Following the Easter break, our The Imagine Better Series was back with its first-ever digital showcase of Futerra thought leadership. From their homes on either side of the pond, Futerrans Victoria Wainwright, Planning Director of Futerra UK, and Emily Viola, Head of Planning of Futerra North America, presented The Honest Generation, a webinar exploring how brands can build trust with Gen Z consumers. The presentation was based on findings from The Honest Generation, a piece of thought leadership that Futerra produced in collaboration with the Consumer Goods Forum that launched in June of 2019.
Through the lens of the current chaotic context, the duo examined the headline insights from the consumer research. They then opened the floor for questions, delving deeper into why, in the midst of a global pandemic that has thrown everything we thought we knew into question, the Honest Generation is more relevant than ever.
Here’s are some of our key highlights.
Honesty trumps transparency
As with any big thinking, we need to start by defining our terms – what is the difference between transparency and honesty? When the first phase of research into transparency started two years ago with The Honest Product Guide (2018), it looked broadly at why we have experienced a decline in trust. Many companies that were engaged as part of this piece successfully demonstrated that they were already being transparent with their markets. However, our research showed that consumers wanted more than this: they wanted honesty above transparency. The difference between the two lies in accessibility. Transparency is purely about making information available – that’s to say that although it’s available, it isn’t always accessible to those who don’t know how to find it or navigate it. Honesty, on the other hand, is about proactively communicating information on topics that people want to know about in the most understandable way possible. This element of proactivity is key to a much deeper sentiment amongst consumers: 98% of those surveyed as part of The Honest Generation believe that brands not only have a responsibility to be honest, they must also be actively striving to make positive change in the world.
Big business is already making big changes, isn’t it?
The corporate world has already started to wake up to the cold, hard fact that it has the power and the responsibility to make big positive change. Dubbing the phenomenon, the “What the Fink?!” effect, Emily described how over the last few years CEOs have begun to engage with the world of sustainability. Many big businesses are now actively looking at how they are best placed to make the world a better place. While this is undoubtedly positive, the rate of change is happening all too slowly, and it’s not only the big corporates that are dragging their feet: although our research shows that consumers demand more honesty from brands, the reality is that such claimed behaviour only very slowly follows through to becoming real trends in consumer behaviour.
COVID-19 as the catalyst for change
For the majority of traditional industries, the coronavirus crisis has put everything on pause. In the world of sustainability, we can’t afford to pause now – this could be our moment of crisis and change. As Emily points out, this pandemic is “nature’s warning call to pay attention to science”. It is making us think of the bigger crises to come, such as similar epidemics related to climate change. It has forced us to look at our systems and see them for all their flaws: they have not been resilient or elastic enough when faced with this turmoil. Many governments are already looking to future models of moral and doughnut economies, to futureproof us for whatever a post-coronavirus era holds. We are finally being forced to seriously ask whether our businesses can enrich and not exploit our shared world, and whether they do more to help our systems than to hinder them.
The outcomes of the Honest Generation research are also more relevant than ever. The pandemic coalesced a lot of what was already concerning about climate change, namely fake news: COVID-19 has raised the question of how we counter deep fakes with deep verification and made more urgent not just the quality of our information but what impact that information could have on public health. In an age where brands are being pushed to be in service to the world, coronavirus has only upped the ante: while some brands are merely raising awareness of the issue, other brands are transforming their production lines to create sanitisers and masks. With that comes even more raised expectations. The Honest Generation research showed an interesting curve in scepticism from Boomers to Gen Z. Both were incredibly sceptical and distrusting of brands, while those in between had more faith in corporates. If the scepticism of the post-war generation was a result of living in the wake of seismic change, it will be interesting to see if similar distrust prevails following COVID.
Professions as platforms, tech as key, consumers as kings
So if COVID-19 has set the scene for change, we now need some actors… we know that Gen Z have already stepped up to the plate. One might assume that Gen Z will lower their expectations of brands and become more forgiving of business when they enter the corporate world and assume responsibility themselves. But we can already see that isn’t quite so: many are already using their professions as platforms. As this younger generation start to enter the business market, they have already shown signs that they intend to remake business in their own image and are striving to influence and make an impact before they can even begin to dream of reaching the C-Suite: “if we only have 10 years to act on climate change, then we need to act now”.
Gen Z aren’t the only ones with agency: consumers across the generations can harness their purchasing power to incite change. Emily identified tech as the missing link to unleashing this potential: we are on the precipice of a new explosion of technologies that will better inform consumers’ choices. The Internet of Things will give us access to more information; blockchain will transform the transparency of supply chains; Artificial Intelligence will provide us with smart monitoring devices to increase the efficiencies of our systems. Once we have the power of such tech at our fingertips, consumers will have the information they need to help make smarter purchases for both people and planet.
Since Emily unusually began the presentation with a closing slide, so we will end this blog with her introductory thought-starter: as Thomas Theorem theorises, humanity makes true what it believes to be true; if we all demand and strive for a better world, it will become one.
A huge thank you to Futerra colleagues Victoria Wainwright, Planning Director of Futerra UK and Emily Viola, Head of Planning of Futerra North America for their presentation and participation, as well as Hannah Phang, Marketing and Advocacy Manager, for her moderation and facilitation, and lastly – but by no means least – to our attendees for their probing and inspiring questions.
The presentation from the webinar is available here: Honest Generation Webinar PDF for Participants April 2020
As well as the full versions of referenced The Honest Product Guide for Fashion PDF and The Honest Product Guide for Cosmetics and Personal Care PDF
Inspired and want to know more? Access the full recording of our The Imagine Better Series: Honest Generation webinar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nRPipqOq0o
Want to join in the fun? Sign up for updates and the latest in The Imagine Better Series here: https://bit.ly/imaginebetterseries
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