How Brands Can Wield Their Power to Inspire Unity Among Consumers

With purpose-driven campaigns, marketers can begin to build bridges

Consumers with conflicting opinions connect with a brand's authenticity.
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With ever-increasing scales of data collection and analytical capacity, we have some of the most powerful tools in history at our disposal—tools that can influence massive numbers of people and shift public opinion faster than ever before.

If the promise of these tools seems limitless, then so is their potential for abuse. Every day brings new headlines about the use of data analytics to create discord through audience manipulation on social media, leading to an unsurprising crisis of trust.

That same degradation in trust has also had dramatic impact on political parties, activist groups and influencers whose once-powerful voices are now limited to their respective echo chambers. This phenomenon has spread beyond social media, leaving a vacuum in the broader cultural discourse. It’s a void that brands can fill with purpose-driven, authentic campaigns that bring people together around shared values.

Of course, not all purpose-based approaches are authentic. Cynics point to Wall Street’s Fearless Girl statue and Pepsi’s protest commercial as proof of opportunism, with purpose used only to generate profit.

But on the other side of the spectrum are companies that make purpose central to how they operate. BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink’s announcement that his firm will only support companies that contribute to society was paired with a promise of accountability, a powerfully impactful statement from a company that manages more than $6 trillion in assets.

Thoughtful, purpose-centered marketing can create emotional connections with customers, leading to brand affinity and reputation that stand the test of time. Indeed, consumers now expect the brands they buy to represent their values and advocate for issues: Research has shown that 51 percent of consumers believe brands can do more than the government to solve social ills.

Fulfilling this responsibility and meeting our consumers’ expectations depends on understanding the divisions we seek to bridge. But too many brands are basing that understanding exclusively on the same types of data and analytics being used to divide us.

At HP, we sought this understanding by going beyond data analysis, convening a series of work sessions with people holding starkly opposing ideologies. They coalesced into two groups. One felt we are headed in the right direction and must accelerate that progress while the other felt our best days are behind us and we must find our way back.

Consumers now expect the brands they buy to represent their values and advocate for issues.

We gave these groups a single task, asking them to work together to identify the issues upon which they agreed. The result was six areas where we as marketers can use our reach to build bridges and create authentic, purpose-driven campaigns. Family and community, the ways in which we interact, were areas where there was agreement from both parties. Everyone agreed that America is about family and providing a better future for our children. And when it comes to community, a guiding principle was espoused clearly by one respondent who put it succinctly: “It is harder to hate someone you know.”

There was also common ground on issues of concern, such as security with cybersecurity and terrorism, on everybody’s collective minds. But perhaps the most fertile ground is in three areas relative to what both parties felt are important to their present and their future: health care, the environment and work. It is these fundamentals and the belief that everybody should have the ability to thrive that opens the door for brands.

These areas of commonality represent opportunities for brands to build thoughtful, innovative campaigns, elevating their marketing and the cultural conversation at the same time, an approach that both strengthens brand affinity and serves the greater good.

To be sure, creating unity is no easy task. But we found a way forward by framing our gatherings as work sessions rather than debates, tasking participants with starting a conversation and finding common ground. The resulting areas of agreement provide the basis for new initiatives and campaigns, from sustainability to education.

Brands can be powerful platforms, and they ought to be used to bring people together; indeed, our consumers demand it. Leading brands must use our resources to build more bridges with initiatives, creative content and marketing that unifies us and lays the foundation for a path forward as a country with shared values and a shared future.

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