Perspective

Authentic, engaged brands are successful – and here’s why

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Nathalie Ternisien et Aurélie Pichard

Nathalie Ternisien and Aurélie Pichard, respectively co-CEO and head of research at Brain Value, a market research and strategic planning company, decipher global consumer behaviour trends. Here is their take on the rise of authentic, responsible, committed brands.

Loss of confidence and a search for meaning mean that people are looking for something more sincere

According to Nathalie and Aurélie, one of the biggest changes in consumer behaviour in recent years is the emergence of brands that focus on authenticity and a local presence. They believe that millennials and, more particularly, Gen Z-ers seek more sincere conversations with brands.

Aurélie argues that this stems from a widespread loss of trust and esteem in consumer society. “Food, pharma and health scares, coupled with institutional scandals, such as the mad cow outbreak or Volkswagen’s Dieselgate, have undermined people’s faith in brands. The 21st century consumer wants to talk to the person behind the brand, to know where and how products are made”, she says. Because of this, genuine brands that stress authenticity and sincerity are garnering increasing support. “In agri-food, for example, fresh fruit and vegetable markets are making a big comeback, even reaching major supermarkets. Michel & Augustin has carved out a place with its local production process and local pastry chefs, as well as with its emphasis on transparency, by inviting consumers to visit its ‘banana farms’ (i.e. business premises) and regularly communicating about its working methods”, says Aurélie. In the absence of total transparency, this sincerity keeps brands honest. “Consumers may forgive brands that are able to accept and explain mistakes or mishaps. Following the scandal about its products containing parabens in 2013, Lush released a statement reminding the public that it is not an organic brand and that its products, while natural, are partly synthetic.”

The demand for more sincerity also is a result of the increasing role of technology in our society. “With the advent of the internet and social media, everyone, even the youngest, found a new feeling of authority over brands. Young people are being encouraged to give their opinion, deliver Ted Talks, host YouTube channels and represent an entire standalone section of the media. New value is being given to the individual rather than the institution”, Aurélie tells us. Brands must imperatively get accustomed to this new balance of power. “They need to engage in a horizontal dialogue and treat consumers as equals. Glossier, an American brand, encourages customers to express themselves on the blog Into The Gloss to co-develop solutions for the future”, says Aurélie. This ultimately echoes the concept of utilitarianism proposed by John Stuart Mill, as brands seek to offer consumers product lines with genuine emotional and identity value.

 

Engaged brands address young people’s fears

This search for meaning came hand in hand with another major trend, the rise of responsible brands that are truly making a difference. “People know that their choices have consequences on the planet. They no longer want to ‘consume’ but rather to create value. Hence, their increasing interest in brands that play an ecologic or social role”, says Nathalie. In the textile industry, Veja, a US brand, has been winning fans with an innovative ethical model. Besides its materials, such as organic cotton grown in the north-east of Brazil, natural rubber from the Amazon and organic leather from Uruguay, Veja is committed to manufacturing shoes in a manner that defends its employees’ rights. In addition, the brand’s factories in Paris are powered entirely by electricity. There has been a resurgence in “natural” and “responsible” brands in agri-food as well. “Innocent is one brand that has quickly established itself on the market with healthy, all-natural drinks and production methods that meet social and environmental values. By using electric cars, sourcing bananas from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms, reducing its carbon footprint or creating packaging with recyclable materials, the brand is trying at its own scale to do something for the planet”, says Nathalie.

Wanting to make a difference is not the only factor that drives an interest in natural brands. The appeal of these brands is also coupled with genuine questions about survival, which are a big concern among the youth. “They have never known a world that was not in crisis and they were raised in an environment of insecurity. Their attraction to dystopian pop-culture with apocalyptic settings such as Hunger Games, Divergent, or In The Forest speaks volumes. Fearful that the world is collapsing, these consumers are turning in on themselves”, argues Nathalie. As a result, they try to look after their bodies, minimise risk, and show a keen interest in healthy brands. In cosmetics, the trend is towards paraben- and dye-free products with clean, stripped-down formulas. In nutrition, these concerns are reflected by the rise of veganism and the return of local circular economy. In France for example, associations for the preservation of peasant farming (AMAPs) are helping a growing number of consumers to enjoy fresh, seasonal and in many cases, organically grown produce.

Advice for brands?

When asked for a last word of advice, Aurélie is quick to reply: “Don’t try to find a trade-off between pleasure, sincerity and efficiency because consumers are increasingly demanding on all three fronts”. Nathalie adds: “Maximum value comes from being yourself –the foundation for a healthy relationship with consumers”.

 

Consumption | January 2017