Written by Joi M Sears
In this series, social innovation strategist, Joi M Sears, breaks down the mega trends that are shaping the future of sustainable, Purposeful Retail.
The world — politically, economically, and socially — is in a state of disarray. Society is becoming more polarized. Trust in the government, media, NGOs and businesses is at an all-time low. In a bold, new era of “post-truth” and “fake news”, we’re desperately searching for brands that we can trust and are making a real, honest, positive impact on the world. This is the age of “truthful consumerism”.
There are five powerful human truths that are shaping this movement and the future of Purposeful Retail: transparency, aspiration, positive impact, empathy and empowerment. Let’s take a look at each trend, check out examples of companies who are doing it ‘right’ and identify actionable strategies to take into your next ideation session.
The future is transparent
Customers want to know what companies are doing “behind the scenes”. A great example of this comes from UK-based luxury, clothing brand, Stella McCartney. In 2016, the company published its first global environmental profit and loss statement, which placed a monetary value on the environmental costs and benefits that the business has generated. A vegetarian brand that has never used leather, fur, skins or feathers in their products, McCartney explains that this was a decision that the company made for both ethical and environmental reasons.
There’s nothing new in brands claiming to have a positive impact on the planet — however today’s customers don’t just want you to talk the talk, they want to see you walk the walk. A great strategy to take transparency to the next level is to find a way to quantify and share your brand’s environmental impact.
How will your brand be more transparent? What strategies can you use to disseminate this information to current and future customers?
The future is aspirational
Lucky for us, the future will be less about accruing material wealth focusing on “what I have” and will become more about, “who I am” as a person. We want to be healthier, smarter, more creative, more connected. We also want to be more entrepreneurial.
In less developed markets, fueling the aspiration race can mean simply empowering people to support themselves and their families. A great example of this from the field of social innovation is 2KUZE, a program for small-plot farmers across Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
Developed by MasterCard with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the mobile/desktop app connects farmers, agents and buyers, enabling them to coordinate sales, payment and crop distribution. 2KUZE also allows farmers to negotiate with agents and buyers directly, increasing price transparency.
How will you equip your customers with the tools to be the people that they want to be?
The future is making a positive impact
Now more than ever, consumers are trapped in a toxic guilt-spiral when it comes to the negative impacts their consumption has on the planet, other people, or themselves. A recent survey revealed that 84% of early adopters said brands should have a responsibility to do more than simply generate profit. We see the emergence of a new generation of startups that have great environmental and social values baked in from the start. A great example of this is Veja, a French sustainable sneaker brand. The company sources materials from local producers in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and produces their products at a socially conscious factory in southern Brazil.
The brand pays the producers as much as three times the market price to help them survive. It also experiments with odd ecological materials, such as leather made from the skin of tilapia, a fish commonly farmed for food. Veja also recently created a line of running sneakers with material made 100% from recycled plastic bottles.
How will your brand make a positive impact on the world?
The future is empathetic.
In a violent, highly polarized, ‘us’ vs ‘them’ world, it’s easy to feel fearful of those who are different from ourselves. However, showing empathy and embracing one another despite differences in backgrounds, ethnicities, lifestyles, and beliefs is the way of the future.
There are lots of examples of brands embracing people who have been ‘othered’. For example, Airbnb offered free accommodation to people who were affected by Donald Trump’s travel ban. The US President signed an executive order banning immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries from the US for 90 days. The home-sharing company said the move was ‘not right’ and urged people in need of housing to contact the brand’s CEO directly on Twitter.
How will your brand serve the underserved?
The future is empowerment.
We’re in the midst of an epic power shift away from institutions — think government, social organizations and big business — and more towards the individual.
A great example of this are brands that are going out of their way to center and empower women all over the world from education, to banking, to the gender pay gap and beyond. A couple of years ago, the First Bank of Nigeriaintroduced a special account to supercharge women entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
We also have seen the emergence of co-working spaces that are geared towards empowering women popping up across the globe. The Wing features spaces throughout NYC and in major cities like Los Angeles, London and Toronto. Their mission is the professional, civic, social, and economic advancement of women through community. In addition to offering a comfortable space for women to work, they host a variety of engaging events, as well as producing a podcast and producing a magazine.
How will your brand empower your customers?
Truthful Consumerism in Action
Of course, not all customers are interested in diversity, empowering women, sustainable products or your environmental impact. However, this trend urges forward-thinking companies to take a position and create authentic, meaningful value. Brands that ground their innovation and brand strategy in one or more of these truths will be on the path towards claiming a stake in the economy of the future.