The growing importance of brand responses to equality and diversity

Thought Leadership
In this post, GlobalWebIndex‘s Strategic Insights Analyst, Olivia Valentine examines the importance of brands responding to public conversations around equality and diversity, and how this should shape their marketing and communications – especially to younger audiences.

This decade is already proving to be a pivotal one. In the last few months alone we have seen critical global action in the march for social progress, even with a global pandemic as the backdrop. 2020 has seen social movements moving forward, and has given brands plenty of opportunities to join in on these important conversations through messaging and advertising. 

At least part of consumers’ purchasing decision comes from this exposure to brands, helping them to decide whether one aligns with their values more than another. But in a marketplace that’s bursting at the seams, expectations are rising fast as consumers become more informed, connected and demanding. 

In bespoke research conducted by GlobalWebIndex in July among internet users in the UK and U.S., we asked consumers what they think brands should be portraying in 2020. Here’s an insight into what we found out.

Young consumers demand the most action
What’s immediately clear is that traditional qualities are still very important to consumers. Qualities like proving value for money and reliability are at the core of their expectations of brands, with Baby Boomers most likely to say so. 

For all generations, though, we see that there’s very much a pronounced expectation of value beyond the purchase. For some consumers, their relationship with brands is purely functional, but for many, they also buy into a brand’s values and purpose. For example, half of consumers want brands to showcase genuine care for consumers, whilst 4 in 10 want to be shown a consideration for the environment. 

When it comes to showing support for equality and diversity, numbers might drop a little lower, but it’s still around a quarter of consumers who said they want to see this from brands. And it’s the youngest segment who are particularly enthusiastic about this, with a third of Gen Zs and Millennials saying so.

As to be expected, when we asked consumers which of these points are more likely to make them choose one brand over another, there was a clear disconnect between expressed expectations and what would actually influence brand choice. Across the board, this disconnect was smallest among the Gen Z and Millennial segment – which is especially important when we consider the growing purchasing power of these generations.

And importantly, almost a fifth said that seeing a brand showing support for equality and diversity would make them choose it over another. Not all brands are rushing to make this a key consideration in their communication with consumers, so those who do are really setting themselves apart. And there’s no doubt that events in the last few months will lead to an uptick in this figure moving forward. There will likely come a time that if brands don’t address these concerns, consumers will no longer just overlook it. 

Brands need to do more to respond to issues that matter
So we know where these values sit in consumers’ priority lists, but what should they actually be doing to respond to important issues? The phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ has never been more appropriate. 

Let’s take Pride as an example. Pride month is an annual event, celebrated all over the world. It’s a great chance for brands to show their support to the LGBTQ+ and ally communities, but there’s certainly an expectation for brands to show support beyond these one-month-a-year celebrations.

If you scroll through social media in Pride month, you’ll slowly start to see a sea of rainbow logos appear from brands and companies. So much so that those who don’t take part are the ones who stand out. The same is true for Pride-themed products. But what do consumers think?

Our data reveals that only around 14% of consumers in the UK and U.S. believe changing a logo to Pride colours or selling Pride-themed products are the most important ways to show support. Of course these are important ways to show support, but it does beg the question of what these brands are doing beyond this to support these causes. Consumers were instead much more likely to say that outward action is what’s most important; a third chose charitable donations and supporting community initiatives. 

A fifth said showing support via social media is the most important way. Social has become a hive of conversation around societal issues. It’s given consumers and brands one of the biggest platforms to speak out about issues they care about, and importantly, they can do so all year round. Brands can be upfront and honest about how they’re supporting these causes.

Skincare brand Kiehl’s dropped Pride-themed products in 2020, instead hosting an Instagram live with LGBTQ+ ambassadors, held discussions throughout the month with advocates and donated a large sum to The Trevor Project. This is a great example of a brand not only adapting to these unprecedented times, but one showing consumers true authenticity.  

Brands simply can’t afford to stay silent or stand still on these topics anymore, or risk being disregarded by upcoming generations, or worse, boycotted. Consumers want to see genuine and tangible action to these social movements. Showing support for diversity and equality in any communication with consumers is only becoming more important for future brand equity, and those who lead the way now will surely be remembered for it.