Brands must respond to millennial consumers who buy with their beliefs

Brands must open their eyes to the need to show purpose and offer genuine tangible solutions for people and the planet, writes the United Nations advisor.

Society is demanding and companies have no choice but to respond – and respond now.  As a matter of fact, a number of companies and brands have already made the transition. It is time for the rest of the brands to wake up.  

The passive consumer is dead and the rise of an increasingly savvy, marketing literate, global community means that a marketer, charity or fundraiser is more likely to secure and maintain brand loyalty when their marketing messages, initiatives and actions are aligned with a heightened, collective social conscience and set of values. "Purpose" has been identified as a key adland trend.

Peoples’ expectations of brands and the role they play in generating impact and burgeoning world problems will remain high, especially among millennials and gen-Xers. The 2017 Edelman earned brand study says that 65% of consumers buy on the basis of their beliefs and that 57% are buying or boycotting brands based on the brand position on a social or political issue. There is growing evidence that is no longer possible for a brand to communicate only the functional benefits of their products. It is becoming clearer that brands which ingrain purpose into their branding see more solid consumer engagement, but those that neglect to do so risk to become obsolete.  

But it does not stop with brand prioritisation of purpose – that is only step one. Brands must communicate their purpose and intent for impact loudly and clearly to ensure that consumers understand.  With the current downturn in traditional avenues of mainstream media, this clear communication has become increasingly challenging to find. Trust in media but also on social media and search are plummeting. Effectiveness of advertisement in channels like television will continue to evaporate and agencies and brands must find an avenue of effective and trusted consumer touchpoints.

Companies also must find a way to attract and retain the best millennial talent. These young employees have higher expectations of their companies, to speak up on issues of time, from the #MeToo movement to immigration. They believe that their employers are the new safe house, the place they spend the most time and through which they can make a difference in society.

This is where alternative channels to communicate with a purpose become important. Global GoalsCast is an example. This female-led podcast launched last week has an opportunity to create a dedicated festival stream that explores the intersection between charitable messages and brands for good in conjunction with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, a master plan for the future of the people and the planet to eradicate extreme poverty, fight climate change and leave no one behind by 2030. Global GoalsCast aims to inspire a new generation of early-adopter, millennial activists who are part of the rise of the podcast world. The podcast medium touches the hearts and minds of its audience through direct, intimate conversation, and is growing month over month in reach and audience share.  

To be precise, podcast listening is growing is 21%-25% year over year. A recent IAB research conducted by PwC forecasts that podcast ad revenues will top $220m in 2018 which is an 85% leap from the $119m in 2016. The audience of podcasts in America is not only highly engaged with the medium but is a largely affluent and educated audience and early adopter males aged 18-45. This is an incredibly difficult audience to reach otherwise. Media companies such as NPR, The New York Times and Slate are having strong success with their own podcasts and so are brands such as Prudential, Casper, Slack and McAffee.

Podcast consumers are truly a captive audience, tending to listen to most of the episodes they download. This focused listening experience leads to strong brand responsiveness, with two-thirds of listeners citing high brand recall and nearly the same number saying that podcast ads inspired a purchase.

That is why my co-host Edie Lush and I decided we needed to create a purpose driven podcast focused on highlighting the stories of the champions that are making an effort to advance the world – be it a chief executive of a company, a brand, a country or a rural girl in India. We need to demonstrate and showcase progress, because we are making incredible strides and getting closer to our goals. But we need to keep the momentum going, give a platform to those that are doing good, and engage millennials by giving them actions they can take.

The Global GoalsCast is not only an innovative medium to reach consumers, it also creates a unique intersection of the three key stakeholders needed to make "Yes" the answer to our signature question of "can we change the world?" The first, Millennials and genXers, are leading the active consumer base, demanding increasingly social justice and action based content. The second, UN, its agencies and NGOs, strives to win the hearts and the minds of the people to engage them as global citizens and to support or put pressure as taxpayers and voters. And the third, champions, the companies and brands that are already engaged in purpose and need their voices to be heard.

This cyclical feedback loop brings together the public and private sector, politicians and civilians, brands and consumers to emphasise the intricate web of collaboration necessary to see world advancements and achieve a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable world by 2030. Global GoalsCast is a space where brands and organisations will not only want to have their name shared as leaders and prime examples of true and honest brand purpose, they will need to have their names shared in order to reach the souls of the new purpose-driven consumer.

This is not a trend to ignore. This is a future path. Brands must open their eyes to the need to show purpose and offer genuine tangible solutions for people and the planet – not only because consumer expectation is high, but because brand messages with social consciousness can be effective and impact the bottom line.  

Claudia Romo Edelman is a United Nations advisor and co-host of Global GoalsCast, a podcast distributed by CBS News Digital and initiative of We Are All Human Foundation, that highlights stories of people seeking to achieve a more sustainable world. 

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