The Rise of Purpose-Led Brands: Q&A With Accenture Strategy’s Bill Theofilou

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Accenture Strategy Purpose-Led Brands

Accenture Strategy’s latest Global Consumer Pulse Research finds that a majority of consumers across the globe prefer buying from brands that take a stand on issues they care about, and avoid those that don’t.

Its 14th annual research study, From Me to We:  The Rise of the Purpose-Led Brand,” surveyed nearly 30,000 consumers worldwide (2,000+ US consumers) and found that “purpose” is the elixir driving successful brands today.

  • Purpose is influencing purchasing decisions: Nearly two-thirds (63%) of consumers prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs.
  • Consumers want companies to speak up: 62% want companies to take a stand on social, cultural, environmental and political issues close to their hearts. Another 62% say their purchasing consideration is driven by a company’s ethical values and authenticity.
  • Consumers are attracted to companies that care: They like companies that are committed to using good-quality ingredients (76%), treat employees well (65%), and believe in reducing plastics and improving the environment (62%).
  • When companies fall short, consumers are quick to ditch them: Nearly half (47%) have boycotted the company as a result of their actions.

brandchannel spoke with Bill Theofilou, senior managing director at Accenture Strategy, to learn more about the relationship between consumers and purpose-led brands.

What are the key ways a consumer ascertains a brand’s purpose?

Bill Theofilou Accenture- Strategy

Consumers are no longer investing their time, money and attention in brands that just sell good quality products at good prices. They are making carefully considered choices to buy from companies that stand for a purpose they identify with that reflects their personal values and beliefs. This could be on important principles such as family connections, health and wellbeing, or on broader societal issues such as environmental sustainability.

Consumers are selecting brands that not only communicate a clear purpose in their advertising and marketing, but also demonstrate a true commitment to that purpose across the entire business. For companies that prioritize environmental concerns, this could be by ethically sourcing all fabrics and materials, only using natural ingredients in products or by actively lowering its use of plastics.

With so much transparency in the digital age, consumers can spot if companies are really delivering on their promises or not. They can see through inauthenticity and won’t tolerate it.

Accenture Strategy Purpose-Led Brands

Has this movement toward brand-conscience awareness reached a tipping point?

This year’s research suggests we’ve reached a tipping point and are experiencing a permanent shift in power between consumers and companies, which has been enabled by digital technology and media.

We’re now living in an era of radical transparency which is not only helping people make more informed choices and decisions, but also share their opinions and beliefs more widely. This has led to companies, governments and authority figures being publicly scrutinized for their words and actions on a greater scale than ever before.

This new-found power is infiltrating every aspect of people’s lives, including their purchasing decisions. What a brand says, what it does and, most importantly, what it stands for, have become leading factors influencing choice.

Today, consumers are more than just buyers—they are active stakeholders, and, knowingly or not, they play a huge role in shaping companies. Ultimately, they act as champions of brands they believe in, and foils to those they don’t. They have got the power to demand experiences on their own terms. They readily influence others to buy or not to buy. They co-develop products or services, invest in brands they believe in, or even act as sales channel partners. Through their words and actions, they provide insights that can enable companies to hone their competitive agility.

Accenture Strategy Purpose-Led Brands

How are these shifts in consumer expectation changing the balance between purpose and profit?

Over the past decade, the majority of companies have been laser focused on using digital technologies to better target and engage consumers and deliver hyper-relevant experiences. Reach and engagement have become so important to many of them that they have underestimated other integral factors that make consumers attracted to their brand in the first place—namely purpose.

Profit and purpose are not mutually exclusive. Companies that stand for something bigger than just what they sell typically deliver higher levels of commercial success. Purpose-led companies also have the opportunity to fluidly move into other markets or industries because they’ve achieved trust status among their customers.

Accenture Strategy Purpose-Led Brands

What happens to brands that are not associated with a purpose?

Understanding how to instill a sense of “brand belonging” through a clear and relevant purpose has now become a prerequisite for competitiveness. By tuning into customers’ beliefs or mindsets and taking decisive action, companies connect with consumers on a deeper level. Those that successfully activate a purpose-led brand will create a community of loyal, engaged and valuable brand stakeholders, which can help fuel innovation and inspire new ecosystem partnerships.

Companies that don’t convey purpose—whether that’s due to complacency, lethargy or the fear of polarizing their customers—are at a distinct disadvantage in the long-term.

Is this shift cyclical or is it unique to today and an evolution of business and technology?

What we’ve seen this year is not a trend. A variety of forces—social, economic, technological and political—have collided and ultimately changed the way brands interact with consumers going forward.

Unilever, IKEA and KIND remain examples of companies reaping tangible evidence from showing a sense of purpose beyond what they sell.


Get more insights in our Q&A series.

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