New research from comms giant WE Communications reveals growing skepticism over whether brands are ultimately delivering on their purpose and environmental, social and governance (ESG) pledges—especially in a world where volatility is the new constant.
The firm’s latest Brands in Motion global report, The Bravery Mandate: Make It Real, in partnership with YouGov, surveyed consumers in Australia, Germany, India, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.) to understand their perspectives on brand purpose.
Across the globe, stakeholders are demanding that companies step up and offer solutions to urgent challenges such as social injustice and climate change, with “cost of living” chosen as the No. 1 area where brands should be accelerating their efforts.
“Despite mounting pressure, organizations must continue to be guided by brand purpose as their north star,” said Rebecca Wilson, WE’s EVP International, in a news release. “Brands that speak out and act boldly on their causes, and stay the course on their long-term plans to address larger societal issues, will gain market share and attract talent in the years ahead.”
The expectation for companies to speak and act on large-scale societal issues is here to stay. Survey respondents see brands as one of the most important institutions for driving positive change, right after government and media.
This year’s study uncovers three main themes:
Practicality takes precedence
People do not expect perfection, but they do want progress. They do not need brands to solve every problem, but they do need them to own the ones they take on. Seventy percent of respondents surveyed prefer that companies focus their multiyear investments on a single cause, rather than support a different issue every year.
Globally, consumers prefer that brands place greater emphasis on practical, values-led goals over ambitious ones, with an ideal balance of 59 percent practical goals to 41 percent ambitious ones.
“This focus on practically is not a call for brands to abandon their ambitious plans, as people continue to view companies as important drivers of change,” said Wilson. “Companies should strive to find a balance between their big-sky and ground-level goals.”
Show your work
The report found that lack of data and data-driven goals is the No. 1 reason consumers become skeptical of brands’ purpose-led claims. As a result, 74 percent of survey respondents say that brands should be transparent when informing the public about their actions in response to current and emerging societal issues.
By including stakeholders in the process, providing regular updates with hard data, clear metrics and quantifiable results—even when those results fall short of expectations—companies can build trust with them along the way.
“Stakeholders want to know what happens beyond the pledges and press releases,” said Wilson. “They demand a front-row seat to your purpose initiatives.”
Leaning into the “S” in ESG
As companies work to create solutions and share progress, they must find the right balance between showing their work and focusing on the human impact. Sharing hard data and making clear and accurate net-zero calculations is extremely important, but companies must remember not to get lost behind the math.
By telling the stories of how their work is helping—and providing the tangible, human impacts of their efforts—brands can show how effective their efforts are. Survey respondents identified three priorities for brands to invest in: employee well-being, providing income and employment opportunities, and access to health care.
“Ultimately, people believe that brands are helping create that better world, but they need to see proof,” said Wilson. “Now is the time for companies to make it happen, make it matter, make it real.”
The WE Brands in Motion report is a worldwide study of how perceptions shift over time, conducted by WE and YouGov. Now in its sixth year, Brands in Motion has surveyed 100,000+ consumers and B2B decision-makers about their attitudes regarding:
- Expectations for brand actions and investments
- Forces affecting the market on a macro level
- Expectations for purpose initiatives