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ESG Can Create Strong Emotional Affinities With Brands

By Anil Pillai April 05, 2023

Consumers are seeking and in turn forcing brands to clarify what exactly is the impact on the environment arising out of the products they sell

ESG Can Create Strong Emotional Affinities With Brands
The commitment to ESG has to come alive for the consumers. Stories must be told. Impact must be showcased. Smart brands will seek to communicate front and centre on the brand’s commitment to ESG: On why the brand is a net Planet Earth custodian and not a detractor.
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One of the answers to a question that is nowadays put to C level executives on the new emerging drivers of customer engagement points to an increasing awareness amongst Indian consumers on what till now was considered an esoteric topic.  That of Environmental, Social and Governance or ESG.

This is a startling insight. It has always been assumed that the Indian consumer had no time for matters relating to sustainability or social impact. This is changing. As newer and globally aware consumers open their wallets post-pandemic, they seek to add ESG to their decision matrix.

But what is even more interesting is that consumers seem to be developing an emotional affinity to brands that are exhibiting a high degree of social awareness.

Multiple studies have shown that we are much more emotional than we think we are. We would like to believe that we take our buying and consumption choices from a rational perspective. Nothing could be farther than this.

Research by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman indicates that we have an intuitive, emotional side and a rational side when we are making decisions – and the rational side is less influential.

When we feel intense emotions, it alters our experience.  This has an interesting knock-on effect. A strong emotional connection means that consumers tend to forgive brands for operational shortcomings.  They tend not to get angry or upset about isolated failed experiences.

In addition to this, humans tend to be prone to something called confirmation bias. We pay more attention to evidence that is presented to us that supports our pre-existing beliefs about the world or for that matter of a brand and equally importantly tend to ignore those beliefs that prove the opposite.

Most of us from very early on are taught to believe that we must do things to protect the environment and do more to be fair to our fellow humans. This is something we inherently believe in and when we see a brand that aligns with this closely held belief of ours, we in turn tend to align ourselves emotionally even more with such a brand. We create an emotional affinity.

ESG has the potential to create such strong emotional affinities. It is thus time that customer engagement strategists tap into this underlying vein of emotion that has the potential to create significant customer engagement.

The rise of socially aware brands is a testament to this. Or, the continuing halo that such brands enjoy re-enforces the power of the socially aware enterprise.

Talking about the growing popularity of electric cars, who would have thought that in a middle-income country such as ours consumers would latch onto going electric with such alacrity?

All this points to the fact that as consumers we are now seeking to understand the impact on the planet, of what we eat, what we wear, and how we travel.

As global supply chains choke, there is a surge for local produce and products manufactured within proximity. While supply chain challenges may have provoked this urgency, there is an interesting different dimension that is unfolding. ‘Vocal for Local’ or ‘One District, One Product’  are not merely catch-all phrases for products manufactured in close proximity. 

There are considerable environmental motivators at play here. Consumers are seeking and in turn forcing brands to clarify what exactly is the impact on the environment arising out of the products they sell. This in turn is impacting the consumer’s emotional affinity to the brand.

This will challenge traditional brands to relook at their consumer engagement touch points. Traditionally functional fulfilment, pricing, reach and consumer experience pretty much guaranteed a deep emotional affinity to a brand. To this mix, now comes in social awareness and governance reputation.

As these new realities challenge brand owners, marketers and strategists, the real question is how can brands respond? Communication is a key. ESG initiatives can no longer be a line item on the balance sheet or a talking point at the next AGM. The commitment to ESG has to come alive for the consumers. Stories must be told. Impact must be showcased. Smart brands will seek to communicate front and centre on the brand’s commitment to ESG: On why the brand is a net Planet Earth custodian and not a detractor.

Brands that can marry story-telling with their ESG initiatives will come across as brands that are sensitive to the new breed of emerging consumers. This augurs well for customer engagement and for the Planet Earth.

(Dr. Anil Pillai is Director Terragni Consulting Ltd.)

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