Do Something Great

The Era Of Unconditional Responsibility From Brands

Consumers continue to look for brands to put customers first and to go beyond simply selling their products and services

By Bhavesh Unadkat

The significance of a brand's role in a consumer’s life has never been more pronounced. At a time that is marked by inflation, soaring costs, and social and economic complexities, brands have a unique opportunity to go beyond the product and the service they offer and meet the customer's need unconditionally. This isn't just a matter of ethics; it's a strategic imperative.

In a recent report by the Capgemini Research Institute, 77 per cent of businesses surveyed said they believe that we are transitioning towards a digital and sustainable world. What this really means is that it is becoming increasingly important for businesses to operate within a system that allows companies to deliver growth while also driving environmental and societal sustainability. The research also found that most consumers continue to seek to buy from transparent, purpose-led organisations—especially those that are perceived to be sustainable—so that they might satisfy their own ambitions of reducing the impact of their purchases.

Putting consumers first often means re-evaluating the customer journey around a renewed mission. For example, home retailers no longer just sell furniture but instead a mission of helping their consumers live better at home. Similarly, automotive brands no longer sell just cars, but the experience of the journey and the quality of the memories that the car will unlock. Supermarkets don't just sell food, but also the healthier lifestyles the food promises. It’s this mission-focused, consumer-first thinking that inspires new opportunities for strategic growth and improved experiences.

The challenge for brands is that they sometimes become so focused on their own portfolios that they may inadvertently neglect consumers’ evolving preferences. Arguably this rigid view of customer centricity will mean that brands will miss out on the emerging signals in consumer trends and behaviours outside of their core customer base. And this blinkered approach to customer centricity will also continue to reinforce existing practices that can make a business vulnerable to disruption.

For instance, how can you support your consumer in their journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle? How can you, as a business, use the data you already collect, to help them shop less often? How can you support them to waste less, when it comes to products with a shelf life? How can you nudge them not towards their next purchase, but towards not buying the item your data tells you they already have in their pantry? Hellmanns’ ‘Cook clever, waste less’ is a great example of encouraging the consumer to think about food waste. Next step – and it’s possible to do this with the current tech – is to remind your consumer that their partner already bought that loaf of bread, that a few items they have stocked in their pantry are nearing the best-by date, and it might be time to either cook them, or take them to a local food bank or soup kitchen. The brands that can pull this off, will win their customers’ support for the long run.

"it is prudent to remember that there’s a fine line between delivering responsibly and making decisions that render the business unprofitable and unfit to deliver at all."

Bhavesh Unadkat, VP of brand and marketing UK, frog

But how do you broaden that focus from being customer-centric to towards a consumer-first mindset? A few years back, Stitch Fix tackled a familiar problem – people struggling to put together outfits from their wardrobe – and turned it into a business opportunity. Initially, the system would gather a customer’s preferences, and a stylist would personalise a recommended box for them every few months. They’ve put data science at the core of this fashion dilemma, and with the rise of genAI, have evolved their product to tune into detailed needs of every customer, understanding their style preferences, climate fluctuations in their region and so on. The algorithm also builds new outfits from existing wardrobe items, minimising the need to shop for more and more new looks. 

Smol, a startup supplying eco-friendly detergents and home-cleaning supplies, in fully sustainable packaging, on subscription, took a basic consumer need and thought of something better than lugging huge bottles of washing liquid from the shop. Bonus – no plastic in sight.

The question now is: where will disruption come from next and in what way? To answer that question, brands must truly become consumer-first.

When a brand’s in a position of authority and power, it has a responsibility to pass on the benefits to consumers whenever it can in a thoughtful way. However, it’s important to remember that a brand’s commitment to making the world a better place means needing to set out their objectives and proving they are in it for the long term.

At the same time, it is prudent to remember that there’s a fine line between delivering responsibly and making decisions that render the business unprofitable and unfit to deliver at all. As the world continues to experience social, political and environmental uncertainty, an increasing number of people are left with less disposable income.

Meanwhile, businesses must make decisions about where to put their energy, while operating with tighter margins. With the fates of businesses and the communities they serve so inextricably linked, it is in everyone’s benefit if the two parties work together and share the responsibility. One notable example of this collaboration in practice is eBay’s recent sponsorship of Love Island. The online marketplace promoted pre-loved clothing to an audience looking for affordable, lower impact ways to find unique pieces.

How brands enact a responsible, consumer-first ethos very much depends on where they are in their journey of consumer responsibility. Rates of maturity vary. But no matter where you are, you can begin to take the steps that will enable you to future-proof your business and move towards more responsible offerings.

Following are the top three take-away for brands to remember when being consumer first and meeting the customer's need unconditionally.

  • Adopt radical consumer focus: Rise above conventional notions of competition, working within an ecosystem of brands to achieve a consumer-first approach that exceeds expectations.

  • Drive responsibility forward: Reinvent business for the eco-digital economy—a dual transition towards a more digital and sustainable world - by creating meaningful and rewarding experiences that support consumers and plant.

  • Act quickly, think long-term: Move from transactions to carefully curated experiences - supported by AI and informed by data, and which can be personalised and evolve and grow - serving consumers unconditionally and raising customer lifetime value.

Bhavesh Unadkat is the VP of brand and marketing at Frog


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