Is your brand genuinely on purpose?

Diversity and inclusion (now known as D&I) has come a long way as a business imperative - with many global brand leaders now appointing heads of D&I and organising regular company-wide initiatives to address the topic.

This focus is also shifting into marketing - with popular brands like Cadbury, Pepsi, Nike and Mattel announcing bold customer engagement strategies in this space.

This certainly looks like progress. But, for the social and brand impact to truly land, it’s important the shift runs deeper than just a job title, an event or a brand campaign.

Skimming the surface of D&I can create a customer backlash

D&I is more than optics or packaging.  It must sit at the core of business and product strategy - beginning its journey long before it reaches PR or customer marketing messaging. Only then will it resonate as authentic and truly represent diverse interests and needs which, as much as anything, is good business practice.’

Inserting yourself into a conversation or debate via a marketing or PR manoever won’t cut it with savvy consumers who require a deeper approach, consistency of approach over time and deep customer discussion to generate trust and connection. Otherwise the chances for a consumer backlash, are pretty high.

Cadbury in India, along with its PR firm Ogilvy, recently developed a campaign around India’s independence day and diversity.

Whilst this was a worthy goal, unfortunately Indian consumers didn’t have a bar of it, and called Cadbury on the PR stunt. The response was an avalanche of complaints and jokes, ranging from silly to thoughtful to angry. The nerve Candbury seemed to hit, was that Indians take racism and inequality very seriously, and do not appreciate a brand campaign that reduces one of the country’s most divisive issues to a PR stunt.

Pepsi found itself in a similar situation not so long ago in an ad depicting TV star Kendall Jenner diffusing a racially-charged street protest by handing a police officer a soft drink. Once again, it was a campaign that fell flat because of the unintended consequence of being racially insensitive.

Viral campaigns can be great conversation starters - but unless they are backed by substance, it’s worth considering at what cost to the brand?

There’s profit to be had in having a purpose.

A recent global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers by Accenture found that 62 percent of customers want companies to take a stand on current and relevant issues like sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices.

The closer a company’s purpose aligns to a consumer’s beliefs, the better the chances of earning that consumer’s loyalty. When brands get this right it has a very positive impact not only on the customer but on the bottom line.

Unilever has seen, tangible value of making “purpose” a core driver of growth and differentiation. Nearly half of its top 40 brands focus on sustainability.

Their “Sustainable Living” brands, including Knorr, Dove and Lipton, are growing 50 percent faster than the company’s other brands and delivering more than 60 percent of the company’s growth.

This is good news for everyone - but only if you can align your product with your social message in a genuine way with the consumer.

4 Ways Inclusive Design can make a lasting impact

This is where aspects of inclusive design can really make a difference. Following these principles can avoid a world of pain:

  • Diversity of your creative team: Do the people making the message have different experiences and different voices?
  • Stakeholder engagement: Have you talked to the audience you want to align with?
  • Brand alignment: Is your brand really the right one to take up the cause?
  • Purpose: Are you really trying to have an impact or just profit on the coattails of an issue?

You can read more about best practice in this area from our recent report here.