Why would a brand that sells some of India’s best-known soaps and detergents, talk about water conservation? Because, the time has come when brands need to stand for something more than just great products and services. They need to be connected to the pulse of the world.

Today’s brands are leveraging their platforms to talk about social issues and share their purpose with the masses. Why? Because what is happening in the ecosystem around us is what shapes us. No matter the industry. A 2018 survey showed that brands must consider how to impact the world around them. Consumers are watching, as are competitors.

Many clients have been asking us – should their brands engage with social issues, and share their purpose? More than that, is it really worth the effort?  This is what we think:

  • If you want to shine, it is now or never. Consumers today care about the society. They are values-driven, and demand more of brands. Especially millennials – 73% of them are willing to pay a premium for products/ services from companies dedicated to social good. They want deeper relationships with such brands. As marketing guru Philip Kotler suggests, “Brands should engage consumers in ways that provide solutions to their anxieties to make the globalized world a better place.”

The key word there – engagement. It’s not just about having a sense of purpose. It’s about leveraging it to build meaningful conversations. Vineet Mehra, the CMO of Ancestry, terms it as ‘constant relevance’ – “If your brand doesn’t stand for something, if it doesn’t have a unique voice, or deeply resonate in the culture, you’re going to have a really hard time at becoming iconic.”

  • Standing for something can be rewarding. Towards the end of 2016, social media was full of stories about how AirBnB hosts were denying guests accommodation, due to their race and religion. This was in stark contrast to AirBnB’s value of creating spaces where everyone could belong. So, the company launched the #WeAccept campaign to take a stance against discrimination and stand for equality.

The response to this ad was exponential. Played during the Superbowl of Feb ‘17, #weaccept was the most used hashtag. AirBnB generated over 33k tweets during the first half of the game, with an 85% positive reaction. Why? Because they showed allegiance to human values of respect, empathy, and belonging. And consumers want to associate with such integrity.

  • But it can get tough, too. Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” says Colin Kaepernick, in the iconic ad for Nike’s 30th An ad that went on to become the pinnacle for media activism, by taking a stance for people of color in the United States. Once it was released, the company’s share price fell, and protestors burnt Nike products. The hashtag that trended – #JustBurnIt.

Why? Because Nike featured Kaepernick, who kneeled during the American national anthem to protest against the oppression of black people. A move that many people resented. Through it all, Nike stood its ground, believing it was about a lot more than just sports. Not many brands can afford to, though.

We are steadily moving towards an era where brands are being held accountable for why they exist, and how they are helping this planet or its people. Consumers have unprecedented access to information, and the sharing of that on social media can make or break brands. There is merit in being a purpose-driven brand, but there could be a backlash too. Tread down this path, if you are willing to embrace both.