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Market Voice 14 Jun 2022 - 2 min read

The commerce, conscience growth curve: How lessons from Colgate, Aldi, Netflix and WPP’s BAV can drive better ‘value’, more sales at purchase point’s rapid mental reckoning

By Ali Tilling - CSO AU-NZ, VMLY&R | Partner Content

The value-action gap is real and unlocking it to further understand why our actions often don’t reflect what’s important to us has potential to reap big rewards for brands.

Every purchase a consumer makes is an intricate balance of their perception of value – a combination of price, quality and usefulness – and now, increasingly, conscience. In her first instalment for Mi3, VMLY&R’s Ali Tilling writes that brands need to better understand ‘value’ to drive the best results, thinking beyond just price and usefulness.

Value. A word that gets trotted out so often, in so many contexts, that it has almost lost its meaning. It’s used in hushed tones when we all know we’re really talking about price and want to make ourselves feel better about it. ‘That’s a value brand’ can be used in a derogatory way to mean a brand that bases itself in cheapness.

In full form, though, value can be a powerful concept, and never more so than right now. Because things have changed. After 10 years of relative economic and geo-political stability, we’re entering a new era with war in Europe, inflation, interest rates… heck a coffee is now a major discretionary purchase, even if you don’t take it with an edgy milk.

While the economic context of our lives has made true value more urgent, there are other forces at play. Technology is influencing each individual’s role in the value equation, and value also has a new cultural dimension.

The ACA’s latest instalment of AUNZ Advertising Effectiveness Rules - Winning or Losing in a Recession from Rob Brittain and Peter Field, shows that the most successful brands kept their balance of long-term brand comms and short-term sales activations during the 2020-2021 Covid upheavals. Now we’re in a new economic environment, brands will need to interpret value itself in ways both long and short.

So what does all of this mean for brands, their employees, and people – and the kinds of growth we are going to see?

It’s important to properly unpack the meaning of ‘value’. Ask any punter and you’ll find that value is not, and has never been, purely about price. Value is a nanosecond’s mental reckoning that pits the quality and perceived usefulness of a product or service against its price, to assess whether that is a price worth paying, for the job you want doing.

There’s a new player in the equation. Right now, value lives where conscience and commerce collide. Conscience sounds incredibly earnest, but put simply, it is shorthand for the ways our values contribute to our conception of value, and ultimately to our buying behaviour. Values aren’t all macro and societal, like saving the environment or political activism. They can be micro and still influence our choices. Values can be anything from a particular family moment people hold dear, to valuing a human call centre over AI assistance – or vice-versa. Values can be intensely personal, and that makes value personal too.

May 21 saw an extraordinary election for these extraordinary times. It’s been labelled the climate change election and the culture war election, but I think it was also the value equation election. We saw the rise of the teal independents, and generally the “teal policies” focused on getting more ambitious with climate change, combined with dealing with the cost of living, all with integrity at the fore and delivered through women, one of the several large population groups the Coalition habitually ignores. More than that, it was the election that proved binary choice is a thing of the past. Like ALDI’s ‘third way’ approach compared to Coles and Woolworths, societal values and personal economics don’t have to be one or the other. We can have our value and live our values, too.

The rise of social media and review-based sites from Uber to Airbnb means that consumers are no longer just on the receiving end of the value companies choose to give them. They influence and grow it themselves, through the one-star review, the difficult provenance questions asked and the expectations of the bundles and membership schemes to be delivered.

Netflix is an example of a brand that is facing headwinds in a changed value context. When its April earnings call revealed a decrease in the subscriber base, it raised some questions about subscriptions and the privilege of ‘set and forget’ – now called into question with our collective belt-tightening. Through testing a shared subscription approach in Chile, Peru and Costa Rica, Netflix looks to be making a smart move in realising that usefulness and conscience, for some, comes down to family and friends sharing that Friday movie night.

WPP’s Brand Asset Valuator – in true Aussie style, we call it BAV® – dataset and analysis gives strong evidence for the changing face of value. BAV® is an annual consumer study that’s been running for 28 years across the globe, that brings the brandscape to life. In 2021 in Australia, more than 14,000 people answered questions about more than 1,450 brands. This gives us a comprehensive evidence base for the study of commerce and conscience, and how these impact growth.

BAV revealed that in 2021 in Australia, 61 per cent of respondents trusted brands more than the government to protect both their own health and the environment. Combine this with the 91 per cent that agreed they wanted brands to be a positive influence that supports the public good, and the 78 per cent who agreed they are more likely to buy from companies they perceive as treating their employees well during the pandemic, and you see a different, consumer-driven take on value come to the fore. Colgate-Palmolive is a good example, with its portfolio including some everyday great prices for great products, and others representing much more of a conscience-commerce collision, like bamboo toothbrushes or the natural ingredients of the Tom’s of Maine brand.

All brands need to consider themselves value brands, and need to look at how that is playing out across the equation. Thinking beyond utility and quality, colliding conscience in with energy and think of short/long balance as a way of bringing whole of value to life, will power up the new value equation for extraordinary times. Our next piece will take a closer look at the intersection of culture and value, and how brands are rethinking tech and membership to grow cultural and commercial value.

 

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