21st century marketing must place social responsibility ahead of shareholder value

The adaptable 21st century marketer

Are consumers today more demanding than before? Not really. It’s more about the focus of their expectations than the level of it. The focus is shifting from the physical product to everything around it - the way it is marketed, it is serviced and socially accepted.

As consumers get savvier about how companies use their data to market or sell to them, they expect a more targeted, personalised approach. At the same time, consumers believe that the product’s image reflects on their reputation, so their preference goes where there is evidence of the products’ commitment to social responsibility – whether that’s through humanitarian and environmental initiatives, increasing diversity or various other social change projects that can improve society and quality of life.

This leaves marketers in a position where they have to adapt to be able to fulfil these demands, which will enable them to attract consumers who want to make a positive difference with their purchases. Up until now, marketing has been about shareholder value, and effectively marketing a product or service for financial gain. While this has not entirely changed, marketers need to now take into account emerging trends to ensure their brand is serving a purpose which consumers can relate to and expect to be fulfilled.

It is here that technology can really play a part. The likes of artificial intelligence (AI) or augmented reality (AR) are not just buzzwords. They can be game-changing for marketers who want to delve into what specific areas that are close to a large majority of consumers’ hearts.

For example, climate change is clearly a big trend that many marketers have used as part of campaigns. However, is there knowledge of exactly which parts of climate change people are worried about the most? Does this relate to your brand – either through the product or services sold – or even the way the company operates, including its supply chain? Brands need to take these ideas on board and be a trend-setter in the way they create practical solutions that address these social responsibility ideas.

Social media has also become such a crucial part of marketing, but it shouldn’t only be used as a way of promoting and reaching customers. It should also be used to spot consumer interests and behaviours within the realm of social responsibility. The likes of AI and machine learning can help to do this for both visual and verbal content.

If it’s clear that when users are uploading vegan alternatives to a specific popular meal on Instagram, then a food brand should potentially try incorporating this product into a meal in a promotion and explain how the brand will be helping plant-based farmers to compete against meat-producers with every product purchased. Or if there’s an outcry on Twitter from a local community about the amount of pollution in a certain area, perhaps a brand could explain how it is reducing its use of certain heavy-polluting machines or processes. The possibilities are endless. However, it requires marketers to think outside of the box, and use new approaches and technologies to help them to analyse the world around them.

When marketing is more thoughtful, specific, and targeted, it will reduce the volume of generic marketing while improving its quality. The business could, therefore, reduce waste and subsequently reduce costs from a production and supply chain side – enabling brands to operate more efficiently and effectively to market a product to a consumer.

Incorporating social responsibility into a brand’s marketing strategy is a necessity in the 21st century but it must be done with care and with a long-term vision rather than for the buzz alone.

Companies have to think of the bigger picture first and then consider the marketing aspect. While this might not necessarily or automatically translate into increased revenue, brands that consistently exhibit the proof of their social responsibility commitment will gain in reputation and customer loyalty.

Mario Coletti, managing director, Nextatlas

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