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How coronavirus could usher in a new era of brand purpose

The demand for businesses tangibly contributing to public good will only grow in the tumultuous months ahead, analysts said.

The coronavirus, with its unprecedented impact on travel, retail and day-to-day life, has sped up several key consumer trends, leading more people to stream media and rely on e-commerce than ever before. Even after signs of normalcy return, the lasting effects on marketing will also be significant, and could enshrine brand purpose — which was already gaining traction pre-pandemic — as the new industry standard, analysts said during a webinar hosted by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) on Thursday.

“Disruptions just wipe the slate clean and clear away the obstacles that had held the next big thing in check,” said Walker-Smith, chief knowledge officer for branding and marketing at Kantar Consulting, during the webinar.

Marketers refining their purpose strategies could be paramount in the months ahead, even as many deals with harsh economic pressures brought on by the pandemic. In a new study, Kantar and the ARF analyzed 45 purpose-driven campaigns, selected based on awards recognition and social listening, and found success is rooted in three principles: brand precedence, where an organization has an established history championing a cause or positioning; partnerships with people outside of the organization who are passionate about the cause, which lends credibility; and commitments to offering tangible solutions over the long term versus a one-off stunt.

“The campaign should have precedent [and] should connect to the core of your business,” Sarah Capers, SVP, client partner at Kantar, said on the virtual panel. “If you do those things well, it should feel, in retrospect, like an obvious move.”

Yet, new purpose-driven efforts will additionally need to take into consideration the realities of a world in crisis, with an expected premium to be put on hygiene, localization, and messaging that stokes unity and build confidence among deeply uncertain consumers, according to Smith.

“People are demanding that brands not just deliver better self, but a better society as well,” Smith said. “The political and public health context of the moment is going to clear the way for this to emerge even more quickly.”

A new era

Major consumer brands like Dove and Nike have driven discussions around purpose in recent years, but the pandemic could push the approach fully into the mainstream, panelists said.

“This whole idea of the public and of society and of others is a new ethic for brands,” Smith said. “Whatever personal ethic people may have for themselves, this is an ethic that they are expecting brands to follow through on.”

The move away from the personal and toward the public would mark a paradigm shift for the industry.

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