2017: The Year Of Purpose

By Helen Richards

With a tide of sweeping change, 2016 threw everything into question. Could brands help provide the answers in 2017?

However history may choose to look at 2016, there is no denying it was a year that threw everything into question. From political systems of old to global alliances and even that big party in the sky; we went through several significant shifts. This state of upheaval has left people with questions, and interestingly, brands may well hold the answers. Whether consciously or subconsciously, people are reevaluating traditional power structures and challenging norms. Which in turn, is leading to exploration of, and openness to, new alternatives and ambassadors.

Enter 2017 and, as much as national borders may rise, there is one unifying emotion flowing through us all: the desire for change. But change doesn’t come easy. Moving into the unknown means facing curveballs and uncomfortable truths. In order to stay the course, we need a strong, focused purpose to drive us forward. Which is why 2017 is such an exciting year for brands. As the institutions of old have ceased to inspire us, we are looking for new agents of change. Queue global brands. Through championing a shared set of values and strong civic purpose, they hold the key to inspiring communities and driving positive change on a mass scale. Much like global citizens, they are not bound by geographical, or indeed ideological, borders, which makes them all the more potent. 

Social action is, of course, nothing new. But in our transparent and experience-led economy, CSR is a thing of the past. We now expect brands to have a social purpose at their very core, rather than a PR-directed clause in the small print. Read on to explore three strong areas of opportunity.

As the long-lasting benefits of globalisation and NGOs come into question, we look to more sustainable solutions in developing markets. And who better placed to act than the multi-national brands already on the ground? Expect ‘glocal’ to take on new meaning this year as it evolves from a marketing strategy to a social development tool.

Danone has led by early example with the launch of ‘Danone Communities’ – a network established in 2005 to incubate social businesses in emerging nations. Their first venture, Grameen Danone Foods, [http://danonecommunities.com/en/project/grameen-danone-food] saw a yoghurt plant built in Bangladesh that was entirely staffed and managed by local talent. Through education and sustained investment, they have now opened a further 8 plants with 1 million beneficiaries. 

As revealed by Annie Leonard, Louis Fox, and Jonah Sachs in The Story of Stuff, a mere 1% of materials flowing through the consumer economy remain in use six months after sale. A rather sobering thought. Never have we needed less and yet had more available. As sweat shops, palm deforestation and dwindling natural resources can no longer be hidden away, we are increasingly aware of the product choices we make and their effect on our planet earth. Where do they come from, where do they go, and what do they say about me?

Nissan have joined the ranks of Tesla in the world of renewable energy storage. Using second-life electric car batteries, they are helping people to manage energy use within their homes. This closed loop recycling system is both efficient and cost effective; a true win-win.

On a more local scale, app Olio uses technology to reduce food waste. From retail outlet to a home fridge, subscribers can freely trade, give or swap leftover food within their area. The app also supports a donation scheme that is tackling the growing issues of food waste and inequality.

Whilst it’s all very well to talk about values and vision, nothing speaks louder than actions. And action is amplified when brands and consumers team up. When a business and community are united by a deep-rooted purpose, they become a force to be reckoned with.

Consider the plight of the Otorongo (Peruvian jaguar). With numbers in sharp decline, SAB Miller used beer brand San Juan to make a very pertinent point in local market Peru. 
The company stripped their cans of the endangered animal – both their brand symbol and a national icon, replacing the image with dogs, roosters and pigs. Just 6,000 cans were released in the original design; corresponding to the exact number of Otorongo surviving today. The campaign triggered a national outcry and successful government petition to protect the cat. 

People power is nothing new, but the means by which it can be employed and deployed is. 2017 marks the end of any social and cultural apathy: we need, want and will get a change in whatever way it manifests. This global agenda makes for an exciting year in business as people look to form genuine partnerships with brands they identify with and trust. Organisations with a compelling brand purpose will inspire allegiance and action; mobilising communities around the world. It is not without irony that, globalisation, the same mighty force that got us into this mess, can be harnessed to drive us out of it. 2017 is the year of positive power and purpose.

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