We asked top social impact agency professionals to weigh in with their predictions for brand purpose initiatives in 2018. This is the second in a two-part series sharing their insights. See the first part in this series on companies taking visible and strong stands on socio-political issues.
1. Move Over Millennials, Gen Z Enters The Workforce
By 2020, Gen Z is expected to make up 40% of all consumers, influencing about $40 billion in annual sales. Born between 1995 and 2015, the oldest of this generation is just getting into the workforce. According to ForMomentum’s Mollye Rhea, this is the first generation born in a post-digital world: they’ve always had the opportunity to “Google” for answers.
Rhea says, “When it comes to money and education, Gen Z is being compared to boomers – they have more traditional views. However, in terms of their belief systems, they’re far more liberal than boomers and equality is a top issue for them – even more so than millennials.”
Rhea says Gen Z is likely to be very motivated by purpose. “More than 30% has already donated to charity,” she adds. “Gen Z will want to support good causes by doing something experientially, versus a passive engagement.” This generation is on their phones 10+ hours/day, so effectively reaching them via their devices is important.
Rhea’s best tips for engaging this generation include, “Use video and animation, show how you will make the world a better place, provide face-to-face experiences offline and create a two-way dialogue on important issues.”
2. Corporate Support For Disasters Becomes Increasingly Important
From 2014 to 2016, corporate disaster relief assistance has increased by 91% as companies rise to fill gaps in government support. According to Edelman Business + Social Purpose’s Anne Erhard, “This leaves brands in a tricky position. We expect them to focus on issues that are most salient to their business but also be reactive as it relates to disaster-focused issues that occur unexpectedly”. One way to address this, says Erhard, is by “creating opportunistic funds and funding streams” specifically set aside for disaster response.
According to Erhard, this shift requires companies “to be more planful when it comes to their disaster response and to talk to nonprofit partners to determine their needs.”
Companies may find themselves with existing cause campaigns in market when disaster strikes. Erhard counsels, “Be mindful about what’s happening and tweak those efforts as appropriate.” For example, Planet Fitness was just launching their annual “Judgement Free Generation” campaign supporting Boys and Girls Clubs of America when Hurricane Harvey hit so they were able to have honest conversations with their clubs in Texas and the Boys and Girls Clubs to ensure that funds raised in that campaign went directly to those local clubs most impacted by the hurricane.
3. Your Audience’s Audience Becomes A Primary Focus
According to Matchfire’s Chris Noble, the way brands communicate with their audience has changed dramatically and the pace of change is increasing. Today, instead of having one place (radio or television) to mass broadcast a message, companies have to get more savvy about reaching not only their intended audience, but their audience’s audience.
Noble explains the 1/9/90 model of influence that he feels is driving communication today, “At the very top 1% are opinion leaders. But the real power lies in the 9% of advocates just beneath them. There’s only one Kim Kardashian but her real power is the ring around her of lesser celebrities who are amplifying her message” to the remaining 90% of enthusiasts. According to Noble, “Kim Kardashian doesn’t even have a direct megaphone and your brand doesn’t either.”
When it comes to amplifying a social impact message, Noble says, “In many cases, you can’t own the 1%, but if you can find that next level of advocates, they can help carry the message that will catch fire with the other 90%. If you find your audience and create great content, it will reach your desired market even without giant budgets.”
4. Data Drives Social Impact Investment
Catalist recently surveyed 150 CSR professionals and asked them what trends they’re seeing in the social impact space. One foundational trend that has become a baseline expectation for companies is the importance of data.
According to Catalist’s Maureen Carlson, “Cause partnerships that were once decided based on anecdotal feedback and the gut feelings of key executives are now decided and measured based on data analysis and precise numeric key performance indicators.”
In order for a company to be able to invest in a high profile relationship with a nonprofit partner, “they need data points that illustrate the shared value of target demographics, brand affinity, product loyalty, brand sentiment, viewership and more,” says Carlson.
The Evolution of Corporate Social Impact
Corporate support of social issues is becoming more prevalent and nuanced as consumer expectations continue to shift toward increased involvement. Paramount in today’s always-on environment is clear and authentic communication, whether that means meeting Gen Z’ers where they live online or proactively sharing the efforts your company is taking to respond to the most recent natural disaster. Consumers are hungry for the brands they engage with to speak loudly and clearly about the social issues they support and delight in being asked to participate in a way that reflects their shared values. Savvy brands will continue to embrace social issues and invite consumers and employees to participate in meaningful ways in 2018 and beyond.