People in the UK are looking to businesses behind the products and services that they consume to play an active role in shaping society for the better and tackle the climate crisis, according to new research.
The Power to the People study, from media agency Mindshare UK (part of WPP) found people are deeply uncomfortable with brand greenwashing and that attaching social or environmental initiatives to marketing promotions is not enough – people want business to get real about the impact they can have on a wide range of issues.
The study found almost three quarters of consumers think brands should take responsibility for protecting the environment. But the research suggests people in the UK feel businesses can take up a far wider range of responsibilities including health, good behaviour, supporting communities, promoting equality and even reducing crime and resolving divisions over Brexit.
Ingrained consumer ethics
The research suggests consumers are reappraising the way brands are behaving in relation to society and are expecting credible actions, collaboration and transparency over their operational actions.
Almost 70% agreed “brands can’t get away with saying one thing and doing another. It’s important to me that their values behind scenes, match what they say in public” and 65% agreed that “people these days have much higher expectations of brands, and of the companies that make them”.
More than a third of people said they had recently stopped buying from some brands and companies because they didn’t agree with their values. This figure rose to 42% of 18-34-year olds. In comparison, 40% disagreed with the idea that if the price of a product is right, it doesn’t really matter how the company behaves behind the scenes.
People want power over brands
Mindshare’s research also suggested that the relationship between consumers and brands may change over time.
People would like to see more brands join forces to act in unison on social issues – 66% felt this was a good idea (69% of women). Meanwhile, 55% said brands should give customers more ways to influence their products and services and 40% think that in five years brands in general will matter far less than they do now.
The fluidity of consumer purchasing was also confirmed with 54% saying it matters far less to them which brand names they buy and just 35% agreeing brand names provide a shortcut to products and services they can trust.
The only people we trust are family, friends, peers and accredited experts
The Power to the People study also found a yawning credibility gap opening up between people and organisations which we are supposed to trust. The study calculated a Net Credibility Score by subtracting negative sentiment from positive and found the only sources of information we see as credible are people we know or accredited experts on a particular topic.
The only group of organisations to register a positive credibility score were charities although this was very low. Of the organisations respondents were asked to consider the BBC scored net credibility of -2% followed by Google -7% and Amazon -12%.
Articles in newspapers and magazines scored surprisingly badly with -18%, as did my local MP (-18%), but these still came in well ahead of sources such as advertising (-42%), social media (-50%), political leaders (-53%) and lowest of all – social media influencers that I follow (-54%).
A warning to social media influencers
Mindshare found a strong correlation between the growth in online product and service reviews and consumer fluidity.
35% said they often buy brands they had never heard of before, because of their good reviews
While credible peer reviews of products and services are clearly very influential, social media influencers have less authority. The study found 60% UK adults think social media influencers they follow are not credible at all.
Julia Ayling, Head of Research and Insights at Mindshare commented: “The findings of our Power to the People research indicate that there is a huge opportunity for businesses and brands to play a wider role in society, but their contribution must be credible and add value in a genuine and sustainable way. This study points to a substantial redefinition of the way in which brands interact with audiences and are perceived by their consumers. It is the audience that is driving this change.”