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Plastic waste and sustainable living top social issues according to APAC brand purpose study

According to the study, consumers in Singapore do not have the same environmental concerns as those in Indonesia and Malaysia

A consumer study conducted by Distillery across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore around brand purpose throws up some interesting and revealing results about these markets. It provides facets that could help marketers relook at some of their long-held beliefs.

Brand purpose and its implications for marketers has become a hot-button theme, and one that is being studied from various facets and in different markets. Each market has consumers who interpret brand purpose with their unique lens, and it can be quite a challenge for marketers to wrap their heads around.

As per a recent APAC market study conducted by Distillery, a creative content studio based in Singapore, consumer expectations concerning brand purpose have shown that while the demand for brands to stand up and act is becoming more prevalent, it is showing differing themes in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The research, commissioned in partnership with research platform Milieu Insight, seeks to assess how important it is for brands to make a positive impact on their communities and the region if they want to win the hearts of their customers.

Finding brand purpose in the APAC markets

  • Consumers want brands to stand up for a cause they believe in. Of the 63% of consumers across the three SEA markets who are demanding brands to stand up for a cause, the highest percentage came from Indonesia (71%), followed by Malaysia (66%), and in metropolitan Singapore, one in two people surveyed felt the same.

  • 85% of consumers in Indonesia and Malaysia will pay more for brands with a positive social impact, compared to just 66% in Singapore.

Singapore’s idea of brand purpose is different

  • Within the APAC markets, Singapore seems to have a different consumer set, as per the study findings.

  • While the research emphasized that brands who want to build stronger connections with consumers in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia need to put more purpose at the heart of their business and communications, Singapore came across as a market that is not equally exposed to as many social and environmental challenges on a day-to-day basis compared to other SEA countries, which translates in consumer beliefs around the theme.

Purpose has a ripple effect

  • Concerning brands’ stances on social and environmental challenges impacting decision making, 66% of Indonesians and 55% of Malaysians said this will impact their choices, with just one-third of Singaporeans taking this into consideration.

  • 53% of consumers across the three markets would tell their friends to avoid buying from certain brands if they disagreed with their moral values, and 66% would choose not to work for a brand that didn’t align with their values.

What matters and what does not

  • The market priorities when it comes to brand purpose have different layers. For example, Indonesian consumers (50%) and Malaysian consumers (62%) highlighted plastic waste as the biggest crisis that brands can help to address.

  • This came out second in Singapore (68%), as sustainable living (73%) was the most important social concern there.

What it means to APAC marketers

  • “Saying the right things will only get you so far; brands need to walk the talk in the way they act, and buying into a purpose or social cause needs to run deeper than just marketing,” shared Simon Hearn, director for Distillery APAC, in an exclusive chat with The Drum. It has to be part of the company-wide DNA and the business processes.

  • The research showed that while consumers are demanding brands stand up in the current climate, they will also hold them accountable if their actions don’t marry up to what they say, he added.

Making sense of the unique nature of the Singapore consumer mindset

  • As a country, Singapore is way ahead in the region on most parameters such as living standards and safety, and yet it seems to be lagging on brand purpose parameters, which seems to be a bit of an odd finding. Hearn explained: “While there are social, economic or environmental issues in Singapore, we are not as exposed to it on a day-to-day basis, so it's not always front of mind.”

  • This means brand managers and marketers who are based in Singapore but have a regional focus (which is plentiful) need to be consciously aware that including brand and social purpose initiatives and values in your communications will resonate with consumers in other SEA markets, even if it’s not going to work in Singapore, he added.

  • As Singaporeans are supremely well-managed on parameters like cleanliness, security and standard of living, consumers don’t see environmental or social issues in front of them every day (or they are aware that the government handles this responsibility), and thus they do not expect or need brands to be responsible, pointed out Hearn. In contrast, the challenges in Indonesia and Malaysia are more apparent day-to-day, especially outside of the major cities where coastlines are covered in plastic waste or poverty is more apparent, and so “people are asking brands to step up and help because they have the means and capabilities”.

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