Mark Sinnock, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Havas Creative Network, tells Dare! about the latest Meaningful Brands study, and the direction our proprietary research will take in the “Age of Cynicism.”
Can you tell about the latest Meaningful Brands study and what were some of its most interesting findings?
Everyone involved in the project is really proud of this edition of our flagship Meaningful Brands research programme. For the first time, we have got some real insight into why 75% of brands could disappear and no one would care. Our research provides evidence that there is a real tension between what a brand promises, and the actual lived consumer experience they deliver.
Whilst 77% of people expect brands to step up and support them in times of crisis, virtually the same number (71%) say that they are tired of brands’ empty promises. We are seeing how important it is for brands to get involved in the bigger social issues: 73% of people think that brands must act now for the good of society and the planet.
But in contrast, only 36% of consumers feel satisfied with brands’ concrete actions to make the world a better place. And 66% of people think companies aren’t being transparent about their commitments and promises. It’s a stark reminder of who’s in charge – people are becoming increasing cynical about brand promises – and this issue is at its most extreme in countries where marketing is at its most mature and sophisticated.
In these markets (US/Western Europe for example, where only 40% of brands are seen as trustworthy), brands have adopted bigger, societal, and cultural purpose driven narratives, making claims that they are changing, enhancing or transforming the world around us for good. Yet for many people living in these markets, these claims and promises aren’t translating into reality. In fact, overall, the opposite has happened – social injustice and division is more rampant, inequalities abound, our environments continue to be eroded, and businesses seemingly continue to pursue profit above all else.
What we’re seeing is that if brand owners make a big promise, they better damn well deliver on it, or people will vote with their wallets. And specifically, if you bring social purpose driven promises into your communications then think about how to convince people you are making a real difference because it’s doubtful that they will experience it first-hand.
How have the study’s results evolved since the inception of Meaningful Brands?
In the last few editions, we’ve chosen to drill down to understand what it means to be meaningful, but also to reveal where the biggest issues and opportunities are for brands in certain sectors, industries, or markets. In particular, we are keen to dig into which functional, personal and collective benefits matter for brands in different markets and sectors.
The most important evolution has been to offer clients the ability to run bespoke MB studies to unlock real and actionable insights. These projects go well beyond communications and can influence proposition development, Cx, and service innovation.
How important are our Meaningful Brands studies to the Havas network and our clients?
We make a meaningful difference and that’s our mantra. That story and promise is built on the insights and understanding that come from our Meaningful Brands study, so we need to think of the study as an essential or even fundamental part of our DNA at Havas. It’s what makes us different, it’s how we work with clients, and it influences our strategy and execution that we deliver across every part of our company – across media and creative.
What are some of the opportunities for brands in the age of cynicism?
Taken as a whole, our study does suggest that brands are under more scrutiny than ever before. With so much choice, access, time and technology available, people can research in new ways, and they can afford to be more discerning than ever before. For people all around the world, what we’re finding is that being meaningful is not something vague or esoteric – it’s about delivering real and tangible benefits that people can see, feel, touch or experience. The pandemic has definitely made people more sceptical and has changed what people expect from brands. More than half of respondents (53%) said they would pay more for a brand that takes a stand on environmental and societal issues. And 66% said they would prefer to buy from a company that has a purpose other than just making a profit. The data is also showing that people expect brands to focus more on delivering to their personal and collective needs – this is in large partly down to the growing sense of uncertainty and insecurity as a consequence of the pandemic and its potential threat to people’s jobs and lifestyles.
For example, we can see that consumers over index on wanting help from brands by decreasing or counteracting stress in their lives. Either by making things easier, providing peace of mind, escapism, or happiness, and in particular helping people feel secure and content in their everyday lives. So, if the issue is an increase in consumer cynicism, then the opportunity is to focus on affirmative action. Brands that act, and do, and get out there to change people’s lives in a real and meaningful way will win.
How do you predict this survey will evolve in the next decade and what do brands need to do to adapt?
The study evolves every year, and we already have lots of great ideas and plans for the next edition. But to give you a sense of the direction of travel – over the next few years, we’ll dive deeper, get more detail, and more insight into what makes and breaks brands. We’re planning to become more agile with the study and make it more flexible so that we can explore themes and issues in more detail and in real time as they appear. Exciting times ahead.
Havas employees can access further Meaningful Brands 2021 insights on Agora.