Refreshing our brand in the midst of the disorientating 2020’s made us re-evaluate what we wanted to stand for as an agency. Like many of our clients, we found ourselves at time when profound transformation is inevitable. We had to think beyond what would be aesthetically pleasing from an identity perspective and credibly take action to show what we fundamentally value.
‘The social contract that applies to capitalism has been rewritten. Creating value for Shareholders at the expense of everything else will seem radically out of touch. Creating value for the world now seems the only viable things to do. This is going to force investors, leaders, and product, marketing and operations teams to reconsider what they do and how they do it, and how they can be part of the epic reconstruction, or risk being irrelevant.”
Fast Company, April 2020
There is a clear need for brands to act more responsibly—to become more ethical, sustainable, and more responsive to peoples’ genuine societal and environmental concerns. Those who are on this path are classed as ‘conscious brands’. They build trust authentically through higher purpose, values and actions that are guided by more than just profit. Conscious brands actively endeavour to become more aware and intentional in their leadership, culture, strategies, communications and marketing. The outcomes of companies beginning to measure their success beyond size and profit is an exciting time for us all to be living in.
The rise of the conscious consumer is borne from the rapidly shifting values we all experienced as the pandemic turned the world as we knew it upside-down. It accelerated change in so many aspects of our lives, changing how we see the world and what we truly value. We’ve helped to define brands become more conscious in this time to appeal to this mindset; from a people-first brand identity for Nostra, a sustainably focused store-in-a-store for Chadwicks, to a community-centered bakery for a charismatic individual. In doing so, it helped us gauge how our brand measured up and ultimately how it can be more conscious tomorrow.
We knew it wouldn’t happen overnight. We’re only starting our journey. But looking ahead through a conscious lens has allowed us to identify tangible measures we can take, as part of a bigger picture to effect positive change further down the path. Maybe one day in the future, we can lead the way for others.
Admittedly, we looked for the lower-hanging fruit to kickstart our conscious brand journey such as: reducing our paper use internally and printing on FSC certified stock when necessary, seeking sustainable alternatives, recycling, shifting to electric vehicles along with embracing hybrid working and flexible hours for our team. However, these baby-steps started to provoke debate and reflection on how we could demonstrate being a conscious brand as a fundamental part of our business strategy, not just a token initiative.
We identified more significant key drivers of our conscious growth as:
- being more responsive to genuine needs for inclusivity in our society.
- creating stronger emotional involvement to causes that strived for equality of opportunity.
- collective commitment to upskill our knowledge base of, passing it on to our clients and translating it to our work
These were borne from the self-awareness of our higher purpose - the transformational effect of design for good. Intentionally activating purpose connects, unifies and mobilises our team around a common goal. Purpose and culture go hand-in-hand. When you’re transparent on ‘why’ you exist and your vision, values and actions directly support that higher purpose, you have a recipe for a strong, meaningful culture that can withstand disruption.
An example of conscious brands we’ve come to admire - more so than the top global perfomers - is Oatly. Measured against the framework by Consciousbrands.com, they excel in the key indicators of a what makes a conscious brand:
Still in its youth, Oatly has proven that a provocative stance that challenges the food industry can drive consumer affinity and usage at massive scale. Oatly really does bare its soul. They dare to dream how the world could be. They genuinely believe they can help change people’s lives for the better through plant-based alternatives. They make people feel something, and people want to be a part of that change. Harnessing a shared purpose to mobilise and unify is the foundation for creating real change.
Oatly’s straightforward and charming tone is obviously resonating in a market that has historically been clinical and cold. Their conscious communication is about ensuring that all company and brand communications are aligned with the company’s purpose and focus on positive and intrinsic values. This approach creates highly effective communications and builds brand trust, albeit with a slightly tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. Consumers have grown to become advocates, boosting new business through word of mouth and reputation.
Thanks to Oatly’s smart blend of creativity and positivity, it’s also a great example of a young brand successfully balancing the need to be both responsive and responsible. When customers genuinely feel understood and appreciated, their loyalty and advocacy will be strong. At Oatly, this requires a culture of understanding customers lifestyles and giving them more of what they want. This led to their pioneering creation Barista oat milk and a reappraisal of their retail range to robustly challenge the once dairy-dominated fridges. Often this is taken to a deeper level, with companies looking to have a positive influence on customers and actively encouraging intrinsic values within them. As a result, an intense emotional bond develops, where the customer can see the direct improvement in their life and the progress of people and society as a whole.
Progressing and embracing the conscious era is a long-term agenda. It begins with self-awareness, and an honest assessment of how that awareness is showing up through their brand and practices by listening to their key stakeholders and customers. It involves going back to your roots and digging deeper into your DNA to uncover the ‘why’ behind your origin.
Brendan Boyle is the CCO and co-founder of TapCreative.
He helps brands connect emotively with their audience through compelling design that lasts.