In 2020, life was stranger than fiction: Unbelievable moments came to pass, such as rapper, record producer and fashion designer, Kanye West, announcing he would run for US President; students being incarcerated in halls of residence during the pandemic; and football growing a conscience - as UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was forced to make a U-turn on free school meals after a campaign by Manchester United star, Marcus Rashford MBE.
Suddenly there was a leadership vortex, created by the inertia of traditional power bases, but readily filled by the emergence of new characters, epitomised by Dolly Parton’s noble funding of the US vaccine, John Boyega’s profound rallying cry for social justice and Sir Captain Tom Moore’s fundraising efforts for the NHS.
In the UK, it appeared at times that the government was governing by decree rather than democracy, with key officials saying one thing and then doing another. As trust in institutions was called into question - and A-Level students whose exams had been cancelled protested outside 10 Downing Street - it was clear that consumers were assessing brands carefully when it came to their coronavirus and political behaviours, especially in light of the increased focus on the BLM movement.
One thing became certain. Change was happening everywhere. And change, when acknowledged and understood, can be an agent for progress. So, creative agency Here Be Dragons undertook a study to see how change had affected the dynamic between consumers and brands in this period, and how brands could derive meaning from this going forward.
Our findings showed us that, in a period where many brands were making tokenistic gestures around their contribution to society based on the repercussions of Covid and Black Lives Matter, this was not, in fact, their audience's primary concern.
It transpires that actually what consumers wanted first and foremost was a good product! When thinking about purchasing from new brands, Brits were most likely to find customer service (61%), rapid and reliable delivery (46%), and a responsible supply chain (27%) to be the most important factors.
Only when this is assured does the consumer consider where you stand on societal issues. So, assuming your trust, service and value for money are in place, then your purpose can matter: 52% would stop using a brand if it didn’t reflect their stance on societal issues and more than half are also concerned about how employers were treating their staff during this unpredictable period.
What brands must do
So what does this mean for how brands should be operating in 2021? Firstly, get your house in order. If you’re failing your customers with your service or product offering, they certainly don’t want to be hearing from you on matters which don’t relate to your existing relationship with them.
Secondly, embrace the change. Understand that you can’t control everything, but that by having an authentic and well articulated brand purpose, you essentially have the guardrails to demonstrate leadership in your space, even if you falter. Brands must respond to the environment around them, moving forward and evolving just like people do. Stationary is stagnant.
So it is time for brands to navigate the choppy waters ahead of them, to show creative bravery and to step into the leadership chasm; something PR is well positioned to help them do.
Written by Paul Mcentee, founder and CEO at creative agency Here Be Dragons
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