Brands set 2020 as the date to deliver a better future and now it's almost here

The pace of change has escalated so much since many businesses set 2020 as their sustainability goals' target date that we need a new gauge for 'progress'.

Purpose and progress are driving real change for the better, says Kate Sarginson
Purpose and progress are driving real change for the better, says Kate Sarginson

When a significant number of brands set 2020 as the target date for their sustainable goals, it must have seemed an age away. But, at the time of writing, it is only 155 days or 3,720 hours away.

You’d be forgiven for having high expectations of 2020. How can we not when so many businesses, from Adidas to Sainsbury’s, set this date to deliver a better future?

Goals are important. They give us something to aim for; a long-term strategic direction, a magnet for all lines within a business, including marketing. And yet if we look over the past five years, the specificity of goals has been superseded by the generosity of brand purpose. A richer territory that has let brands enter into more meaningful cultural conversations.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau was right when he said the "pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again" – for the bar of expectation has headed up a notch.

Purpose is now joined by progress: a desire for greater transparency, more often. This is thanks, in no small part, to Gen Z, otherwise known as ‘The Purpose Generation’.

They want to see themselves represented through the social issues and challenges a brand chooses to tackle and/or be associated with. They want businesses to throw open the doors, give them keys and let them nose around. There’s even the expectation that they’ll be invited to be part of the solution.

They expect brands to act on their word – now, not in a decade’s time. They want to see progress and ambition. In return, they will forgive more easily if and when brands fail.

With the pace of change this fast, there will undoubtedly be missteps along the way. Businesses that fall into ‘purpose-washing’ will be swiftly exposed.

To thrive, companies must embed purpose at the heart of their business strategy and operations, with a comms plan that delivers against this need for demonstrable progress.

Gen Z wants brands to hold up their hands and say: "We’re trying… We’re not quite there yet, but we’re trying."

This audience cares more about the journey than the destination – reaching the goal means less to them than showing commitment, transparency and progress along the way.

It will be interesting to see whether brands continue to set such public long-term goals as seen with the 2020 agenda.

My suspicion is that we will see brands attach themselves to zeitgeist issues (such as single-use plastics and fast fashion) that still align with their long-term brand purpose but also give them an opportunity to demonstrate immediate impact.

They will be more agile and, in turn, arguably more relevant to consumers. Timelines for targets will shrink, with brands showing progress within months – not 10 years. Consumers will reward this behaviour with their spending power.

These 2020 goals have undoubtedly carved a brighter path for the future – but it is purpose, and now progress, that is driving real change for the better.

Kate Sarginson is managing director of consumer marketing at Weber Shandwick UK

Thumbnail image ©GettyImages

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