OPINION27 May 2021

Forwards, not backwards

B2B Opinion Sustainability Trends

Vanella Jackson explains why, when evaluating brands, it is time for research companies to adopt a more modern approach that recognises the shifting values of consumers.

The difficulty with traditional brand measurement approaches is that they reflect what mattered in the past, rather than what matters now and in the future.

Well established measurement models and tools, that were first invented more than 20 years ago, are no longer fit for purpose. Models that continue to rely on historical benchmarks have lost their relevance and meaning. Instead, we need a new model that allows for foresight and helps to build strong brands.

This means looking at the ability of the brand to be not only responsive to individual needs and collective culture, but also responsible to communities, society and the world. We’re living in an era when it’s increasingly important for businesses to not just be more responsible and ethical, but also highly responsive. 

Unfortunately, brand measurement has failed to keep up with the change of pace. Like many other things in our lives, this change has been accelerated by the global pandemic.

We require a new measurement framework, one that evaluates bands against multiple ‘conscious’ dimensions and helps build strong brand relationships; one that accepts a new shift in consumer values and allows insight teams to discover innovative ways to stay close to customers and keep up to speed with their needs.

A new framework should provide businesses with an accurate assessment of what types of conscious behaviours and actions are right for them and their audiences, and how these might fit into their overall brand strategy that acknowledges the rise of the ‘conscious consumer’.

The Covid-19 crisis has acted as a catalyst for social and political unrest and changed the way many see the world. Inevitably, this is having a huge impact on consumers in terms of what they value and what is considered important to them. There is a growing need and opportunity for brands to bring consciousness into their brand and marketing strategies, and, in doing so, help create a virtuous cycle of doing good between business, brands and consumers.

Existing brand rankings tend to fall into one of two camps: curator-driven, or singular metric-driven. Curator-driven lists are undoubtedly valuable and interesting – and often showcase up-and-coming brands. But equally, they can be hard to learn from as they often list obscure or niche brands and are not ranked according to objective metrics.

Conversely, metrics-driven rankings too often sort brands according to singular measures like trust, relevance or difference. These lists are informative, but they must be seen for what they are: one part of a bigger picture.

Working closely with Wolff Olins, Hall & Partners has created the Conscious Brands 100 index to help define where brands are on their conscious journey. This inaugural ranking shows that consumers are placing greater emphasis on values such as sustainability, social, equality, authentic activism, diversity and inclusivity, and they have greater expectations for businesses to act, rather than pay lip service.

Starting with a longlist of 223 of the world’s leading brands, collated from a wide range of sources including existing brand indexes and recommendations, 9,000 consumers scored them according to six key dimensions of a conscious brand: habitual, empathy, reform, multisensory, collectivism and morality.

The findings were used to build a combined global 100 list, as well as local UK, US and China lists. An overall conscious brand score allowed us to rank and benchmark brand performance, with the ability to diagnose relative strengths and opportunities across different conscious dimensions. Breaking this definition down even further, consumers were given specific kinds of behaviours or ‘signs’ which you might identify a conscious brand by.

While the reasons for each brand’s success in the ranking are unique, four overarching themes emerged among the best performing conscious brands. The brands that perform most strongly are ‘the new essentials’ – essential both for supporting us through the toughest of times and for satisfying our most fundamental needs. We see brands that excel in the fields of communication, convenience, human connection and entertainment – and of course mental and physical health.

The world’s most successful conscious brands are the ones that demonstrate they are conscious in a way that is authentic. These brands avoid tokenism and ‘wokewashing’ by taking actions which link directly back to the brand’s true DNA, helping them act consciously in ways that are unique to them. This instinctively creates a more differentiated and believable connection with consumers.

Brands also embrace being conscious in every aspect of what they do, demonstrating this across their business. Whether it be with their employees, their suppliers, with customers, within a community, in society and the world as a whole. 

Finally, the most conscious brands communicate what action they are taking. They regularly report progress on their conscious agenda and initiatives, both internally and externally. They create a common brand voice and consistent message to everyone, internally and externally across the world.

Vanella Jackson is global chief executive officer of Hall & Partners.

A list of the top 100 most conscious global brands along with the full report can be viewed here.

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