Brands as a force for good
Vicky Abad is the managing director of market research firm Ipsos. She brings with her over three decades of marketing and research experience in the arena of creating innovative products and solutions, as well as helping build great brands. In this interview, she shares about the trends and trajectories for 2023 and beyond.
Q: Help us understand where we are today in the Philippines. Have all things normalized?
Although the world may never fully return to the way it was before COVID, we have come as close as possible to adapting to this new world disorder. Consumers seem more willing to resume their prepandemic activities, such as socializing face-to-face, traveling, shopping, dining out, attending gatherings and spending time with friends over coffee. However, with this return to normalcy comes new challenges, such as coping with the impact of record-high inflation on their daily lives. These challenges are both local and global, and we must address them as a society in this new normal.
Despite this disorder, in our Ipsos Global Trends 2023 (IGT 2023) report, we are sensing optimism. Filipinos remain confident about their prospects. Most consider themselves happy (70 percent) and are optimistic about how this year will pan out for themselves and their families (78 percent). And this resilient spirit of Filipinos will fuel both our desire and determination as people to get life back on track.
Q: Share with us about Ipsos’ theory of change. Why is this relevant and different from perspectives of other researchers and consultants?
Large-scale factors affect our lives from the top down, while small changes and innovations can gradually shift our norms and values from the bottom up.
We use the Ipsos Theory of Change to identify and analyze an interrelated set of macro forces, shifts in markets and people, and observable expressions of change via signals such as innovations or new cultural ideas. Understanding these dynamics helps us identify trends and foresee how they impact societies, markets and people. It helps us look at how change happens across several levels and how systems of resilience, resonance and reciprocity powers the development of Ipsos’ Global Trends, and allows us to monitor how they are evolving over time.
Q: There are definite shifts in trends happening worldwide. What are those that are yet to happen in the Philippines or will happen in a big way soon? Let’s limit to four scopes: people, planet, technology and structural systems.
In 2019, we identified 12 worldwide trends that included topics such as populism, branding, climate change, technology, data security, politics and social issues. Since then, we have been monitoring these trends to observe any changes or lack thereof over time. Looking at the key signals under the scope of people, planet, tech and structural systems, and grounding them against the views/shifts in our IGT 2023 survey, we can sense that:
People: There is a growing awareness among people about the importance of mental and physical health, especially in today’s busy and stressful lifestyles. This supports the increased demand for calmness, simplicity and deep desire for downtime. Additionally, people are experiencing a sense of nostalgia, which is becoming prominent in various markets, including the Philippines. These emerging trends provide opportunities for brands that prioritize empathy and understand the life contexts of their consumers. By delivering products and services that resonate with customers’ needs, brands can build stronger relationships with them.
Planet: Concern about the environmental emergency is now ubiquitous across markets. News of environmental disasters here and abroad will instill among Filipinos a growing sense of the need to change our habits quickly. What used to be an ideal mindset is slowly gaining traction across demographic groups, though progress on climate will need concerted action from government, corporations, nongovernmental organizations and citizens alike.
Tech: We see technology increasingly creeping into the lives of Filipinos even while there also remains much indecision and worry about them, and many still need to be persuaded that these new technologies will improve their lives. Alongside this trend is the growing conversation around data security and data as a personal asset, especially since the level of concern about privacy still varies hugely across markets.
Structural systems: More and more, we are seeing a shift away from profit at all cost to a more holistic understanding of the human and environmental aspects of capitalism. The combined effect of the pandemic, the climate emergency and the cost-of-living crisis may be driving a reassessment of one’s goals and priorities. There are emerging signs of reset when it comes to attitudes toward wealth, money and status—along with a rethinking on the structure and purpose of businesses to have a positive impact on society. More and more Filipino consumers will soon expect more from businesses and brands to be a force for good.
Q: Looking at some specific plausible future scenarios, what will Filipinos be doing differently in the next few years?
