Brands need to em­brace the be­liefs of con­sumers

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

NOT many brands tell their cus­tomers to stop buy­ing their prod­uct if they don’t con­form to cer­tain be­hav­iours. But that’s pre­cisely what the Mex­i­can beer brand Te­cate did last year when it told its pre­dom­i­nantly male beer drinkers that if they didn’t know how to treat women re­spect­fully, then it didn’t want them as cus­tomers.

With do­mes­tic vi­o­lence now a big prob­lem in Mex­ico — and al­co­hol con­sump­tion a con­tribut­ing fac­tor — Te­cate was tak­ing a firm stand on an is­sue which has plagued the coun­try for many years. The cam­paign trig­gered a na­tional debate and ap­peared to di­vide the na­tion. Its crit­ics ar­gued that it was cyn­i­cally ex­ploit­ing an enor­mous so­ci­etal prob­lem to sell more beer. Its ad­vo­cates, mean­while, ap­plauded it for rais­ing the is­sue and us­ing its con­sid­er­able brand fire­power to ac­tu­ally do some­thing con­struc­tive for Mex­i­can so­ci­ety.

Not sur­pris­ingly, sales of Te­cate ini­tially fell as some of its cus­tomers — pos­si­bly men who en­gaged in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence — de­cided they didn’t like be­ing told what to do by a brand. But Te­cate ex­pected this back­lash and was more than happy to see sales de­cline if it meant that the is­sue was fi­nally be­ing taken se­ri­ously. Such was the sup­port for the brand in the wider mar­ket­ing com­mu­nity, that it was pos­si­bly the only brand in re­cent years to see a de­cline in sales yet bag a cov­eted Glass Lion for its en­deav­ours at the Cannes Lions Fes­ti­val ear­lier this year. And, yes, sales have picked up since then.

Te­cate, how­ever, is just one of many global brands that are no longer stand­ing on the side­line at a time of pro­found so­cial and eco­nomic up­heaval around the world. For their part, con­sumers are be­com­ing less trust­ing of the old in­dus­trial or­der and brand hege­mony and are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to brands that fit in with their own be­liefs and as­pi­ra­tions.

This is backed up by new re­search from the PR firm Edel­man Ire­land that shows that con­sumers want to know if a brand stands for some­thing that they care about and if it does, then there is a much bet­ter chance of them buy­ing it. In the rapidly-chang­ing consumer land­scape, Edel­man has called this in­flu­en­tial co­hort “be­lief buy­ers”. And in the com­mer­cial world, be­lief buy­ers are big busi­ness.

The Edel­man Earned Brand study shows that 62pc of Ir­ish con­sumers never as­sume what a brand says about it­self in a paid space is true. A sim­i­lar-sized co­hort is frus­trated at be­ing told it needs to up­date the prod­ucts it al­ready has, while 36pc ad­mit that they have be­come very good at us­ing ad-block­ing soft­ware tools to avoid on­line ad­ver­tis­ing.

“Wor­ry­ingly, th­ese num­bers ap­pear to be on the in­crease as Ir­ish con­sumers openly ad­mit to be­ing frus­trated with brand com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” notes the re­port.

In­deed, some 66pc said that photo ma­nip­u­la­tions in ad­ver­tise­ments make it hard to know what to be­lieve while 50pc of the survey’s Ir­ish re­spon­dents say that brand ac­tiv­ity on their so­cial chan­nels has made so­cial me­dia less en­joy­able. Add to this the op­er­a­tional com­plex­ity that brands are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing from the growth of pri­vate la­bel and dis­rup­tion of tra­di­tional routes to mar­ket and it’s clear that many brands are find­ing them­selves in a limbo sit­u­a­tion, un­sure of which way to turn or how they should be con­nect­ing with con­sumers.

“For many brands, in­vest­ment in tra­di­tional paid mod­els has reached the point of di­min­ish­ing re­turns. Our re­la­tion­ship with buy­ers has never been more un­der siege,” adds the re­port.

Mar­keters, of course, have a choice. They can sim­ply give up on build­ing re­la­tion­ships or con­tinue to de­fend this re­la­tion­ship the ‘old-fash­ioned’ way. Or they can view the many dis­rup­tions they face as op­por­tu­ni­ties rather than threats.

Now in its third year, Edel­man’s Earned Brand study con­cludes that an in­flu­en­tial co­hort of peo­ple is buy­ing on be­lief, with 50pc of those sur­veyed fall­ing into the be­lief-driven cat­e­gory. This co­hort is also an at­trac­tive de­mo­graphic as it tends to be younger and higher-earn­ing con­sumers. In­deed some 60pc of them are so-called mil­len­ni­als with the bal­ance of them fall­ing into the Gen­er­a­tion Z and Gen­er­a­tion X cat­e­gories.

“Be­lief-driven buy­ers can be lead­ers or join­ers,” notes the re­port. “The study shows that 25pc are lead­ers and have strongly held or pas­sion­ate be­liefs. The brands they buy form a part of how they ex­press that be­lief, 25pc are join­ers and de­pend­ing on the is­sue or the brand, they will change their buy­ing be­hav­iour based on that brand’s stand. The re­main­ing 50pc of con­sumers, how­ever, do not self-iden­tify as be­lief-driven. Th­ese ‘spec­ta­tors’ rarely buy on be­lief or pun­ish brands for tak­ing a stand.”

Fiona Hod­gins, head of brand with Edel­man Ire­land, says: “The rise of the be­lief buyer presents both threat and op­por­tu­nity to brands. Stay­ing silent or not re­spond­ing in real-time is no longer an op­tion. Brands that em­brace gen­uine shared be­liefs will view tan­gi­ble busi­ness re­sults. Stand to­gether and win new buy­ers who will ad­vo­cate, de­fend and buy your brand loy­ally. Be­lief re­ally means busi­ness.” Con­tact John Mcgee at john@ad­world.ie

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