What do consumers want from brands in uncertain times? Stability, finds WE study

Consumers’ expectations of the companies they buy from has skyrocketed in the past two years, according to the firm’s Brands in Motion study.

What do consumers want from brands in uncertain times? Stability, finds WE study

SEATTLE: The share of consumers who expect brands to create stability in uncertain times has jumped 12 percentage points since 2019 to 50%, according to WE Communications’ 2021 Brands in Motion study.

Consumers now view brands as a just-as-important pillar of society as educators and friend-and-family networks, according to WE’s report, called The Bravery Mandate.   

WE global CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin said leaders must fear less, understand the consequences of bravery and move from talk to action. 

Over the past five years, WE’s Brands in Motion global studies surveyed consumers and b-to-b decision-makers worldwide to understand the impact of how perceptions shift over time. The last time WE published the report was 2019, before the agency decided to take an 18-month hiatus. WE surveyed 90,000 people worldwide over the past five years and 8,353 for this year's. 

“We are being much more analytical about what we found because it is so telltale about the way the world has moved since 2019,” said Waggener Zorkin.

Another theme of this year’s research: consumers want brands to speak up on societal issues, with two-thirds saying they want brands to be vocal, with one-third disagreeing. More than eight in 10 (83%) said brands should listen to stakeholders when deciding what issues to address, and 90% said brands should be clear about what they stand for. 

However, perceived impact was flat, with 52% of respondents saying attempts to affect societal issues are anchored in trying to sell more products or services. 

“You see a lot of conversation around purpose-washing and this craving for brands to play that leadership and stability role, paired with an immovable consumer who questions a brand’s motivation,” said Waggener Zorkin. “This is an interesting comms challenge.”

This was in-line with another key finding: taking a stance on social issues requires agility and long-term commitment. The report found that 58% of consumers want brands to act or communicate at least weekly on topics of importance to be a leading voice, supported by sustained action. Seventy-two percent of consumers prefer that brands make multi-year investments in one issue rather than invest in a new cause every year.

Globally, 75% of respondents say brands should reassess policies and communications in light of societal issues at least every six months, while half said at least every three months.

Based on the Bravery Mandate’s findings, Waggener Zorkin said brands should engage on key issues, invest long-term in “the right issues,” realize that employees are their most important audience and leave a legacy of real impact. 

“I am also holding myself and my company accountable; we make tradeoffs, saying no to clients that don’t align to our values,” added Waggener Zorkin. “I want to be a part of the solution and also help meet brands where they are today.” 

This story was updated to correct the number of people surveyed for this year's report.

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