Ipsos utilizes a combination of current data, macro forces and local signals to develop two potential futures: familiar, where there is a desire for normalcy, and transforming, where there is a shift in thinking about values and justice.
Looking at two potential futures of the familiar, Filipinos will gravitate toward brands whose innovative leadership has real value. If we look at the other path of transforming, we see Filipinos engaging with brands that must be the best in both their business and causes.
In the Philippines, there is a unique set of values and consumption patterns. Authenticity is a crucial factor for brands to consider, as it has become increasingly complex to define. Successful brands must incorporate localness, naturalness, heritage, trust, empathy, consistency and purpose while also offering quality products at reasonable prices.
We are seeing that Filipinos are becoming more discerning and will ask challenging questions about brand values and actions, expecting meaningful responses. Looking at our IGT 2023 report, we found that 92 percent of Filipinos believe businesses can make a profit while supporting positive causes. This further highlights the importance for brands and businesses to serve as a force for good.
Q: Are there any early warning indicators or weak signals marketers should be more mindful of and start preparing for?
Marketers should assess their brand image based on how they demonstrate empathy amid customer demand for fairness and support for key issues. As reflected in our IGT 2023 report, we see that people hold value toward a brand’s image in many markets around the world. Filipinos are generally willing to pay extra for a brand with an image that appeals to them (63 percent or 10 percent higher than the global average). About eight out of 10 (79 percent) Filipinos are willing to try to buy products from brands that act responsibly, even if it costs more.
Concern about the authenticity of brands, however, is not evenly distributed. The proportion of those willing to pay extra for the “right” brand image is higher among higher-income individuals. It is a pattern that has repeated throughout recessions across the decades. So-called “luxury” attributes such as brand purpose (applied to ethical production or environmental impact, for example) are often much more difficult for shoppers to justify when times are hard and money is scarce. Such a pattern suggests that there may be an economically driven back-to-basics mentality for a while, but this may mean that demanding customers will want goods with a high-price image, but at lower price points.
Q: How are progressive companies adjusting their marketing priorities and business models to stay relevant and competitive?
Forward-thinking companies are aware that customers have definite expectations from businesses and brands. Consumers have been quick to spot what is genuine and what is inauthentic. What consumers look for increasingly in the brands they patronize is if they serve as a platform or voice for issues that matter versus marketing campaigns with no heart or conviction. A caveat is that in supporting these issues, the cause must be weaved into the brand’s DNA and should resonate with the community/consumers they serve. Going forth this way will allow the brand initiatives to be more natural and not forced.
Establishing a strong brand purpose allows brands to attract like-minded consumers. To ensure stronger bond between companies and their customers, it is understood that support for key issues is beyond one marketing campaign. This requires a greater level of commitment demanding brands/businesses to make financial investments, redefine how they operate and be mindful of their impact on society.
Q: How else do you suggest marketers should strategize for the future? What’s the most critical change they need to do for their businesses?
We can anticipate that a crisis will surface, and with it will come anxiety and uncertainty. To navigate and prepare for change, as marketers, we must clearly define what our brand/business stands for and know who our customers are. Amid uncertainty, the firm grasp of our identity and the consumers we engage with will serve as our north star in a crisis. Following this, we would like to stress that having empathy is a key role in brand success.
Empathy is listening to what people say and understanding what they feel. In the post-COVID reality, at Ipsos, we were able to shape our brand success model. The Ipsos model looks at three essential ingredients: people’s expectations, the context people live in and how brands can shape expectations to their benefit through empathy.
In shifting the focus to empathy, we would gain a new understanding of the evolving functional expectations of consumers and the importance of how we communicate with them. At the same time, we must use the lens of social and cultural contexts that equally impact the understanding of our consumers’ contexts. This is vital as, while we have mapped out our brand’s DNA, know that consumers and not brands (not marketers or market researchers) are the ones that define the competitive landscape of products, services and brands. —contributed
Vicky Abad will speak at the 14th Mansmith Market Masters Conference on May 17. Registration is available at marketmastersconference.com
Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders.