Brands are assuming a political leadership role to improve society, with new challenges that render companies ever more social and not merely economic actors. The Civic Brands Observatory, a new project focusing on the social impact of brands in Italy led by Ipsos in partnership with Paolo Iabichino, ran a thirty-question survey involving one thousand people aged between 18 and 65. The project sought to get a better look at what is referred to as the 'say-do gap', i.e. the difference between what people say and their actual behaviour.
"We are seeing a new breed of consumers who are much more careful in judging the work of a company, so much so that 43% say they have stopped buying certain products or services from brands or companies because they were disappointed by their actions. Interestingly enough, however, 39% believe that brands are responsible for encouraging responsible behaviour, while 26% believe that governments should bear that responsibility".
This is how Andrea Fagnoni, chief client officer at Ipsos, summarises the picture painted by the survey. "While posing challenges for companies, they also open up opportunities for a more genuine dialogue with consumers. This is partly because 17% believe that institutions and politics are no longer capable of acting and mobilising people to benefit society, a role that 24% of those surveyed believe is assumed by businesses", he adds.
We are heading towards a new social role for business
According to 63% of respondents, brands and companies must not only sell products or offer services, but also act on relevant social issues themselves. A slightly higher percentage (67%) even think it is time for companies to change the way they live and work for society.
Trust emerges as a crucial point to address on a clear undercurrent of scepticism, as 67% still struggle to discern whether a company is truly responsible.
All the numbers of the Civic Brands Observatory survey (scrolling to the right)
As to how to determine whether a brand is indeed civically engaged, 83% have clear ideas: civically engaged brands cannot be divorced from their focus on the primary stakeholders, i.e. on the quality of life of their own employees. For 82% of the respondents, civic branding should make local contributions with tangible community-based actions, while 68% believe that civic branding should have clear positions regarding sensitive issues such as civil rights, racism and gender equality.
"There is no more time to dilly-dally, issues can no longer be delegated to stories and narratives. There was a strong consensus among 31% of respondents that there will be no place in the future for brands or companies that fail to take tangible action on environmental sustainability today. Words and action must go hand in hand, creativity is measured by commitment, actions and the impact of those words", pointed out Paolo Iabichino, creative director and co-founder of the Civic Brands Observatory.
Customers in the driver's seat
"We need wording capable of shattering archetypes and paradigms so that words can serve a social and cultural impact", adds Iabichino: "Considering that 40% of respondents say they would gladly join a social, cultural or environmental initiative promoted by a brand or company to improve the community or environment where they live, and 36% admit that if they were involved, they would be much more likely to choose and buy that brand's products, we can easily perceive how much creative people and brands can do for change."
In fact, 84% of respondents believe that brands and companies should listen to and seek the help of their consumers to act responsibly for the good of their communities and territories. In contrast, 78% want them to be active participants, helping and supporting people in actions and initiatives to improve society. "Brand civic engagement entails a tangible economic impact and brand behaviour is now a purchasing driver. The moment of co-creation has arrived", concludes Iabichino.