Why brands should start focusing on their social purpose - Julia Shepherd, MediaCom North

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by Stephen Chapman

Research highlights that consumers are ready to embrace brands that care about the same things they do – and the benefits are huge, writes Julia Shepherd, insight director at MediaCom North.

Social purpose is at the top of the agenda. 2018 got off to an interesting start with Theresa May revealing her long-term strategy to eradicate avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042. In January, Iceland followed suit with their announcement of a five-year aim to remove all plastic packaging from their own brand products. Judith Woods, writing in The Telegraph, claimed that, ‘preaching about plastic won’t be enough to lure supermarket snobs like me.’ So now the real question is, does Judith speak in consensus with all consumers, or is social purpose starting to prove more influential in the purchasing decision?

Social purpose covers a broad variety of areas, including: responsible sourcing of products, supporting local communities, changing manufacturing processes, and showing compassion to disadvantaged groups.  Brand purpose is essentially about contributing to the collective good as well as making a profit.

The benefits of having a social purpose can be huge for a business if it is properly marketed.

40% of people have stopped buying a brand or not bought a brand in the first place because of its values or behaviour according to research completed by MediaCom into public attitudes towards the social purpose of brands. These are the types of numbers that could lead to an undesirable impact on business wellbeing. Furthermore, 61% can name a brand that has had a negative impact on society, so consumers are likely to remember businesses they feel badly about. When brands are doing good in some way they need to talk about it.

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The real challenge is having a brand purpose that isn’t just seen as a marketing ploy. 45% are very sceptical of brands that claim to support good causes, and 65% agree that many brands and companies overstate their environmental credentials. A one-off good deed is not enough.  A proper strategy has to be in place, as well as actual evidence to back up claims. With the power of social media, any business trying to overstate their impact upon the world will quickly be put back in their place. Social purpose needs to be genuine, and it must be marketed well. 

Consumers respond positively to brands who care about the same things that they do.  When up to 35% of consumers have bought from a brand due to their positive values, and 49% are actively willing to pay more for one that supports a cause important to them, the time for businesses to pay attention to their reputation is now. Displaying social responsibility can give you an active advantage against competitors, perhaps an even superior one than having a slightly better or cheaper product. This percentage rises to 60% in millennials, so times are changing, and it appears customers of the future are likely to place an even greater value on social purpose. Businesses that adapt to modern consumer demands around social purpose will be able to reap the benefits it brings.

This goes beyond just purchasing though, with 62% of millennials stating they’d rather work for a company that is having a positive impact on the world. Just think how many potentially good employees that companies could be attracting through successful marketing of their social purpose. 

The far-reaching benefits go beyond just new recruits.  They impact how hard current or future employees will work, with 53% claiming they would try harder in their role if they thought that what they were doing benefitted society. 

Having a social purpose associated with a brand is no longer just an optional extra, it is something that needs to be added to marketing agendas on a consistent basis, as it can have a positive effect on purchasing behavior and employee productivity, two of the core pillars of any successful business.

Julia Shepherd is Insight Director at MediaCom North.