Changing Lives, Changing Behaviour and the Implications for Brands
The last year has brought big changes in how brands get their products to market and maintain their brand relevance, but it also has seen changes in the broader priorities and behaviour of brands, retailers and consumers. Not just buying and selling behaviour, but also broader societal priorities such as sustainability, environmental issues and diversity, have seen remarkable shifts during the past year. These changes were discussed at a British Brands Group web meeting “Changing Lives, Changing Behaviour and the Implications for Brands”, the second of two in the series Don’t Panic! How Brands Can Thrive in Chaos and chaired by Rita Clifton CBE, Deputy Chairman of The John Lewis Partnership.
How has consumer behaviour changed?
Online sales to consumers increased by 50% last year, according to Salesforce. Richard Chataway, CEO of BVA Nudge Unit, told the meeting, “What that means is that those brands that are well-equipped to deal with that, and have built great digital experiences for customers, obviously stand to benefit.”
Some brands have even been helping consumers make the transition to digital services, even though the consumer initially might have been resistant or not know how to do so. BVA Nudge has been working with a savings bank whose customer service reps encourage customers who ring the bank’s call centre to use their digital services, and then help the customers get onto the bank’s website and talk them through how to navigate the service.
“It would be a mistake to think that people have really changed fundamentally,” said Chataway, “but some of the circumstances — contextual environmental factors that are a big influence on our behaviour — have changed a lot over the last 18 months…. That means that making those experiences good and easy for people is even more important.”
How have brands’ behaviours changed?
Given that many retailers rationalised and reduced their product ranges over the last year, brands have had to work harder and differently with retailers to keep their products on-shelf, to introduce new products and to get those products in front of consumers.
Amelia Harvey, Co-founder at The Collective, said that launching new innovations has been challenging, because there have not been as many opportunities or slots on-shelf, and the time to prove success has become shorter and shorter. “Brands can go in and have probably less than 12 weeks to prove a point, and then they’re in or out.”
The Collective’s strategy has been to push big retailers hard to offer a number of different flavours from their range, and the company has worked to get their products in front of consumers in new physical and digital ways. For example, when The Collective launched a new plant-based yoghurt range during lockdown, they partnered with Deliveroo and Uber Eats “to put our plant launch out there with other vegetarian or vegan deliveries,” said Harvey. “We’ve had to really pivot and think about different ways to get the products in front of the consumer to taste.”
How are brands dealing with broader societal issues?
Brands have become more aware and more vocal about important issues in society, not necessarily leading public campaigns on such initiatives themselves but often being supportive both internally and publicly.
“Brands can definitely have a credible role in helping here,” said James Parnum, Managing Partner, Head of Planning at MediaCom. “They can help you eat better, buy better, travel better, protect nature, waste less packaging. We’re starting to see some really good examples.” Some notable companies and initiatives highlighted by Parnum and others at the meeting included:
- Tesco, which has been working towards zero food-waste, installing electric chargers in car parks, partnering with the Trussell Trust, and pushing suppliers to be accredited by B Corps on such issues as sustainable practices, carbon footprint, employee practices, and community impact.
- Selfridges, which has its Project Earth—a long-term commitment to sustainable shopping, a lower carbon footprint and even a sustainable media plan.
- Numerous brands that together on social media, particularly Instagram, have supported the Black Lives Matters movement’s Blackout Tuesday.
“I think sometimes when the brands are leading these conversations, that’s going to fall on slightly deaf ears,” said Parnum. On social media in particular, he said, it is often the case that brands are following and working with consumers in discussing these issues rather than leading the debate.
Are consumers making brands decisions based on sustainability, diversity and other societal commitments?
Do these bigger societal issues drive consumer behaviour with respect to brands’ products? “There is a group of consumers who truly will make choices on the basis of some of these higher order, more charitable benefits,” said Kerry Cavanaugh, Business Unit Director at Mars Wrigley. “But the truth is that time and again, candidly, there’s more of a self-interest among consumers.”
Cavanaugh had discussed this with the chief marketing officer at MasterCard which has undertaken a lot of consumer studies over the years. In summary, these find that “Greed beats philanthropy every time.” That is, product preferences and price are still the principal drivers for consumers.
Cavanaugh believes that “it’s a more question of what we as companies believe is the right thing to do”. He cited Mars’ own initiatives in using wind power in the UK, and in securing 70% of the total energy it uses in the UK from sustainable sources. Galaxy puts 10% of its profits back into the communities from which it sources and Maltesers launched a new campaign on maternal mental health with Comic Relief this year.
“We’re not a charity, we’ve got to make money,” said Cavanaugh. “And then with making money, we can actually do more with that. We can make choices around more sustainable energy, better packaging, better employee rights for diversity and inclusion. We certainly want to make a profit, but we have to do that, we believe, in a way that then contributes more.”
More on this meeting and the British Brands Group
The full recording of this event in support of the Museum of Brands can be viewed on the Group’s YouTube channel here. A Brands Blog on Part 1 of the series, Changing routes to market and the implications for brands, can be found here and the full recording here.
The British Brands Group focuses on shaping the climate for brands in the UK, encouraging vigorous, fair competition, ensuring companies are able to build their reputations and innovate, and shoppers are able to make reliable, accurate choices at speed. Policies around the regulation of e-commerce markets, unfair trading in grocery (GSCOP) and intellectual property (on which the brand business model depends) are just some of the recent topics on which the Group has engaged.