Consumers demand more brand ethics worldwide, study shows

The WE Communications survey includes insights from 27,000 global participants.

Innovation meets ethics.

This year is similar to 2017 in that innovation is as important as ever, but due to a number of external factors over the last 12 months, consumers are now demanding that brands use technology and data more ethically and responsibly, according to a new study from WE Communications.

The Brands in Motion 2018 survey from WE Communications, in partnership with YouGov, revealed that 97 percent of global consumers expect the ethical use of technology from brands alongside customer-focused innovation. About 27,000 consumers and b-to-b decision makers participated in the study across eight markets, including the U.S., U.K., South Africa, China, Australia, Germany, India and Singapore. The survey looked at rational and emotional drivers motivating consumers’ decisions in today’s environment, including sociopolitical and technological forces at work.

"It wasn’t just a small number of people that said brands are responsible for their own ethical use of technology - 97 percent is unanimous in my book," said Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO of WE Communications.

She added: "It’s very interesting that a lot of this stems from the strong fear that disruptive technology has put out there, but also the way the world is now - from trade tensions to political unrest. There’s uncertainty in all countries and consumers need to feel protected."

More than eight out of 10 respondents (84 percent) fear that their personal data is not secure; 67 percent are afraid of being a pedestrian in a world of autonomous cars; and 54 percent are concerned about losing their jobs to artificial intelligence. A staggering amount of consumers (94 percent) said that governments should step in if brands are not able to use technology ethically.

"This is not just about Facebook, who we know deals in data," said Zorkin. "This is about every single piece of that supply chain. Every consumer company needs to think about that too - it’s not just a tech issues - it’s an industry and business issue."

The study revealed that consumers want action from brands over talk, or "proof over promise," said Zorkin.

Year-on-year, brand motion global scores saw a 16 percent increase in rational drivers and a 14 percent lift in emotional drivers, indicating that consumers’  need for reason is outweighing their desire for emotional connections with a brand.

This was also seen on a category level, specifically with computing devices. Last year, consumers would vastly jump to the "coolest new thing" or "shiny object" out of pure admiration, said Zorkin, but that’s warn off a little because people now need these devices for everyday life. "The tech halo is waning," she said.

When it came to smart homes, the category grew from both a rational and emotional level, which means consumers are "not just excited and looking at it, but they see it as a necessity," according to Zorkin.

Another insight from the research is that global environmental forces, like political unrest and data privacy struggles, are causing consumers to have increasingly polarized perceptions among brands.

"You have to work a lot harder now to earn your fair share of consumer love and appreciation. They will love you or they will ignore you -- if you want to breakthrough, you need to really think differently and be really clear on what you're providing and how you got there and what you’re doing," said Zorkin.

CMOs and CEOs of brands, she said, need to focus on accountability and examine all the facets of their company so they can figure out if its being run with purpose. The same goes with making sure all parts of innovation are being run in an ethically responsible way.

Zorkin also believes that now is the time that brands should "be courageous" in their values. "More and more clients are asking, ‘Where do we start? How do we pick what we’re going to stand for?’" she said. "Do it in a way that’s sustainable and core in what you believe in and then ask, ‘What am I willing to accept in the sense of consequences?’ because there will be some."

On the research front, marketers should realize that they don’t need to be "steeped in big data," said Zorkin. "Just be innovative with how you use data and look at it in a small way to see what will shift behavior and get people thinking and doing things in a different way." 

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