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Finding Your Ikigai

Why purpose and social impact are a competitive advantage — and brands a potent lever of change towards a just transition.

As Advertising Week unfolds with many insightful panel discussions between insiders from the Advertising, Tech and Media worlds — and as reaffirmed in a CISL webinar on “Closing the inequality gap” — it is loud and clear that 2020 is the year Social Sustainability has been propelled to the fore.

We glimpse into a world ruled by the “Kindness Economy”- which fits beautifully into Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics. The words “community” and “purpose” are on so many lips it is becoming a growing buzz.

But how much of a buzz vs real intention is there?

Brands have always looked to trends to find their competitive advantage wherever that may be. Conversations about Equality and Diversity have been going on for many years — decades even.

Yet here we are, in 2020. In some ways, the Women’s “cause” was more advanced in the ’70s than it has been since — until very recently that is. Racial inequity and systemic racism have persisted for centuries. The Ad industry has been throwing words like “diversity” around so much overtime, it’s become akin to a simple feat of “Goodwashing”.

So what has changed? What is different about today’s discourse?

The stars may have aligned. Finally. Indeed, 2020 sees the unique intersection of:

  • Growing social movements: Women’s March, Climate strikes, Black Lives Matter, in part in response to — or accelerated by — the rise of populist, authoritarian regimes.
  • A global pandemic which affected everyone, everywhere and has in many ways forced us all to reflect on what we need vs what we’re capable of accumulating. And to shift the focus back to essentials.
  • The digital age and the explosion of a global online community during lockdown. People are more closely connected than ever. Events are filmed live and go viral overnight before they can get remodeled by politicians or the media.

Ergo the impact on brands — who are scrutinized, for example for the way they have been treating their employees this year (boohoo Virgin, yay Patagonia). The power has shifted in many ways to the public — employees demanding their companies to do good, consumers far more discerning.

Many studies have shown the positive impact of a business’ purpose on performance. But through the pandemic, a special Edelman Trust report found that “74% say a brand’s impact on society is a reason why brand trust has become more important. Trust is now the make-or-break difference for brands.

Furthermore, “brands face a fundamental reordering of priorities amid a global pandemic and societal outcry over systemic racism prompted by the murder of George Floyd. In this environment, consumers are looking to brands to act and advocate for change”.

This resonates in a new study and framework created by Conde Nast in partnership with Deloitte, which reminds that:

While COVID did not create the world we’re living in, it also solidified a fundamental shift in the way consumers look at brands today. So what are they looking for?”

  1. Brands that reflect cultural and social values
  2. More transparency to establish much-needed trust
  3. Quality over quantity”

Consumers — or in 2020 shall we call us we, the people? — are increasingly putting our money where our mouths and values are.

Finding alignment

We seek brands that are mission-driven, innovative, risk-taking, authentic and inspiring. We find our Ikigai, a magnificent Japanese term that broadly means “reason for being”, in brands that have found their own and align with our own demands for social and environmental justice.

It feels good to do good. It feels good to work for companies that contribute to solutions and advocate for change. Habits have already changed permanently.

So the compelling case for Business is two-fold:

– It is no longer a choice — the cost is far greater for brands who don’t integrate and promote principles of social justice and equity throughout their business practice. Employee engagement depends on it, customers and investors demand it, and new talent will join or dismiss organisations because of it. According to the Conde Nast/Deloitte study, the new way forward is Cultural Relevance (“the fuel for the new commerce engine”).

– More than ever, it is cool to do good. Brands that thrived or grew in popularity in 2020 have made the bold decisions, taken strong stances and helped local communities. Kindness pays off.

Our social impact IS our competitive advantage. But more importantly, it is also our Ikigai.

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