Austin Neill

Is ‘Purpose’ the Rallying Cry of 2017?

How Consciousness is Fueling the Transformation of Brands

If Super Bowl 51 was any indication, brands are aggressively looking at how to integrate a higher sense of purpose into their marketing strategies. From Budweiser, Google and Airbnb who made statements about diversity, to Audi’s powerful commercial advocating equal pay for women, this year’s Super Bowl ads were marked by powerful responses to the current political environment in America, where many feel their values and beliefs are being challenged.

Interestingly, the February 2017 issue of Fast Company is also dedicated to Purpose. In the letter from the editor, Robert Safian adds some color behind this decision: “In the midst of a chaotic transition that seems more unpredictable than ever, we handpicked more than 200 top business and cultural leaders to speak at the second Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York.” He goes on to say, “What unified their message was a focus on finding purpose in your work.” Finally, he shares seven key lessons coming out of the festival as a way to inspire progress in the year of uncertainty ahead.

While Purpose in the world of marketing is nothing new, there appears to be a sudden acceleration of it that can only be explained by one thing: Consciousness. When a society pushes the boundaries of its stability, the social and economic systems are responsive to even the smallest fluctuations in the consciousness of the people. During such times, changes in values, beliefs, and perceptions, set the direction for the future of society. It is during these times of social instability, that consciousness becomes both an economic stimulus and a catalyst for change.

The Rise of a Consciousness Economy

In a white paper published this past Fall, we speak about a growing economy fueled by a culture of self-improvement that is drastically changing the relationship between people and brands. What we’ve coined the Consciousness Economy™, represents a growing number of companies who are shifting to the belief of ‘what’s good for the world is what’s good for my brand’ and are being rewarded for it through a boost in brand loyalty, evangelism and profits. What we’re seeing is that consumers expect brands to play a greater leadership role than ever in facilitating behaviors that are important to them and they are showing marked preference for the products and services that align with these values.

How Did We Arrive Here?

You’re not alone if you feel like we’ve stepped back into the 1960’s. In many ways we’re currently aligned with that era: anti-war, civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, gay rights … those were the issues during the 1960’s, and those are some of our issues today. A general sense of mistrust, unease, and lack of control is driving people to look inward, and reassess.

Combined with a proliferation of Social Engagement platforms that have made consumers more informed and provide a greater depth of information into everything, be it accurate or not — It’s allowed consumers to be a part of the conversation with brands and also to inform it. Now, consumers understand the power of their voice and are inspired to take action, rewarded by the immediacy of the results. This personal empowerment has enabled significant changes in behavior:

  • To question things more often because their voice is heard
  • To take more initiative because their actions have power
  • To feel a deeper sense of personal responsibility because of both the above
  • To evangelize and/or denounce behaviors to their circles of influence

This access has created a heightened sense of social, societal, and environmental responsibility, and in turn a new set of expectations for brands.

How Consciousness is Fueling Commerce

The economy of consciousness is two-fold: Represented by both conscious consumption and participation in conscious activities. The motive or goal behind the activities may differ, but the end result is similar in purpose: improvement. Whereas conscious consumption has a more direct link to improving society or the environment, engaging in conscious activities makes the world better through self-improvement.

It Starts With Purpose

In a time when people are feeling uncertain and vulnerable, it’s no surprise that Purpose has become a rallying cry for people and the brands they love. As our values and beliefs are challenged, reaffirming who we are through Purpose is a natural reaction. For brands this includes an opportunity to revisit who they are, what they stand for and why they exist. A good purpose statement serves as the guiding light for the organization; It’s motivational and inspirational and it’s about heart.

The good news is that having a higher sense of purpose at the core of your brand and infused into the culture of the organization, is proven to drive greater profit. Creating an authentic Purpose for your brand is the first step to aligning in the Consciousness Economy.

What Not To Do

As the economy of consciousness represents a fundamental paradigm shift that can be identified across geographies, demographics, psychographics, socio-economic groups, and throughout generations — It is not a fad, trend, or bandwagon to jump on. Therefore, while all brands can migrate, there are some definitive ways to fail:

  • Go off brand. A brand should not attempt to develop a radically different campaign, or develop a new product, etc. before taking a good look internally and considering the brand story to make certain there is a comfortable alignment.
  • Be inauthentic. Slapping on a purpose or consciousness label is likely to disrespect people’s values, beliefs and lifestyles to which they have committed to. We can’t reinforce the importance of authenticity enough.
  • Tell only a portion of the story. A lack of honesty about any social or environmental programs, including progress or lack thereof, could do more harm than good. Consumers expect to participate and inform a brand’s efforts, including what’s working and what’s not. That’s how smart brands build evangelists.
  • Sit on the sidelines. Don’t assume your brand doesn’t fit the mold of the Consciousness Economy, as every brand can align with a higher sense of Purpose. If efforts are developed authentically and appropriately and is sustainable, there is every opportunity to thrive no matter the business model.

To learn more about the Consciousness Economy, download our white paper.

Originally published on LinkedIn on February 13th, 2017
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