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  • Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016
Havas' Tim Maleeny Reflects On Consumer Expectations of Brands
Tim Maleeny
Chief strategy officer delves into findings of agency research; public wants companies to help drive positive change, be socially responsible

Transparency, sustainability, and a purpose beyond profit are more than popular catchphrases. They’re now bottom-line expectations for how larger businesses and brands are expected to operate, according to new research by global marketing and communications firm Havas Worldwide.

Havas’ thought leadership publication Prosumer Report shared the findings of the agency study, “Project Superbrand: 10 Truths Reshaping the Corporate World,” which sheds light on how the corporate social responsibility movement has evolved over the past decade since Havas Worldwide’s study on "The Future of the Corporate Brand" in 2007.

“Project Superbrand: 10 Truths Reshaping the Corporate World” draws on findings from an online survey of 10,131 people aged 18+ in 28 markets: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The survey was created by Havas Worldwide and fielded by Market Probe International.

In all of its global surveys, Havas Worldwide uses a proprietary algorithm to break the sample into two groups: mainstream consumers (which, in the case of this study, made up 80 percent of the sample) and Prosumers (20 percent). Prosumers are defined as informed people who are today’s leading influencers and market drivers. They have always been important, but they have grown even more powerful thanks to their skillful embrace of emerging technologies and, especially, social media.

Havas Worldwide has been tracking Prosumers for more than a decade and in that time has interviewed thousands of them. They influence the brand choices and behaviors of others. Simply put, what Prosumers are doing today, mainstream consumers are likely to be doing six to 18 months from now.

Here’s a rundown of the 10 Truths the new research uncovered relative to consumer expectations of brands:

1. Your Oompa Loompas are going viral: In the Roald Dahl classic “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” no one outside the forbidding gates of the world-famous Willy Wonka Candy Company had any idea that the factory was run by a previously unknown race of short-statured men with orange skin and green hair. In the real world of today, such a lack of scrutiny would be unimaginable. Whether a company is public or privately held, people expect broad access and accountability. A majority of our survey respondents—including 7 in 10 leading-edge Prosumers—said they make it a point to find out about the companies that provide the products and services they buy. For the modern corporation, transparency is not optional.

2. Your company is your brand: There was a time when a company could act as if its individual brands were somehow separate from its corporate organization. People would happily eat a bowl of Cheerios or cleanse their faces with Noxzema without giving a thought to who produced them. Now, more people are actively seeking out information on the “who” behind the things they buy. And companies that fall short of consumers’ expectations pay the price. Half of mainstream consumers and two-thirds of Prosumers avoid buying from businesses deemed to have a negative social or environmental impact.

3. Your values are invaluable: In addition to operating transparently and according to the letter of the law, big businesses are expected to espouse a clearly communicated set of values. And consumers are making purchase decisions based on those values. A majority of mainstream consumers and more than three-quarters of Prosumers say they prefer to buy from companies that share their personal values. And around the same percentages say they’re more likely to buy from a company that is doing good things for the world.

4. Mindless consumption is so last century: Changes in business are taking place in tandem with shifts in how we consume. In developed markets especially, people are deriving less pleasure from the mindless consumption that started filling up our pantries, closets, and garages in the postwar boom of the 1950s. People still want bargains, of course, but it’s even more essential that products and services offer some sort of enduring value.

5. Heroes wanted: People around the globe are hungry for sociopolitical change and are convinced it will require the active cooperation of big business. Two-thirds of our global sample agreed that businesses actually bear as much responsibility as governments for driving positive social change, and 62 percent said they’d like their favorite brands to play a bigger role in solving social problems.

6. Acting “local” pays big dividends: Solving global problems is important, but meaningful connections also must take place at the local level. A majority of our global respondents—including nearly three-quarters of Prosumers—are looking for their favorite brands to play a bigger role in their local communities. Nearly 9 in 10 Prosumers believe it’s important for companies to improve the communities in which they operate.

7. Together is better: People aren’t looking for businesses to act as quasi-governments. On the contrary, around two-thirds of our global sample actually fear the power big corporations already wield. What they want to see are all the world’s players—governments, corporations, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), citizens—working together to tackle problems that no single entity can solve alone. Prosumers and baby boomers especially are keen on such collaborations, with at least 8 in 10 in each group wanting to see corporations working with governments, governments working with NGOs and nonprofits, and businesses working with consumers to make the world a better place.

8. The “greater good” starts within company walls: People aren’t just looking to see what corporate brands are doing in the “outside” world. They also want to know how companies are treating their own people, including employees and suppliers. When we asked respondents how important it is for a company’s CEO to do certain things, paying workers a fair wage and providing a pleasant work environment received higher scores than earning profits or even being environmentally conscious.

9. You’ve got to know your audience: We asked our global sample which of four areas they most want to see companies support: sustainability/the environment, poverty/income inequality, education, or culture/the arts. Overall, environmental sustainability was the cause deemed most pressing; however, there were important distinctions among the 28 countries surveyed, with India being most focused on education, for instance, and Ireland most concerned about income inequality. Businesses stand to gain the most when they are seen as working hard to address the public’s most pressing concerns in whatever part of the world they’re operating.

10. A strong leader is a strong asset: It’s no longer enough for corporate chieftains simply to deliver profits and drive growth. Eighty-four percent of our global sample deem it important that a CEO serve as a role model within the company, and more than three-quarters think he or she must also serve as a role model outside the company. In other words, some of the new responsibilities being placed on companies are also being put onto their chief executives.

SHOOT connected with Tim Maleeny, Havas Worldwide’s chief strategy officer, to delve further into “Project Superbrand” and what’s required to attain “superbrand” status.

SHOOT: What are the most significant takeaways you have from this piece of Havas research?

Maleeny: People trust brands that share their values. In other words, people buy products from companies they like and admire. Increasingly people care about what you do as a company just as much as they do about what you sell. So the product is only a proof point for the brand promise, and the rest of your business is equally important to your customers, from how you treat your employees to how you source your materials.

And the brands who have figured this out have raised expectations for all brands, to the point where people expect companies to play as big a role as government in addressing social issues and solving the world’s problems.

Research suggests that most of us would rather send our kids to a school run by Google or ride Elon Musk’s hyperloop train for our morning commute instead of waiting for our elected officials — the people who brought us the Department of Motor Vehicles — to figure things out.

SHOOT: How will you apply these findings to your work as guardians and builders of brands? What lessons, if any, will you impart to your clients?

Maleeny: When someone chooses a brand or buys a particular product, they are voting for the future in which they want to live. Your brand isn’t a shiny object to attract consumers; it’s a system of shared values that brings people together around a common cause, inside and outside the company.

SHOOT: What are the biggest creative and strategic challenges that this study’s findings pose to ad agencies as they grapple with how to best connect brands with consumers?

Maleeny: Agencies often focus on chasing a target audience and end up ignoring the DNA of the brand, so they end up creating disposable advertising. The ads might reflect popular culture but they don’t resonate any deeper than that, so the brand itself seems transient and superficial.

SHOOT: How, if at all, will these findings affect and/or change your behavior when it comes to brand building?

Maleeny: You can’t have a marketing discussion without having a business conversation first. Brand behavior is the basis for brand messaging, so the question isn’t how can we sell this, the real question is what would you do, if you ran the company?

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