Brand purpose has been a popular topic of discussion for years, but much of the analysis and commentary around it has been focused on western markets or subjective viewpoints from marketing practitioners, and not so much from a consumers point of view. So these questions still remain: how do Asian consumers really feel about brand purpose, which countries respond to what, and how can marketers respond appropriately.
To gain a deeper understanding into brand purpose in our region, we conducted a study across Asia, and the results were clear: purpose matters.
The study found that almost half of consumers across markets such as mainland China, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Thailand, and India say they bought a brand in the past 3 months due to its purpose, values or positive impact on society.
Our study revealed that the top two topics that consumers across these markets want brands to address are environmental sustainability and inequality.
In less developed economies like India, Thailand and The Philippines, for example, consumers highly value brands that play a significant role in helping to improve society. Citizens want brands to make products affordable for all, and help local communities thrive (via use of local ingredients or help on government initiatives, for example). We call this the ‘Brand Purpose Paradox’, a phenomenon discovered in the research which explains how the less robust an economy or the lower the country’s GDP per capita is, the greater the people’s desire for brand’s contribution to society becomes.
In these markets, global warming and natural calamities have also resulted in the loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods. People are increasingly conscious of the environment, and they want brands to champion sustainability and so brands that invest in sustainable practices and use environmentally friendly materials in their products are more likely to resonate with Filipino, Thai and Indian consumers and earn their loyalty.
In Japan and Korea, there is a significant gender pay gap and a lack of women in leadership positions. ur findings showed that women in these markets are much more likely than men to embrace purpose-driven brands. This suggests that brands could effectively engage with women in both markets by taking concrete steps to promote gender equality through their messaging, products, and initiatives. By doing so, brands can contribute to the broader societal progress while also earning the loyalty of female consumers.
In mainland China we’ve seen a rise in national pride and the trend is particularly prominent among men who prefer brands to use patriotic language that celebrates China's accomplishments and emphasizes its growing influence in the world. This is largely resulting from the country's economic growth and political power on the global stage. However, brands must be cautious when promoting nationalistic values, as campaigns could also be viewed as exclusionary or even xenophobic. For example, Alibaba's previous Olympic Games campaign ‘To the Greatness of Small’ showcased the country's pride while also emphasizing the values of inclusivity and diversity, promoting a sense of national unity and openness. Striking the right balance between celebrating national pride and promoting inclusivity and diversity is crucial to connecting with Chinese consumers on a deeper level and driving meaningful impact.
To be successful with brand purpose, brands need to be strategic about their purpose and focus on addressing specific societal issues. Advertising needs to be bold and reflect the world we live in. Brands must go beyond paying lip service to these issues and instead make a real impact on society.
Asian consumers are looking to brands and companies to be part of the solution rather than the problem, and promoting a brand or company's values helps drive shareholder value. By promoting diversity and inclusivity, championing sustainability, and supporting local communities, brands can connect with socially responsible and forward-thinking consumers in Asia and drive business growth, making a positive impact on society while doing so.
We've seen efforts like P&G India's #SharetheLoad campaign and we know Unilever's purpose brands have grown faster than any of its others. Purpose-driven brands have and can have a bigger impact on Asian markets, but we’ve also seen the effect goes beyond regional borders. For instance, last year a brand successfully restored local elections in the Middle East through a campaign called the 'Election Edition.' It highlights the immense power that brand purpose can have in effecting real change in the world.
Brands can give social sanction to new ideas, bridge the infrastructure gap, and right any wrong that prevents us from reaching our first-world aspirations. This is how brand purpose can change the world.
Hans Lopez-Vito is the COO of BBDO Asia.