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Covid-19 has changed how consumers behave and brands must meet these new needs, says Jean-Laurent Ingles, executive VP, Unilever Haircare

As a response to the pandemic brands are having to rethink their strategies and the direction of innovation in response to shifts in consumer behaviours. 

With the sanitary crisis in play, the functionality of brand products has come in great focus. For example, being committed to serve consumers immediate needs whilst maintaining hygiene related regulations; we are seeing coffee chains offer their beverages in single use plastic cups, reversing previous discounts that were offered to those bringing their own reusable mugs. Given the crisis, this makes logical sense as we’ve all had to adapt our behaviours to minimize the risk of transmission. It’s no different for brands; their products must offer functional benefits that are relevant to the current context (e.g. hygienic protection) in order to address consumer concerns.

Consumer mindsets, behaviours, and emotional needs are shifting, and brands must find a way to meet these new needs quickly. In accordance with the pandemic, it is imperative for brands to serve the needs of consumers as quickly and efficiently as possible. If not, whole product lines risk becoming obsolete as hygiene concerns and social distancing take centre-stage.

So, does this crisis reaffirm the functional usefulness of brands? Voices were heard claiming the victorious return of product marketing and challenging the relevance of those brands on a purpose journey. Questions were also raised about the appeal of sustainability messages in the middle of a hygiene related crisis, which may soon become an unprecedented economic crisis.

This fake opposition first of all ignores the evidence that the most powerful, and authentic, way for brands to embrace purpose is to anchor it in an enduring product truth. And as a matter of fact, COVID puts a new light on ‘purpose’ in brands and the sense of crisis and urgency we have all felt in the last few months. Our sense of human responsibility in the face of the sanitary crisis, is no different than the one which should rationally drive us to address similar global issues like climate change, waste, biodiversity loss. We must also continue to heighten our social usefulness by supporting human wellbeing, driving inclusion and making societal improvement. Those are burning issues that seem less urgent in the face of a global pandemic but in reality are no less so. Consumers understand this just as much as before the pandemic. Brands who understand this will attain true differentiated growth and have the license to sell more.

We are seeing brands able to marry growth and positive impact, whilst resonating with their consumer base and thriving. For example, the social distancing scenario recently made Sunsilk’s purpose to open possibilities for girls more relevant than ever in Brazil. With families going through financial difficulties and many challenges, the barriers between girls and their dreams have increased. This initiative was co-created with a local NGO, Plano de Menina, the brands’ long-standing partner in Brazil. With that, the brand just launched the online workshop journey “Planning My Dreams”, to help girls create an actionable plan to achieve their dreams. From access to video series, help from online mentor and even downloadable e-book, Sunsilk has ensured that every girl can achieve their personalized development journeys and turn powerful content into progress and prosperity. This re-iterates that we must truly listen to what consumers want from their world, no matter the context. It’s not just about raising awareness or offering solidarity; it’s about realising that brands have a responsibility to lead societal progression from the core outward.

On an equally critical topic, which is driving a waste-free agenda, we are driving 100% post-consumer recyclable bottles in Dove in EU and US and Love Beauty and Planet in all markets and launched our first Ocean Bound PCR in the US last year. In addition, TRESemmé’s bottles now comprise high level of PCR up to 100% across markets and has pioneered the use of detectable black plastic, enabling them now to be recycled. Similarly, Love Beauty and Planet have been pursuing their goal to reduce the amount of plastic and our carbon footprint through the launch of concentrated shampoos, resulting in 30% less plastic and 50% less water usage. We are also pushing the no plastic space across all our brands with launches of shampoo bars, refillable aluminium bottles and most recently joined the Diageo consortium to explore opportunities to launch a paper bottle made from sustainably sourced wood pulp.

The growth of purposeful brands will allow the right transformation; both environmentally and financially. The key is to understand the virtuous cycle. The more a brand is clear on its purpose and relevant to its consumers, the more consumers will be inclined to maintain their brand loyalty. This, in turn, creates a mutually beneficial dynamic where brands not only do better for our planet but sell more to their consumers and invest in further positive contributions towards humanity and the planet.

Article written by Jean-Laurent Ingles, executive vice president, Unilever Haircare

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