25 August 2020

PR and the Conscious Consumer: A modern engagement story

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Gez Johns / gez@nwkcom.co.nz

One of the biggest traps companies or brands can still fall into today is to concentrate their efforts uniquely on engaging yesterday’s consumer, when their ongoing relevance will be defined by their relationship with tomorrow’s.The dynamics of brand loyalty have changed. The long-term relationship companies and brands have with a large swathe of their customers today has been built up through an era when brilliantly creative advertising and marketing defined our decision-making.

But today we are raised to be far more informed and empathetic to the impact our brand choices have on, for example, social injustice, climate change and equality. And while this collective awakening by no means sounds the death knell for the age of creative product advertising, it highlights the need for – and specific role of – PR in engaging the conscious consumer to create the context for it.

There are five core trigger points for the conscious consumer. These are:

  • Ethics
  • Environmental impact
  • Personal and communal well-being
  • An understanding of provenance

These are their basic terms of relationship – because that’s what they want: a relationship based on a shared commitment rather than fleeting transactions.

The power enjoyed by the consumer to define their terms is greater than ever, enabled by the immediate reach of social media. And consumers will continue to grow increasingly emboldened to seek genuine partnerships in reward for their loyalty – something Mintel sees as being commonplace by 2030.

So what’s PR’s role in this? Well primarily it’s to ensure your company is ready to authentically engage, connect and participate in conversations around these trigger points. Firstly to maintain your relevance; and then to promote your desirability.

It can be easy for companies to see PR as a defensive shield – a means of ensuring endorsement from the woke Twitterati. But the refuge of homogenised blandness is no springboard for success.

Rather PR should be used to deliver the activities that connect consumers to your values, creating the cognitive consonance that allows them to respond positively to the marketing and advertising of your product or service.

As with most things in life – this is not a revelation, rather an adaptation of age old principles to suit a modern context. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “tell me I will forget, show me I will remember, involve me and I will understand.”