How brands are attracting socially conscious consumers and creating change in the world

Customers are driving a trust-based revolution and demanding that companies lead with their ethical and environmental values.  

Leading brands such as Salesforce, Accenture and RBI (a conglomerate, which owns Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons) have already shifted their marketing and advertising with the message of creating a more meaningful world for consumers. In a roundtable conversation during Uniting Business LIVE these brands advocated amplifying ethical values and commitments towards diverse communities, the environment and the world. 

The ethical buying values of new consumers

Shattering the misconception that business can either be 'for good' or 'for-profit', leading brands argue that the intersection between purpose and profit is crucial for company resilience. Moreover, keeping the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the forefront of business branding and marketing conversations is also beneficial to the companies’ bottom line.

A study highlighted by Accenture said during the next thirty years, baby boomers’ 68 trillion dollars’ worth of wealth will be passed down to the newer generation of consumers who hold stronger ethical buying values. Over sixty percent of the new generation of consumers are attracted to brands based on the brands’ ethical values and purpose. The study concluded that customers, particularly those customers of the future, care deeply about how the products they use are manufactured and whether the labor practices are fair and sustainable. 

Simply put: consumer demand for purpose-driven brands means that companies who amplify their positive social and environmental impacts will also maximize their revenues. “The bottom line is that having a purpose is good business,” said Brian Wipple, CEO of Accenture Interactive. “It is the business of the future!” 

Marketing the SDGs 

While consumers’ buying values and companies’ bottom lines increasingly hinge on ethical considerations, the SDGs provide solid anchorage for companies looking to do good. 

Working simultaneously to strengthen their brands and advance social and environmental issues is paramount for companies, said Fernando Machado, CMO of Burger King. “One strengthens the other!”

The brands in the RBI conglomerate have embraced the SDGs. As its #BKMeltdown campaign showcases, Burger King is working with suppliers to ban plastic in meal toys and lessen the company’s carbon footprint. “We made the commitment that by 2025 we will remove [meal’s] plastic toys from all across the globe,” said Machado.

Salesforce has also used the SDGs as a guiding tool and committed to the active pursuit of seven SDGs they can implement in their business and philanthropic operations. Last year, in pursuit of SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth - the company pledged to train half a million workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow through training and re-skilling programmes. Stephanie Buscemi, CMO of Salesforce, praises the SDGs for inspiring and guiding the company’s ethical action. “We see that the UN Sustainable Development Goals really just inspire us as an organization,” she said. “We've adopted your framework, and it helps to guide us.”

The future of marketing and advertising 

Marketing can drive sustainable growth by the creation of compelling experiences at the intersection of purpose and innovation. Hence, effective advertising depends on helping companies create a more meaningful world for their customers by identifying a social purpose. Dave Kingsbury, Chief Strategy Officer of Global Brain, agrees. “We need less frivolous advertising and more purpose-driven!”

It is marketing’s role to showcase how their products might solve social issues given different social contexts. For example, while using a mobile-doctor app might appeal to busy Londoners for the convenience of accessing health care advice in the middle of the workday, it also appeals to rural Rwandans who would have to spend an enormous amount of time and financial resources to access doctors in a city.

As the future of marketing lies in creating experiences that make consumer’s lives not only efficient but also meaningful and robust, the role of marketing executives is also evolving. To deal with the demands of the new generation of consumers, Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) should strive to align product and purpose, amplifying ethical values and commitments.

CMOs are also in a position to assess the company’s purpose and the actionable programmes in place. “The CMO can really take the company in a positive way to task to say ‘what are those programs? Are we investing enough or are we doing enough across the organization?’ said Salesforce’s Stephanie Buscemi.

The new consumers of the world, who are also the future of the world, demand and deserve higher social and environmental ethics from companies. Marketing needs to shoulder more of the responsibility to solve some of the world’s existing problems by aligning purpose and innovation, ethics and business.

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