The recently released WE Communications and YouGov study reveals how public perception of brands – and consequently their expectations – have changed over the recent tumultuous years, both globally and in India. “People don’t expect perfection, but they do want progress,” the report says.
Prioritise the Practical
In a pandemic-ravaged world that is now in the throes of a war, global economy has been suffering one body blow after another. India too has felt the ripple effects, with growing commodity prices, triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war, worsening the already rising inflation rate.
Given the situation, people acknowledge that brands can find it difficult to determine where to focus when there are so many challenges to deal with.
About 70% of global respondents and 60% of India respondents said they prefer that companies focus their multiyear investments on a single cause, rather than support a different issue every year.
In fact, people most want companies to take ownership of the issues related to core operations in their own organisations. They want brands to help their employees and customers adapt to the current socio-economic realities.
When it comes to employee welfare, respondents said companies most need to show responsibility over skills and training and development, access to healthcare and family care (in that order). For customers, respondents identified education, access to healthcare and access to mental health resources as priorities for brands in the face of economic constraints.
Despite this focus on practicality, respondents said they still want companies to have high-reaching goals. Only, people prefer that brands strike a balance between practical values-led goals (55%) and ambitious ones (45%).
Close the Loop
WE Communication’s April 2022 research found that when global business leaders were asked to name the top three actions brands should take to address climate change, 69% of survey respondents said brands should invest in projects that protect jobs and livelihoods of communities most impacted by climate change.
So, the spotlight is on an intersection between the E and S of ESG, where brands are not just expected to invest in efforts for environmental and social good but also to close the loop by demonstrating – and documenting – the human impact of their efforts.
For instance, while it will be important for companies to accurately calculate and share their net-zero data, they will also need to show how the data will help people at risk of climate change repercussions in their community.
Similarly, on the social initiatives front – a company that claims to be strongly committed to inclusion and diversity can provide proof of how same-sex couples, who are adoptive parents, get parental leave or a company that professes to be gender-sensitive should be transparent about wages to ensure women aren’t receiving less than men in equivalent roles.
Recently, Reckitt, in India, undertook such an initiative to reinforce its commitment towards helping provide safer toilets for all with the Harpic Mission Swachhta aur Paani – Milkar Le Ye Zimmedari. The company roped in influencers to urge people to take collective responsibility to ensure sanitation for all, drive behaviour change, emphasise the importance of hygienic toilets and build a sustainable sanitation cycle for the long run.
Share the Story
In WE’s 2022 survey, 41% of India consumers responded saying that they expect brands to create stability in uncertain times.
It wouldn’t be far off the mark to infer that people see brands as one of the most important drivers of positive change, right after government and media. And like with the government and media, people demand honesty and transparency from brands.
So, brands need to share their purpose journey with their consumers. Seventy-one percent of WE’s Indian consumer respondents said that they wanted companies to be more publicly transparent about how they’re responding pressing socio-economic issues. They want companies to show them – as the Bravery Mandate puts it – “what happens beyond the pledge, beyond the press release”.
Sharing regular updates with hard data and quantifiable results can show a brand’s trajectory from promise to action — even when the results don’t meet expectations – and underline its commitment to course-correcting whenever needed.
At the end of the day, brands must ensure that they continue to strengthen their relationship with consumers. And nothing builds relationships better than truth and transparency. As long as brands stay true to today’s realities and are honest about the impact of their actions, they will beat all odds and outlive any kind of social, political or economic upheaval.
Nitin Mantri, is the group CEO, Avian WE.