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Stand with consumers to truly connect with them

By Caroline Parkes | Head of strategic consulting



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March 14, 2022 | 7 min read

From long-term existential threats including the climate catastrophe to global crises such as the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, major threats and the movements that respond to them have massive salience around the world. Caroline Parkes, chief experience officer at Rapp UK, argues that brands standing with those movements through every element of their customer experience isn’t only the right thing to do – it pays dividends in the long run.

Right now, the world feels like a rather bleak place. But glimmers of hope are there and many brands are playing a role in the resistance against Russia. Brands like Asos, Nike, H&M and Ikea were early to say ‘we will not sell to Russia,’ and while this will have hit short-term sales dramatically, it will pay dividends when consumers make their choices later.

During this crisis, platforms are being used in unexpected ways – people have been booking Airbnbs in Ukraine to get money to Ukrainians; Airbnb offered up free short-term housing for 100,000 refugees; and Google Maps restaurant reviews were used by Russians to show what’s really happening. New examples pop up and change every day.

A crowd of protesters

Rapp UK’s Caroline Parkes on the value of standing with your customers / Alex Radelich via Unsplash

Whether brands are making active choices to help or are being used for good, it stands them in good stead. Inspiring consumers, standing with them on what matters to them, is increasingly the way to truly connect.

In 2020, we conducted research into what matters most to retail consumers (beyond the obvious price and style), and the most important aspect was finding a brand that shares their values.

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These values are multi-faceted. No two individuals share identical values. But finding the passions that target consumers have and finding authentic ways to connect around them is essential.

The UK’s biggest passion: gaming

Gaming is a passion for many: 62% of UK adults enjoyed digital gaming during the Covid-19 pandemic. From Wordle to Fifa, games are places where people can escape and connect. Brands who can meet their audience in games or gaming communities can make a genuine difference.

This difference could be to change attitudes, like the DMA Grand Prix-winning Kian Prince Foundation x EA Sports work.

Or it could be finding new ways to connect with audiences, like the Burger King Stevenage sponsorship in Fifa.

Or maybe it’s simply making the Twitter community smile, like this Wordle X Kallax shelving work we recently created for Ikea. Proving to consumers that you care what they care about is key to creating emotional bonds with brands.

Younger consumers care most about sustainability

According to Deloitte, 28% of consumers stopped purchasing a brand because of sustainability concerns last year. It’s no surprise that 38% of brands are making public commitments to sustainability and are holding themselves accountable as they recognize that being environmentally responsible isn’t just good for perceptions – it’s good for business.

While consumers see right through greenwashing, authentic brands can build huge advocacy. Look at The Girlfriend Collective, a brand that makes sportswear from recycled plastic bottles and is gloriously inclusive of models. And Nudie Jeans, which doesn’t just use sustainable materials and production techniques, but also offers free repairs – encouraging make-do-and-mend, not ditch-and-spend.

Big brands can be authentic too. Ikea made 2021 its year of sustainability and committed to encouraging customers to make more sustainable choices. We created a Choice for Change tracker, which showed a tally of sustainable actions, encouraging more customers to get involved. Actively encouraging customers to behave in a more sustainable way rather than just bringing out sustainable product ranges shows real authenticity that customers value.

Individualism with inclusivity

Marketers talk about the importance of personalization and connecting with individuals, and rightly so. What can be missed is the how. Something that is all too often missed is the importance of understanding different communities within our society.

I’ve lost count of the times that clients have pushed back on including religious festivals such as Eid in a content calendar, saying ‘it’s not relevant to enough of the audience.’ But we’re increasingly seeing signals that suggest consumers warm to more inclusive brands.

This can’t just be in casting for TV and films, but needs to go right through the customer experience. John Lewis didn’t only embrace inclusive casting in their Christmas ad; their Christmas products were inclusive, with mermaids and angel decorations of varied skin colors.

Making every effort to be more inclusive goes much further than the people in the adverts. It’s about the products you sell, your content calendar, your choice of influencers. It’s about baking diversity into the data behind your connected experiences.

Back to where we started

While our world is standing with Ukraine, there’s a stark inequity in how people trying to cross borders to escape are being treated. Korrine Sky, a Black British student studying in Ukraine, is just one person who has highlighted how Black people are facing hostility at borders (and is now facing disgusting hostility from trolls). And as we start International Women’s History Month, we know that the people most impacted by war are women and children.

There’s an opportunity for brands to have an impact on real lives now, which will convert into increased brand health and sales later. That might mean donating shelter or products, giving powerful stories a platform, or simply standing up and publicly proving that they care. If that could be your brand, just don’t jump on the bandwagon. Do it from the heart. Your customers will thank you.

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