Brands need to embrace the beliefs of consumers
Not many brands tell their customers to stop buying their product if they don't conform to certain behaviours. But that's precisely what the Mexican beer brand Tecate did last year when it told its predominantly male beer drinkers that if they didn't know how to treat women respectfully, then it didn't want them as customers.
With domestic violence now a big problem in Mexico - and alcohol consumption a contributing factor - Tecate was taking a firm stand on an issue which has plagued the country for many years. The campaign triggered a national debate and appeared to divide the nation. Its critics argued that it was cynically exploiting an enormous societal problem to sell more beer. Its advocates, meanwhile, applauded it for raising the issue and using its considerable brand firepower to actually do something constructive for Mexican society.
Not surprisingly, sales of Tecate initially fell as some of its customers - possibly men who engaged in domestic violence - decided they didn't like being told what to do by a brand. But Tecate expected this backlash and was more than happy to see sales decline if it meant that the issue was finally being taken seriously. Such was the support for the brand in the wider marketing community, that it was possibly the only brand in recent years to see a decline in sales yet bag a coveted Glass Lion for its endeavours at the Cannes Lions Festival earlier this year. And, yes, sales have picked up since then.
Tecate, however, is just one of many global brands that are no longer standing on the side-line at a time of profound social and economic upheaval around the world. For their part, consumers are becoming less trusting of the old industrial order and brand hegemony and are increasingly turning to brands that fit in with their own beliefs and aspirations.
This is backed up by new research from the PR firm Edelman Ireland that shows that consumers want to know if a brand stands for something that they care about and if it does, then there is a much better chance of them buying it. In the rapidly-changing consumer landscape, Edelman has called this influential cohort "belief buyers". And in the commercial world, belief buyers are big business.
The Edelman Earned Brand study shows that 62pc of Irish consumers never assume what a brand says about itself in a paid space is true. A similar-sized cohort is frustrated at being told it needs to update the products it already has, while 36pc admit that they have become very good at using ad-blocking software tools to avoid online advertising.
"Worryingly, these numbers appear to be on the increase as Irish consumers openly admit to being frustrated with brand communications," notes the report.
Indeed, some 66pc said that photo manipulations in advertisements make it hard to know what to believe while 50pc of the survey's Irish respondents say that brand activity on their social channels has made social media less enjoyable. Add to this the operational complexity that brands are experiencing from the growth of private label and disruption of traditional routes to market and it's clear that many brands are finding themselves in a limbo situation, unsure of which way to turn or how they should be connecting with consumers.
"For many brands, investment in traditional paid models has reached the point of diminishing returns. Our relationship with buyers has never been more under siege," adds the report.
Marketers, of course, have a choice. They can simply give up on building relationships or continue to defend this relationship the 'old-fashioned' way. Or they can view the many disruptions they face as opportunities rather than threats.
Now in its third year, Edelman's Earned Brand study concludes that an influential cohort of people is buying on belief, with 50pc of those surveyed falling into the belief-driven category. This cohort is also an attractive demographic as it tends to be younger and higher-earning consumers. Indeed some 60pc of them are so-called millennials with the balance of them falling into the Generation Z and Generation X categories.
"Belief-driven buyers can be leaders or joiners," notes the report. "The study shows that 25pc are leaders and have strongly held or passionate beliefs. The brands they buy form a part of how they express that belief, 25pc are joiners and depending on the issue or the brand, they will change their buying behaviour based on that brand's stand. The remaining 50pc of consumers, however, do not self-identify as belief-driven. These 'spectators' rarely buy on belief or punish brands for taking a stand."
Fiona Hodgins, head of brand with Edelman Ireland, says: "The rise of the belief buyer presents both threat and opportunity to brands. Staying silent or not responding in real-time is no longer an option. Brands that embrace genuine shared beliefs will view tangible business results. Stand together and win new buyers who will advocate, defend and buy your brand loyally. Belief really means business."
Sunday Indo Business