimately what anchors a brand, and keeps it stable, consistent and solid irrespective of the circumstances in which it exists. Being purpose led means that a brand has a strong voice and clear opinions about those things that matter most to its customers. And a purpose-led brand is one that is committed to enabling, encouraging and facilitating positive change.

It was our understanding of these brand requirements that led Nedbank to express its purpose as a commitment to using our financial expertise to do good for individuals, families, businesses and society.

For us, the key to the effectiveness of this brand purpose is that it is proactive, rather than responsive. As a bank committed to doing good, we don’t merely take an approach that involves opposing negative social or environmental issues. We seek out opportunities to proactively bring about positive change by doing good.   Ultimately, being purpose led means shifting the emphasis from what you do, to how and why you do it. And in our experience, this shift in focus is what resonates positively with consumers and allows them to communicate and engage with their markets more meaningfully and effectively, especially across the more immediate and human-centric media channels that most of today’s consumers prioritise.

In the end, the brands that will survive these turbulent global times will be those that are able to demonstrate sincerity and authenticity to an increasingly discerning and aware market. And that sincerity will never be achieved by just highlighting some aspect of social or environmental investment, or “getting behind” a cause. It demands that they have clear conviction and a stated purpose, and are determined to do whatever necessary to translate that into sustainable action that delivers real and lasting results. In other words, to be a winning brand today, you have to stand for something.

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