A couple of years ago, Bill Theofilou, a senior managing director at Accenture Strategy, met with a food manufacturer who’d just received bad news. Despite strong sales, its brand was being dropped by Target. He remembers the head of marketing and sales relaying the main reason with a sense of disbelief: The brand just didn’t stand for anything.
Instead of weighing product quality, the verdict hinged on social impact. “It was an eye-opener to the room,” says Theofilou. Yet that sort of thinking is now an industry trend. According to Accenture Strategy’s annual Global Consumer Pulse Research survey nearly two-thirds of consumers expect companies to create products and services that “take a stand” on issues that they also feel passionate about.
That includes encouraging a healthy lifestyle, sustainable sourcing and manufacturing processes, and transparency on everything from ingredient sourcing to fair employment practices. The demand covers all generations of shoppers, from Gen-Z to Baby Boomers. “We found that authenticity and transparency really matter,” he adds. “We thought we were approaching the tipping point, but the tipping point has come.”
Accenture documents this purpose-driven shift in a new report entitled “To Affinity and Beyond.” It compiles the Pulse survey responses from 30,000 consumers around the globe, including 2,000 in the United States. Turns out, the vast majority of people don’t think brands are transparent enough. They find companies designed toward making social progress to be more appealing than those that aren’t, and nearly half have changed their buying decisions when disappointed.
Companies that learn to how cater to that can definitely profit from it. As the report points out, Unilever’s more sustainability-branded units including Knorr, Dove, and Lipton are growing 50% faster than the rest of its offerings. They’re also more than half of the company’s total growth. The snack bar maker Kind has grown to become the third largest player in its category by focusing on literally transparent packaging and health-focused recipes and ingredient lists.
Patagonia recently donating its $10 million in federal tax cuts to environmental groups obviously aligns with the outdoor apparel company’s conservation mindset. At the same time, strategies like furniture maker Ikea hiring refugees at its Jordan facility shows how adaptable this ethos can be in times of crisis.
“If you think about brands delivering on the promise of a set level of quality…. all that has so become table stakes that you’re now entering a world where the new table stakes in this ethical economy that we live in and the new way to differentiate is on purpose,” adds Theofilou.
As he sees it, consumers who find the brand affinity they’re seeking won’t just buy more products, but actively promote them. “If you think about what’s happened in the last 10 years of the digital revolution, it’s empowered the consumer,” he says. “They can make a brand an overnight success or they can kill it. So how can you say that they’re not a co-owner in the brand?”