Brands Unwilling to Commit to a Set of Values Risk Losing Consumers

With more spending power, they're in a position to demand more from companies

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Solving consumer needs means something different today than it did 10 years ago. We now have apps for absolutely everything, personalized vitamins delivered to our front doors, technology that runs our homes on autopilot and every form of entertainment on demand. It can appear as though consumers’ fundamental needs are more than met. But that isn’t enough for world-wise Gen-Z and millennial changemakers who are eager to be active participants in bettering our world.

These emerging generations have considerable spending power and demand more from brands. Does your brand have a set of values? If so, are you acting on these values or silently standing on the sidelines? For those content to stand back, these consumers will happily move on without you.

Although product and price are still of considerable importance, we must acknowledge the emerging driver of this generation’s purchasing decisions: brands who stand for something. Seventy-three percent of millennials and 72 percent of Gen Z are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies dedicated to social and environmental change, compared to just 51 percent of boomers. On top of that, 70 percent of Gen Z would actively engage with a brand that could help them make a difference.

They’re also eager to talk about their altruistic spending habits. The volume of consumer-generated dialogue about company values on social more than doubled in the last year alone.

If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Major corporations are getting bigger, our politicians consistently have us on edge and we’re inflicting incredible suffering on our environment every day. Our youth have been loud and clear about their desire to help improve these issues however they can. Like most millennials, I am most excited to work on projects that integrate social or sustainability issues, and I try to buy products that support the causes that I believe in.

For instance, just last week the athletic apparel brand Athleta made me look twice as they promoted their B-Corp certification in their Fifth Avenue retail window as I was walking toward Lululemon, a brand I’ve been loyal to for 15 years. Johnnie Walker served me an Instagram ad during Women’s History Month to promote their partnership with Monumental Women NYC, demonstrating their dedication to supporting female empowerment, which made me respect and rethink the brand.

But this doesn’t work for every category. Coors Light recently retracted back to their classic lighthearted, upbeat content after last year’s attempt to connect the light beer with aspirational messaging around “climbing your own personal mountain” fell flat, with shipments falling 4.1 percent in 2017. Context is king, and when you’re relaxing with a beer, you probably don’t want to be reminded of the obstacles and challenges lying ahead of you.

So, what can credible brands do to connect with this generation of savvy changemakers?

Revisit your brand purpose 

Prioritize your values according to what’s most important to your business, industry and consumer. Revisit this frequently.

These emerging generations have considerable spending power and demand more from brands.

Ford Motor recently shared their “Materiality Matrix,” the framework they use to define their communication priorities, identify emerging sustainability issues, shape industry innovation and set goals accordingly. Recent data from Forrester shows that 82 percent of companies are familiar with their organization’s values, but only 67 percent live up to these values. This isn’t a marketing exercise; this is the fundamental shift we need to put into every single thing we do.

Find out what your consumers care about

Through social listening and research, look for trends and insights that can allow your brand purpose and values to shine in an ownable way.

Glossier blossomed out of Emily Weiss’ blog Into the Gloss. By surrounding herself with women discussing their opinions about the beauty industry, she gained invaluable information that allowed her to identify a market opportunity to create her own beauty line for “real girls, in real life.” Leading with pragmatism, authenticity and natural beauty have led her four-year-old ecommerce company to a $390 million valuation.

Build purpose into your products

LIFEWTR, the fast-growing PepsiCo water brand whose purpose supports its tagline, “Inspire the mind, restore the body,” has created an array of programs that support these values, in addition to celebrating and amplifying their artwork on every bottle of water. Since launching last year, they’ve set up a mentorship and education program for female artists and have created inspiring projects like #ArtByAWoman that highlighted the underrepresented female visual artists (although 51 percent of artists are female, only 5 percent of their work makes it into permanent collections). Most recently, they’ve been actively working to bring art back into public schools, where, over the last decade, 80 percent of U.S. school districts have reported cuts.

Educate, share and evangelize your tribe at every opportunity

A few years ago, I spent Thanksgiving in Northern California and, as a Canadian outdoor enthusiast, was thrilled to check out one of the first Patagonia locations for Black Friday sales. When I got to the store, I was shocked that they weren’t actually selling any apparel. Instead, they were serving warm soup, playing a documentary on fast fashion’s effect on the environmental crisis and urging visitors to buy secondhand or donate. This shocked me since everything I had ever known about Black Friday was about consumption, and on one of the biggest shopping days of the year, they weren’t selling to you and were, in fact, persuading visitors to buy less. Since that day, I’ve shared this story with dozens of people and become a loyal champion of the brand.

Build a great product, stand for something and mean it. If your values and purpose are your backbone, you’ll evangelize a tribe of loyal fans that will work hard for you.

Beyond connecting with these emerging consumers, leading with your brand values will assure that you contribute meaningful work in today’s saturated market, both online and off. You’ll attract young talent to work on your projects. Plus, don’t you think you’d sleep better at night?